Chew, Don’t Inhale! In Praise of Meal Breaks for Nurses

Nurses leaving for lunch break at Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston.

Nurses leaving for lunch break at Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston.

I get in a really bad mood when I’m hungry and can’t eat. According to the NY Times, I’m not alone. Before coming to AJN, I worked in a direct patient care setting and never seemed to find the time to eat, whether in the inpatient or outpatient areas. There was always something that needed to be done that couldn’t wait.

Some days were so hectic that even finding the time to run to a rest room was daunting. Part of the problem is finding the right time to hand off a patient assignment to a colleague. There’s rarely a time when there is no medication to be given, no labs to be drawn, nobody that needs to be transferred off or back to the unit. No nurse wants to be known as that person, the one who leaves when something needs to be done. Even on the shifts during which I did get to inhale my food in the break room, there were often interruptions (of course, never compensated) by staff or patients—many of which were not emergencies.

Why complain, right? Isn’t the problem just another intractable fact of being a nurse? Maybe not. In the January issue of AJN, nursing director Amanda Stefancyk explains her unit’s strategy for scheduling hour-long, off-unit meal breaks for nurses working the day shift. The nurses seem to be really happy with it—and happy health care employees probably make for happier patients.
–Christine Moffa, MS, RN, AJN clinical editor

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Senior editor/social media strategy, American Journal of Nursing, and editor of AJN Off the Charts.

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