Describing nurses' work: Combining quantitative and qualitative analysis

Laurie D. Wolf, Patricia Potter, Jennifer A. Sledge, Stuart B. Boxerman, Deborah Grayson, Bradley Evanoff

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

76 Scopus citations


Objective: To better understand nursing activities and working conditions. Background: Nursing practice involves astute clinical decision making and the competent delivery of nursing care procedures. To complete nursing procedures, nurses must simultaneously organize and reorganize priorities and manage changing clinical information for multiple patients. Few researchers have examined the specific nature of nurses' activities and the effect of the environment on their work. Methods: Quantitative and qualitative methods were used to collect data on 7 nurses engaged in nursing activities. Examples of methods include link analysis, subject matter expert, task analysis, cognitive pathway, and "stacking." Data collection focused on how nurses managed priorities, changing clinical information, and interruptions. Results: The "cognitive pathway" graphically depicts the nature of nurses' work. Specifically, it reveals the shifting of the nurse's attention from patient to patient and the occurrence of interruptions. "Stacking" shows the number of tasks a nurse must balance at any one time. On average, nurses had 10 or more activities waiting to be performed and experienced 3.4 interruptions/hr. Conclusion: These methods provide unique insight into the dynamic nature of patient care and nursing work. Application: Extension of the methods demonstrated here may be useful in guiding efforts to change the work of nursing to better provide quality care and less stressful work environments.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)5-14
Number of pages10
JournalHuman Factors
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 1 2006


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