Occupational stress in the emergency department – how are we coping as nurses? A cross-sectional descriptive study of nurses at two Australian emergency departments

Ms Elizabeth Elder1, Dr.  Amy N. B.  Johnston2,3,4, Prof. Marianne  Wallis2,5, Dr. Jaimi  Greenslade6,7, Prof. Julia Crilly2,8
1School of Nursing and Midwifery, Griffith University, Southport, Australia, 2Menzies Health Institute Queensland Griffith University , Southport, Australia, 3Department of Emergency Medicine Princess Alexandra Hospital Metro South, Brisbane, Australia, 4School of Nursing Midwifery and Social Work, University of Queensland, Brisbane, Australia, 5School of Nursing Midwifery and Paramedicine, University of the Sunshine Coast, Sunshine Coast, Australia, 6Emergency and Trauma Care Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital, Brisbane, Australia, 7Faculty of Medicine, The University of Queensland, Brisbane, Australia, 8Department of Emergency Medicine  Gold Coast Hospital and Health Service , Southport, Australia

Introduction: Emergency departments (ED) are stressful working environments [1] with ED clinicians exposed to a number of occupational stressors such as heavy workload [2, 3] and workplace violence [3, 4]. This project explored nurses’ perceptions of working environment in two Australian EDs.
Methods: As part of a large international study, this cross-sectional study was undertaken at two EDs in Queensland. Data were collected in 2017 using a survey that explored ED staff perceptions’ of their working environments, occupational stressors and coping strategies used.
Results:  The response rate from nurses was 49.7%. Nurses reported moderate levels of workload and self realisation. Death or sexual abuse of a child, inability to provide care and heavy workload with poor-skill mix were the three highest stressors at both study sites. Daily exposure to stressors such caring for high acuity patients was reported by the majority of nursing staff at both sites (Site A 75.2% vs. Site B 66.7%). A range of coping strategies were reported by nursing staff. The most commonly used coping strategy was ‘tried to think positively’ (Site A 90.3% vs. Site B 91.6%)
Conclusion: Despite the increasing demand for ED services in the region, the findings of this project echo other similar studies highlighting that exposure to occupational stressors impacts nurses working in EDs, irrespective of the ‘busy’ness’ of the ED. The results from this study will inform the development of an intervention aimed at reducing occupational stressors and or improve coping for ED clinicians.

Elizabeth is a credentialed emergency nurse with a passion for education, research and clinical practice.  Believing research is the juncture of clinical practice and academe Elizabeth enrolled in her PhD in 2016.