Nurses are the backbone of our healthcare system, and they should enjoy the benefits of patient ratios. It is essential to ensure that nurses have enough time to perform their critical duties without being overworked by too many patients at a time. According to studies, nurses with a patient ratio of 1:4 or less can perform their duties well. They can also spend time with patients, which results in better care and outcome for them.
To make sure hospitals meet these standards, California has passed legislation requiring them to maintain staffing ratios with newly established benchmarks from the Joint Commission (TJC). It will help protect public health by ensuring sufficient nurse staffing levels for all settings, including hospitals, nursing homes, home health agencies, and other health care facilities. But does this affect the work of a nurse?
What is the Nurse-to-Patient Ratio
Working as a nurse is one of the best jobs in the world. It can open a ton of possibilities for many nurses, and at the same time, help people. It’s also one of the reasons why many students sign up for nursing school. However, when you are working in an actual hospital setting, things can get tricky. One of the many issues nurses face these days is the increasing number of patients handled for each shift.
We defined the nurse-to-patient ratio as the number described to the number of patients assigned to individual nurses on a particular floor, unit, or ward. Nurses working in general care units have a higher patient ratio. For example, a nurse can care for five to eight patients on her shift in regular wards while nurses in the ICU can care for one or two patients at a time. Depending on how critical a patient’s condition is, ICU nurses can also work 1:1.
Why are nurse-to-patient ratios important?
Providing safe and quality care to patients is the goal of nurses. It is why assigning the correct number of patients for each nurse is crucial in achieving this goal. 
1. It’s Important to Nurses
The current problem of nursing shortages is seen in many hospitals these days. As a result of the pandemic, nurses work longer hours and with more patients. This situation can cause extreme exhaustion, injury, and even job dissatisfaction to many nurses. It can also lead to medical errors or mistakes on the nurse’s part as they start to feel overwhelmed with the workload as they deal with stress while supporting their families.
Nurses who have fewer patients under their belt are happier with their jobs. A study published by labor union AFL-CIO showed that nurses in California feel they have a reasonable workload and can provide better care to patients than their New Jersey or Pennsylvania counterparts. Nurses also reported receiving adequate support services, such as nursing assistants, have time for quick breaks on their shifts, leading them to be more productive in their areas.
2. It’s Important for Patients
Patients are the main characters in a nurse’s job and center of care for nurses. But if the nurse has too many patients under her, they can’t execute proper care to their patients. A new study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that unsafe staffing levels were associated with increased mortality for patients.
Besides the risks to the patients, patient satisfaction is also a concern. When the ratio between nurses and patients is not balanced, patients may view the nursing staff and the facilities as performing poorly.
3. It’s Important for Hospitals
When nurses have the correct ratio of patients under their care, they use the full benefits of patient ratios. Meaning, it shortens patients’ time at hospitals. More nurses mean shorter time for patients, which can also help the hospitals to save medical costs.
The better the quality of nursing care in a hospital facility, the more likely patients will have positive perceptions about their overall experience. According to research by Kaplan-Meier, “the higher perception was associated with greater satisfaction on all assessed measures including functional status at discharge; control over activities of daily living; participation in decision making regarding treatment plans or life support decisions.”
Pros and Cons and Benefits of Patient Ratios
Nurses working with patients always have their upsides and downsides. Some nurses have no problem working with many patients, while some can’t. That said, having the proper nurse-to-patient ratio comes in handy, and here’s why. 
- It decreases fatigue and burnout among nurses. Working as a nurse can be a tiresome profession. A proper nurse-to-patient ratio reduces the chances of developing irritability, depression, insomnia, weight gain, and other health risks from exhausted nurses and stressful workplaces.
- Recruitment and retention rates improve with minimum nurse-to-patient ratios. It means nurses will most likely stay in their company, and hiring new nurses is not a problem for hospitals.
- The number of preventable mistakes, including patient falls and pressure ulcers, are proven to decrease if the nurse-to-patient ratios are correct. Patient mortality also decreases as a result of nurses that can do their job accordingly. It means more patient recoveries, fewer sick patients, and fewer patients suffer from post-treatment infections.
- Under the proposed plan, hospitals would have to expand their nursing staff and pay them more. It will be a challenge for some hospitals with limited funding or strict budgets that restrict hiring new employees who don’t already work there.
- Nurses will not be able to give proper care for patients all at once. Patients will have to wait longer even if there are available beds for admission.
- Can cause nurses to burn out, develop anxieties, depression, sleep deprivation, and may even quit jobs.
Should Nurses Have Patient Ratios?
The question now is, should nurses have more patients than they can handle? The debate about whether or not to turn nursing-to-patient ratios into law will never go away. Since healthcare practices are constantly changing, finding ways to provide better care for nurses and patients will always be relevant. This way, both can use the benefits of patient ratios. Giving nurses the minimum ratio of patients under their care can make a difference in their work performance and general well-being.