Nurses Drive Change in Patient Safety Improvements

Growing interest in the science of safety

This proactive approach to safety seems to be generating interest in the foundations of safety science—and in strengthening those foundations.

“Nursing programs are fully committed to safety in a philosophical sense,” McGaffigan says, “but we have a large workforce out there right now that really does not have fundamental training in safety science.”

Today’s safety focus tends to revolve around crucial but low-level items, such as personal protective equipment or practices for minimizing patient falls. Safety science, instead, takes a broad look at all the factors that go into causing incidents, using that information to drive prevention.

“It’s applied in so many other industries, and it’s something that we’re starting to see nurses get more engaged in,” McGaffigan says. “People are taking foundational safety science courses to understand what safety science is all about and how to really think about safety in the context of the broader system—whether that’s the macro environment that nurse executives, for example, are influencing, or the micro environment of a unit-level or office setting. We are starting to see more of the established workforces say, ‘This is a really important investment for me.’ ”

This emerging understanding of nurses’ role in promoting safety science is being seen at all levels, McGaffigan adds. It’s also becoming a strong differentiator for nurses seeking to take on increased levels of responsibility—and drive change at a broader level. 

“We have nurses who are playing substantial roles in formal patient safety provision who are at executive levels in organizations, middle management levels,” McGaffigan says. “We’re starting to see more nurses become certified as a professional in patient safety, so we’re seeing safety as a profession in and amongst itself and not just something you do on the side.”

Rising voices calling for patient safety measures

These shifts in the approach to safety aren’t the only method by which nurses are shaking up the status quo at healthcare organizations—they’re also taking to grassroots advocacy to drive improvements. 

Consider, for example, the momentous push that came from California nurses, largely through the California Nurses Association (CNA), to create the nation’s first regulations to prevent workplace violence in healthcare settings. It’s an issue that has a massive effect on patient safety, as research indicates that an unsafe working environment can impact the delivery of care and lead to longer hospital stays for patients as well as reduced patient satisfaction. The California law, which goes into effect April 1, is a testament to the power of nurses to drive change.