By Shawn Kennedy, AJN interim editor-in-chief

Courtesy of the American Journal of Nursing archives

We all know that our nursing jobs expose us to various hazards—back and joint problems, needlesticks and other means of exposure to infectious diseases, traumatic injuries from encounters with violent patients or their family members, just to name some common ones. And as if that’s not enough, the psychological toll taken can result in burnout and even PTSD, which wreak havoc on retention. Heart disease and depression should probably also be on the list.

You may have seen news reports about a study with Danish nurses, published in the May issue of Occupational and Environmental Medicine. The researchers found that nurses younger than 51 years at baseline who perceived their workplaces as highly stressful were significantly more likely to have ischemic heart disease during the 15-year follow-up. Now, as the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry reports, a Finnish study has found that nurses and physicians who work in overcrowded acute care units have “twice the risk of sickness absence due to depressive disorders” compared with colleagues working in less crowded areas. And Health Policy reports on a study revealing that, among Canadian nurses, “Depression is a significant determinant of absenteeism for both RNs and LPNs.”

Is anyone surprised? Not nurses, for sure, and probably no one who’s worked at or been a patient in a hospital recently. With few exceptions, hospitals are generally terrible places to work. Yes, the Magnet Recognition Program and initiatives like Transforming Care at the Bedside (TCAB) and others are gradually improving this. (You can read more about TCAB in AJN’s special report and 12-part series.) But is it enough? Are nurses who experience job-related injury or illness the proverbial canaries in the coal mines, harbingers of an increasingly common and serious problem? What will it take for hospitals to revamp their environments to make them less stressful and more life-sustaining for nurses?

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