April 2014

Nurse Staffing Affects Patient Safety

Having well-educated nurses with fewer patients to care for can help reduce hospital deaths, a new study suggests. The findings can help hospitals make informed decisions about staff schedules and hiring.

Earlier research found that nurse education and other factors can affect patient health. In response, the Institute of Medicine recommended that most nurses in the U.S. have a bachelor’s degree by 2020. Many hospitals now aim to hire more bachelor’s degree-trained nurses, and nearly 25 U.S. states have proposed or enacted legislation to improve hospital nurse staffing.

To learn more about the link between nurses and health, scientists examined data on more than 420,000 patients who underwent common surgeries in 9 European countries. The researchers also surveyed more than 26,500 nurses in the study hospitals to measure nurse staffing and education. The team analyzed how these nursing factors affected the likelihood of patients dying within 30 days of hospital admission.

The researchers estimated that each additional patient in a hospital nurse’s workload increased the chances of a patient dying within 30 days of admission by 7%. Nurse education also affected outcomes. For every 10% increase in nurses with bachelor’s degrees, the likelihood of patient death dropped by 7%.

In hospitals where 60% of nurses had bachelor’s degrees and cared for an average of 6 patients, the researchers calculated, the likelihood of patients dying after surgery was nearly one-third lower than in hospitals where only 30% of nurses had bachelor-level education and cared for an average of 8 patients.

“This study emphasizes the role that nurses play in ensuring successful patient outcomes and underscores the need for a well-educated nursing workforce,” says Dr. Patricia A. Grady, director of NIH’s National Institute of Nursing Research.