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Closing the nurse safety gap


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Alexandra Wilson Pecci, for HealthLeaders Media, April 17, 2012

The safety of nurses is always a hot topic, but there is a group that sometimes gets left behind in the discussions: nursing students. Last week, Mary Foley, PhD, RN, director at the Center for Nursing Research and Innovation at the University of California San Francisco School of Nursing and a past ANA president, addressed this issue in her keynote speech at the 60th National Student Nurses Association convention in Pittsburgh.

The main theme of her keynote speech, she told HealthLeaders Media via email, "was to welcome the students to the profession of nursing, and to prepare them for what really is a marathon, and not a sprint, through the career that nursing provides them." Foley used the platform to introduce them to the Safe in Common campaign, which she says is "designed to promote up-to-date education about needlestick and sharp injuries."

Foley is also chairperson of the healthcare worker safety nonprofit Safe in Common, which just launched a new Needlestick Safety Advocacy national tour and education campaign.

Foley says aside from educational programs from the ANA and now, Safe in Common, she doesn’t see much novel work happening "on the ground" when it comes to improving nurse safety. But she hopes that "the increased knowledge of the risks and the re-energized focus will go a long way to protect nurses and students."

She adds that reducing needlestick and sharp injury exposures requires the cooperation of healthcare professionals, purchasers, employers, and manufacturers.

"When that coalition works together to educate about better equipment and safer work practices, and devices available are better designed to provide…passive protection whenever possible [meaning the worker does not have to consciously activate any safety features because the safety is built in] then there will be improvements," she says.

HealthLeaders Media caught up with Foley via email to discuss ways student nurses can stay safe at work, as well as the strides—and struggles—around nursing safety in general. 

HLM: Is safety a different issue for student nurses? In what ways?
Foley: Safety isn't really on their minds. They are so focused on taking good care of their patients, and learning everything they can, that they put themselves second. The faculty are also not as attuned to the health risks to the professional, and they too are focused on the patient, which is a good thing, but not when the students aren't adequately prepared to be safe themselves.


HLM: How can student nurses be safer at work?
Foley: Students often have to learn about the health and safety issues from professional sources, such as the American Nurses Association, and now, Safe in Common. I am really glad I was able to introduce that to them in my talk. I highlighted Safe in Common and the risk of needlestick and sharps injuries, as well as the Safe Patient Handling campaign that ANA has launched to prevent back injury.

HLM: Are nurses safer now than they were 20 years ago? Why or why not?
Foley: Yes, in the area of exposure to bloodborne pathogens, there have been improvements over [the] last 20 years. But there are still risks, even with the safer devices that are on the market. Other risks, such as back injury, exposure to chemicals, and violence in the workplace remain as serious concerns.


HLM: What are the major challenges to nursing safety at the moment? What are you especially worried about?
Foley:  I am most worried about the fact that health and safety of the workforce is not a priority at this time in healthcare. Only patient safety initiatives are getting the time and attention of leaders, and I believe a true culture of safety requires care of the workforce and the patient. I know nursing continues to focus on injuries due to patient lifting and positioning, and I am particularly concerned with violence in the workplace as a relatively unaddressed issue. Of course, I am committed to addressing exposures to bloodborne pathogens, which has been improved, but not entirely addressed so far.

Source: HealthLeaders Media