Fatigue in hospital nurses — ‘Supernurse’ culture is a barrier to addressing problems: A qualitative interview study

Linsey M. Steege, Jessica G. Rainbow

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

72 Scopus citations


Background Fatigue in hospital nurses is associated with decreased nurse satisfaction, increased turnover and negative patient outcomes. Addressing fatigue in nurses has been identified as a priority by many organizations worldwide in an effort to promote both a culture of patient safety and a healthy nursing workforce. Objectives The overall aim of this study was to explore barriers and facilitators within the hospital nurse work system to nurse coping and fatigue. The purpose of this paper is to describe emergent themes that offer new insight describing the relationships among nurse perceptions of fatigue, nursing professional culture, and implications for the nursing workforce. Design A qualitative exploratory study was used to explore nurse identified sources, barriers to addressing, and consequences of fatigue. Participants and setting: Twenty-two nurses working in intensive care and medical-surgical units within a large academic medical center in the United States participated in the interviews. Method Interviews with the participants followed a semi-structured interview guide that included questions eliciting participants' views on nurse fatigue levels, consequences of fatigue, and barriers to addressing fatigue. The interview transcripts were analyzed using directed content analysis guided by the Systems Engineering Initiative for Patient Safety (SEIPS) model. Additional themes that did not directly align with the SEIPS model were also identified. Results All nurses in the current study experienced fatigue; yet they had varying perspectives on the importance of addressing fatigue in relation to other health systems challenges. A new construct related to nursing professional culture was identified and defined as “Supernurse”. Identified subthemes of Supernurse include: extraordinary powers used for good; cloak of invulnerability; no sidekick; Kryptonite, and an alterego. These values, beliefs, and behaviors define the specific aspects of nursing professional culture that can act as barriers to fatigue risk management programs and achieving safety culture in hospital organizations. Nurse fatigue and attributes of nurse professional culture also have implications for nurse satisfaction and retention. Conclusions Findings from this study further support the role of nursing professional culture as an important barrier to effectively addressing fatigue in nursing work systems. Future work is needed to identify and evaluate innovative culture change models and strategies to target these barriers.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)20-28
Number of pages9
JournalInternational Journal of Nursing Studies
StatePublished - Feb 1 2017
Externally publishedYes


  • Culture
  • Fatigue
  • Hospital nursing staff
  • Nursing workforce

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Nursing


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