Poor Mental, Physical Health is Associated with Medical Errors in Critical Care Nurses

Experts advocate for programs, policies and systems solutions that help critical care nurses better care for themselves and their patients

COLUMBUS, Ohio — A new study by The Ohio State University College of Nursing found that critical care nurses nationwide reported alarmingly high levels of stress, depressive symptoms and anxiety even before the COVID-19 pandemic began. These factors correlated with an increase in self-reported medical errors.

“These errors are made by very dedicated, caring, committed nurses who are experiencing their own symptoms of depression, anxiety or poor physical health,” said Bernadette Melnyk, chief wellness officer and dean of the College of Nursing at Ohio State. “It’s important that hospitals fix systems issues offer evidence-based programs and support to equip their clinicians with resilience, because we know that’s a protective factor for their own mental and physical health, as well as their ability to provide optimal care to their patients.”

The nationwide survey conducted prior to COVID-19 found that about two in five critical-care nurses reported depressive symptoms while more than half experienced anxiety. More than 60% rated their physical health a five or lower on a scale of one to 10. 

“I think the pandemic has brought magnification to the issues of burnout, depression, even suicide amongst our nurses, physicians, and other clinicians,” Melnyk said. “A hospital’s investment in the well-being of their health care professionals will lead to better quality and safety of care and fewer preventable medical errors.”

The Ohio State Wexner Medical Center has several programs to promote clinician well-being, including its Employee Assistance Program which offers confidential mental health resources and services such as counseling, mindfulness coaching and its Stress, Trauma and Resilience (STAR) Program that offers the Buckeye Paws pet therapy program pet therapy to promote coping and resiliency skills-building. 

“The feeling of being the person holding someone’s hand as they pass away is hard to describe, but it’s something I definitely took home with me, and that impacted every aspect of my life,” said Jessica Curtisi, a critical care registered nurse in the Ohio State Wexner Medical Center intensive care unit. “Through counseling and mindfulness, I was finally able to see that I didn’t need to push my feelings down, and that there were healthy ways to feel and express the grief that comes with being a critical care nurse.”