Ever hear this old joke?
A nurse is found dead on the side of the road without any identification. How did they know she was a nurse? She had a full bladder and an empty stomach.
There’s a lot of truth in humor, and the reason you probably chuckled is because that joke is not that far from reality.
Taking a lunch break (or a bathroom break, for that matter) can seem like a luxury you can’t afford in the midst of a busy workday. But a break — a real, uninterrupted break — is an actual necessity.
Taking some time away from the demanding toll of patient care is important. You need to eat, use the restroom and get off your feet. But most importantly, you need to take a breather, decompress and hit your reset button. You deserve time away from the high stress and constant stimulation of the unit. And if that’s not enough to get you to advocate for a true off-unit break, just think about how much more effective you will be after the fact.
Some of the numbers that came out of this study were eye opening. They surveyed the nurses in a 300-bed facility, with a response rate of 513 nurses.
- 25% of nurses did not receive a break.
- 39% of nurses had a break less than 30 minutes long.
- 0% of nurses had a break free of patient care duties.
My guess is the results are similar across the board. So how can we change it?
A busy general medical unit at MGH piloted a lunch break initiative program that proved to be a great success. What might come as a surprise to you as it did me: the logistics of making sure there was enough coverage for nurses to leave the unit wasn’t the biggest challenge. The hardest part was overcoming resistance on the part of the nurses. Nurses worried that it would make an already overly busy day even more difficult. But with a nurse manager who was behind the change, they made it work.
- They signed a pact.
- They defined the term break: Meaning OFF the unit.
- They planned the meal breaks at the beginning of the shift.
- Their management team was dedicated to making it work: That meant that the nursing director was on deck at certain points to answer call lights.
After a while, the nurses not only complied with the break program; they actually enjoyed it. They reported feeling more refreshed. They felt that their time management had improved, and they felt like a valued team member. A year after it was instituted, the nursing director reported it was still in effect with minimum effort.
What’s your break culture like at work? What do you think holds your unit back from adequate breaks? What do you think would fix it?