The work of adult and pediatric intensive care unit nurses

Nurs Res. 2013 Jan-Feb;62(1):50-8. doi: 10.1097/NNR.0b013e318270714b.


Background: Researchers have used various methods to describe and quantify the work of nurses. Many of these studies were focused on nursing in general care settings; therefore, less is known about the unique work nurses perform in intensive care units (ICUs).

Objectives: The aim of this study was to observe adult and pediatric ICU nurses in order to quantify and compare the duration and frequency of nursing tasks across four ICUs as well as within two discrete workflows: nurse handoffs at shift change and patient interdisciplinary rounds.

Methods: A behavioral task analysis of adult and pediatric nurses was used to allow unobtrusive, real-time observation. A total of 147 hours of observation were conducted in an adult medical-surgical, a cardiac, a pediatric, and a neonatal ICU at one rural, tertiary care community teaching hospital.

Results: Over 75% of ICU nurses' time was spent on patient care activities. Approximately 50% of this time was spent on direct patient care, over 20% on care coordination, 28% on nonpatient care, and approximately 2% on indirect patient care activities. Variations were observed between units; for example, nurses in the two adult units spent more time using monitors and devices. A high rate and variety of tasks were also observed: Nurses performed about 125 activities per hour, averaging a switch between tasks every 29 seconds.

Discussion: This study provides useful information about how nurses spend their time in various ICUs. The methodology can be used in future research to examine changes in work related to, for example, implementation of health information technology.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Child
  • Critical Care*
  • Hospitals, Teaching
  • Humans
  • Intensive Care Units / organization & administration
  • Nurse's Role*
  • Nursing Staff, Hospital / organization & administration*
  • Time and Motion Studies
  • Workflow
  • Workload*