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Is Your Nursing Job Killing You? The Physical and Emotional Toll of Being a Nurse

Nursing can be a well-paying, rewarding career. But there are also serious drawbacks. What are some of the physical and emotional difficulties that nurses must overcome?

3.1 million

Number of registered nurses in the U.S.(1)


Percentage of nurses who work in medical/surgical hospitals, where workplace injuries are the most prominent (1)

More than 581,500

New RN jobs that will be created through 2018, creating a massive, nationwide nursing shortage. This leads to current nurses working longer hours. (1)

The Physical Toll

Lifting and Transferring Patients

Nurses often have to help move patients, either to lift and check for bedsores or to transfer them to another bed/hospital wing. (3)

According to a 2011 survey conducted by the American Nurses Association, only 64% of nurses say that patient lifting and transferring devices are readily available. (5)

Foot Pain

Nurses are on their feet all day, standing while talking with patients and walking from room to room. (3)

Out of 500 surveyed nurses, 167 reported developing plantar fasciitis, an inflammation of the connective tissues of the foot, after starting their nursing careers. That’s about 33%. (2)

Lower Back Pain

Many nurses who work long hours experience lower back pain due to long hours of standing and walking. (3)

56% of nurses have experience musculoskeletal pain caused or made worse by their jobs. (5)

Extremely Long Shifts

Working long shifts and work weeks can lead to fatigue-related errors and accidents. Many nurses work 12-hour shifts, sometimes through the night. (3)

Needlestick Injuries

600,000 – 800,000 needlestick injuries occur annually in the U.S., but 50% of these go unreported. (4)

21% of nurses worry about contracting HIV or Hepatitis from unsafe needles. (5)

Workplace Violence

Nurses are at risk of being harmed by both patients and fellow medical staff. (3)

11% of nurses in the U.S. report experiencing physical assault at work. (5)

The Emotional Toll

Constant Stress

74% of nurses are concerned about the effects of stress and overwork.(5)

Inability to Detach

Especially in new nurses, it is difficult not to get emotionally involved with patients. In more experienced nurses, many suffer from what’s called compassion fatigue, which is the depletion of compassion from years of feeling emotionally drained. (7)

Anxiety and Depression

Because of the high demands of the job and the emotional drain of caring for sometimes terminally ill patients, nurses are extremely susceptible to bouts of serious depression and anxiety.(7)

Nurses experience depression at twice the rate of the general public (18%). (6)

This means that 1 in 5 nurses is depressed. (6)