Supporting, Celebrating and Protecting Nurses

Christopher R. Friese, PhD, RN, Elizabeth Tone Hosmer Professor of Nursing and Professor of the Health Management and Policy School of Public Health and Director of the Center for Improving Patient and Population Health (CIPPH), joined Michigan Minds for National Nurses Week. His research focuses on measuring and enhancing the quality of cancer care delivery and understanding and improving the delivery of nursing care to a variety of patients. As the COVID-19 pandemic emerged, he began studying ways to generally improve care for patients.

In May 2022, Friese was featured on Michigan Minds to discuss the exhaustion, strain, and stress that nurses face and the importance of reducing the stigma associated with nurses and other health care professionals accessing mental health support. In this episode, he provides an update on how the industry has evolved and the challenges that nurses continue to face. 

“We talked a year ago about a very serious condition, which is death by suicide among registered nurses. We saw that death by suicide among registered nurses was higher for females compared to the female general population, also for female physicians. The work we’ve just concluded, which was published in medical care in March 2023, is a survey we did very soon after that,” he says. 

The survey conducted in March 2022 included about 10,000 nurses across the state of Michigan, and 84% responded that they were “emotionally exhausted at work” and 39% of them were planning to make a career change.

“Nurses have told us that their workloads are too high, that they’re caring for too many patients, and they’ve told us this before the pandemic, but it’s gotten worse during the pandemic and where we are currently in 2023,” Friese says. “They also told us that they’re working too many hours, so they’re being asked or being required to use overtime and use mandatory overtime specifically. And the third thing they told us is that they’re seeing violent events in the workplace more and more frequently.”

He talks about additional outcomes of the survey, including the high rate of younger nurses planning to leave their workplace. These are nurses who have recently entered the workforce and are not happy, which Friese says should set an alarm in the health care industry. “When your newest nurses, the ones that you expect to have a long career in nursing, are telling you that they’re looking for a new job, that means that what we’re doing isn’t working and we really need to focus on improving working conditions. We probably need better support and different kind of support for newer entrants into the profession.” 

Friese emphasizes that the time for change is now. While National Nurses Week is a time to reflect and celebrate everything that nurses do every day for patients, families, and communities, it is important to continue to support and protect nurses beyond this week as well. He encourages community members to think differently about nurses and consider what policymakers can do to improve nurses’ working conditions and how health care systems and other employers can take steps to ensure that nurses across Michigan, and the nation, feel safe and supported.

“That’s my wish for Nurses Week this year — to have a real partnership with the public to heighten these concerns and make sure that we’re all working in the same direction, which is better nursing care for our loved ones through better and safer staffing conditions.”

Chris Friese, PhD, RN
Chris Friese on Michigan Minds, May 2023