Nursing: Staying Alert and Preventing Fatigue

Grand Canyon University College of Nursing

About the author: Roni DeLaO Kerns is the director of the Bachelor of Science in Nursing(BSN) program at Grand Canyon University’s College of Nursing on main campus.

Students are entering the last half of the semester and are focused on the finish line. Preceptorships, practicums and capstone projects are the stepping stones to convocation, commencement and graduation celebrations.  After four years of long nights, last-minute projects and juggling multiple classes, students may think life becomes simpler after graduation with just one “job” to focus on.  Many times, the anticipated reality is not as easy as it sounds.

It is a nurse’s responsibility to come to work alert and ready to provide safe patient care. Patient Safety Awareness Week (March 4-10) is a great time to remember the impact a nurses’ fatigue can have on a patient’s safety. Fatigue can lead to lapses in attention, a lack of motivation, a decrease in problem-solving ability, confusion, irritability, impaired communication, diminished reaction time, indifference and loss of empathy.  These factors can put both patients and staff at risk.

So what steps can a new nurse take to decrease fatigue and minimize errors?

  1. Establish a routine.
  • Get enough sleep and take naps when necessary.
  • Practice good sleeping habits; routines are important especially when working a new shift time.
  • Engage in relaxing, pre-sleep habits, such as reading or yoga.
  • Avoid food, alcohol or stimulants (such as caffeine) that can impact sleep.

2. Participate in a work culture that recognizes the impact of fatigue on patient care.

  • Provide input into designing work schedules that minimize the potential for fatigue.
  • Be supportive of other staff members when they express concerns about fatigue.
  • Encourage teamwork and regular safety checks to protect patients from harm.
  • Develop your skills of patient hand-offs and evaluate the effect that fatigue may have on the quality of your communications.
  • Implement a fatigue management plan that may include engaged conversations, physical activity, strategic caffeine consumption and short naps (if allowed).

Dedication and commitment toward your education will pay off as you begin your career as a nurse.  Developing personal and professional practices that address self-care, encourage a balanced life, and establish good sleeping habits will help ensure that your career as a nurse is rewarding for a lifetime!


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