It is estimated that the United States will face a critical shortage of nurses beginning in 2010. Many factors have contributed to this shortage: the aging nursing workforce, fewer nurses graduating from nursing schools, the increased number of aging baby boomers requiring more health care as well as past efforts in restructuring health care delivery systems. Some areas of our country are already dealing with the shortage and are using mandatory overtime as a common staffing practice.
It has been argued that mandatory overtime may cause or lead to increased stress, as well as mental and physical fatigue for the nurses. Studies have shown that these factors contribute to errors that may result in patient harm. Many nurses have responsibilities to their families and others that do not permit them to work additional hours, while others are aware of their physical limits and recognize they shouldn’t work additional hours.
Should the use of mandatory overtime by healthcare institutions be eliminated or regulated by the government? Should nurses who refuse to work overtime be subject to disciplinary action by their employers? Should they be subject to disciplinary action by their State Board of Nursing for patient abandonment? Realistically, is there anything nurses can do to reduce mandatory overtime?