Slow Down and Take a Break
Wage and hour laws have all been written to ensure job safety both for the worker and employer and for the product. In health care, the product is the patient. These laws will vary from one state to another, but the U.S. Department of Labor does have regulations that the health care industry must follow. These are set forth in the Fair Labor Standards Act. For further information see
It is not up to your employer to ensure that you take your breaks — it is up to you. Make sure you take your breaks. It's easy to get into the habit of skipping them and in some units, to feel like you can't take a break because it's so busy and you are so short staffed. You may experience peer pressure to skip breaks.
For purposes of illustration assume the following information fits with your state's laws. After four hours on the job, you are expected to take a fifteen-minute break. If you work over six hours, you are expected to have a meal break of at least thirty minutes. This time possibly grows to an hour if you work eight hours or more each day. In a twelve-hour shift, you should have a one-hour meal and two to three fifteen-minute breaks.Find a Way to Take a Minute
Even if you can't take the full amount of time because you are so busy, try to take some time. You do need to eat and to take bathroom breaks. Help each other to be able to do so. This is where a strong team approach will be most helpful. Don't abuse the situation, but do help each other to get away from the unit.
Some facilities have breakers or float personnel who just cover for breaks and meals. A unit must have a licensed person on duty at all times. Unless your facility allows LPNs to be alone on a unit, an R.N. must be on duty at all times. If you are the only R.N. on your unit, someone must come and relieve you for your meal break. You must be able to take a meal break free from interruption or your employer must pay you for the time. You could possibly take your other breaks in the nurse's lounge or break room. You would still technically be on duty and available. Breaks do not have to be uninterrupted.Avoiding Burnout
While recent studies have not shown that nurses who don't get breaks make more errors than those who do, the studies have shown that among nurses who do take breaks, those with longer ones are less prone to making mistakes. The findings also show that staff burnout and staff departure are major problems related to not getting breaks. What this most likely means is that nurses who aren't taking breaks are intensely aware of the potential for harm; they are making more of an effort to protect their patients as well as their licenses. This added stress will eventually lead to burnout and cause nurses to leave their position.
You really need to be able to walk away from the job for a few minutes and clear your head. This will help to relieve stress and to give you a new perspective on the tasks at hand. It affords you a moment to take in some nutrition and fluids and to visit the bathroom.
Burnout and staff retention are issues that severely impact the nursing shortage. They are issues that nurses have to contend with and must be addressed in solving this crisis. If you and your coworkers get into the habit of not taking your breaks or allow your employer to abuse the staff in this manner, your facility will continue to suffer. Work with your supervisor and your facility to solve this problem and to improve the working conditions. Having satisfied staff members will go a long way in recruitment and retention issues.