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Nurses have long complained of long hours and heavy patient loads, both of which can lead to burnout. With hospitals watching their bottom lines closer than ever, these problems are not likely to disappear anytime soon. Now, a study indicates that when nurses become burned out and overburdened at work, patient safety suffers.

According to researchers at the Center for Health Outcomes and Policy Research at the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing, each extra patient added to a nurse’s workload caused an increase of one additional hospital-acquired infection per 1,000 patients. Furthermore, each 10 percent jump in the number of nurses who reported high levels of job burnout was linked to approximately one additional catheter-associated urinary tract infection and nearly two surgical site infections per 1,000 patients.

This particular study is important because few researchers have attempted to quantify the overall effect of nurse burnout on patient care. The findings, however, are startling: high work loads and burnout have a direct impact on the health and safety of patients in hospitals.

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