How Do Nurses Prioritize Their Work In A Fast-paced Healthcare Environment?

Being a nurse is not just a physically demanding job but it can also be challenging, especially if you work in a fast-paced environment. As a nurse, you need to handle patient care, do the administrative tasks that your job requires, and also enhance your knowledge. While you are doing these things, you must also focus on your personal life.

Multitasking is a fact of life for nurses. However, it can be exhausting to manage all the tasks and still perform optimally at your workplace. Studies show that burnout among nurses can be detrimental to patient care.

When you enroll in a nursing program, one of the first things that you will learn is to manage your time more effectively so that you can perform your tasks. For instance, at Saint Joseph’s College of Maine, their SJC online Hybrid Accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing program not only teaches students about nursing care theories and best nursing practices but also how to effectively manage time to provide the best patient care while fulfilling other nursing tasks.

In nursing school, theories of prioritizing are taught and reinforced so nurses learn how to determine the most crucial tasks and establish priorities. This means they are better equipped to perform optimally in emergencies or fast-paced environments. Three of the most common theories of prioritizing are:

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is a theory created by Abraham Maslow, a psychologist. This theory describes how human needs are prioritized and states that individuals tend to prioritize their needs in a hierarchical order. They begin with the most basic needs and gradually progress to the more complex ones.

For nurses, Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs provides a framework for prioritizing patient care. Basic physiological needs, such as air, water, and food, are the most critical needs and must be addressed immediately. For example, if a patient is struggling to breathe, the nurse must attend to their respiratory needs before dealing with any other needs. Once the physiological needs are met, the nurse can move on to the patient’s safety and security needs, such as pain management, preventing falls, and reducing the risk of infection.

Cluster Care

Another theory that nurses learn and often use is that of cluster care. This approach works well in a fast-paced healthcare environment as it allows nurses to group tasks to improve their efficiency and minimize interruptions for patients as well as nurses.

Cluster care is perfect for a floor where the patients outnumber the nursing staff. It allows nurses to club tasks like checking the vital signs of patients, administering medications, and performing wound care rather than doing these tasks separately. This allows nurses to prioritize work and also save time.

ABCs of Nursing

The ABCs of Nursing is a mnemonic for airway, breathing, and circulation. This approach emphasizes the importance of addressing critical physiological needs first and adheres to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.

In a fast-paced environment, nurses often face emergencies, where they need to provide immediate intervention to help a patient survive. For instance, if a patient is in cardiac arrest, the nurse must prioritize their airway, breathing, and circulation before attending to any other needs.

You will often use these three theories while working as a nurse. However, you also need your own strategies in addition to these theories to work optimally and prevent yourself from burning out.

Strategies to Prioritize Nursing Work

Prioritizing nursing work in a fast-paced healthcare environment does not have to be overwhelming or challenging. Armed with the right strategies, you can manage your workload and finish daily tasks without a problem.

Create a List of All Your Tasks

When you make a list of all the tasks that you have to do during your shift, you will be able to prioritize them and work more effectively. List the tasks based on their urgency and importance; the more urgent ones should be at the top while routine tasks should be toward the bottom.

Use Critical Thinking

If you want to use your time at work more effectively, cultivate a critical thinking attitude. Learn to analyze every situation quickly, think about the needs of your patients and the available resources, and then decide how to proceed and finish tasks.

Keep Patient Safety at The Forefront

Patient safety should always be a top priority. So, any task that is a risk to patients’ safety needs to be prioritized. Block everything out when you are performing a procedure or administering medication as a small mistake could have grievous consequences.

Use Time Management Techniques

While there are several time management techniques, not all of them will be the right ones for you. So, look for techniques, like setting priorities or deadlines, to enable you to manage your workload more effectively. That will also help reduce work-related stress and boost job satisfaction.

Ask for Help When You Need It

Don’t try to handle everything on your own. When necessary, ask other nurses and team members for assistance. If you are in a leadership position, learn to delegate tasks to other team members instead of trying to do everything on your own. Remember to keep in mind the skills and abilities of your team members before delegating.

Be Flexible

In a fast-paced healthcare environment, you cannot be rigid. Things will change suddenly and you must be flexible and adaptable when priorities change. Learn to adjust your work in such circumstances instead of getting overwhelmed and sticking to your list.

Use Technology

If your workplace has invested in technology, such as wearables and portable monitoring devices, use them to track and monitor your patients from your workstation while you finish administrative tasks. That will allow you to multitask without ignoring the needs of your patients.

Challenges to Prioritizing

While these strategies can be helpful, nurses often face challenges when they want to prioritize their work. One of the most significant is the lack of time. Nurses often have a lot of tasks to complete in a short amount of time. This can result in stress and burnout.

Another challenge is the complexity of patient care. Patients often have multiple health conditions and require a wide range of interventions. This can make it difficult for nurses to prioritize their work effectively. As stated before, unexpected emergencies or changes in patient status can disrupt the prioritization process and you may have to adjust your plans quickly.

While these challenges will always be present, being level-headed and not getting flustered in emergencies will enable you to work more effectively and efficiently. As a nurse, you need to be compassionate, patient-centric, and able to think on your feet. When you adopt these attitudes and use the right strategies, you can prioritize nursing work and ensure that your patients receive the necessary care promptly. Also, remember to take a break during your shift so that you can resume your duties with renewed enthusiasm.