It’s a great metaphor. Nurses aren’t a spoke in the wheel of care for patients. They are the wheel.
Think about the care of patients coming into a physician’s office, in urgent care, the ED or the hospital. The ones who get the ball rolling and keep it rolling are the nurses. But we know that, right?
What you may be unaware of, however, is how often you are turned to by office staff, the doctor, the patient or even auxiliary staff to answer their questions and tend to their needs regarding the patient. Add all of these interruptions or request on top of your primary duties and it’s a setup for multitasking. To be transparent, there really is no true multitasking. The brain cannot do two complex things at once. Instead, it merely switches its attention from one task to the other, and back and forth until the tasks are completed.
As a nurse, you have likely honed your skill of seemingly performing multiple tasks at the same time. And in many cases, when great care is taken to maintain focus at these times, the patient will be cared for properly. But the wildcard factor is the amount of times you are interrupted when performing your important tasks. Research has been done to document and analyze how often nurses are interrupted during the course of their work, and the results are quite sobering.
The National Institutes of Health published the abstract of this important research, and ResearchGate offered further interpretation and readable conclusions from this analysis. In short, the researchers observed 36 RNs for a total of 136 hours. During this time, 3,441 events were observed, during which there were 1,354 interruptions, 46 hours of multitasking and 200 errors. While performing their duties, nurses were interrupted 10 times each hour, which reduces to one interruption every six minutes.
Most frequently, the interruptions were created by patients (28%) and other nurses (25%). Assistive personnel and physicians accounted for 10% and 9% of the interruptions, respectively. A startling revelation was that these events most frequently occurred while the nurse was dispensing medications or doing assessments.
When hit with this information it kind of makes you want to hold up your index finger to patients or colleagues to tell them to wait until you are done with your current task. But this is not usually something that can happen in the health care environment. Instead, think of ways to maximize your focus, particularly when in the presence of the patient. The website Strategies for Nurse Managers has some good tips on this. But ultimately, you have to blaze your own trail in learning how to focus on the task at hand. Here are some things to keep in mind that may help you with this:
- 1. If you are near the end of a shift, understand that you require more focus, as your brain is fatigued. It is at this time that you want to eliminate as many interruptions as possible and reduce your multitasking.
- 2. If there are things going on in your personal life that are weighing heavily on your mind, talk with a colleague or your manager so that they know you may need a bit of support.
- 3. Stop and take a few deep breaths before entering an exam room or the patient’s room. This helps you to break free from your previous task, regroup and see the next situation with fresh eyes and a clear mind.
Do you have tips on how to stay focused during a long shift? Share them below with your “virtual” colleagues.