Nurses Work in Tight Spaces Under Intense Circumstances

I’m standing in the patient nutrition nook, eating a mid-morning snack of yogurt with a plastic fork, because I can’t find the plastic spoons. Twelve feet away, a patient can see me from her infusion chair. She smiles and waves at me.

At the same time, another nurse joins me in the nook, which is so tiny we stand nearly shoulder-to-shoulder as she responds to a text from her kids. This doesn’t bother me; she’s just looking for a private moment, same as me.

Under Oregon law, farmers selling eggs are required to make changes in how their chickens are raised by 2026.

watercolor painting by jparadisi

watercolor painting by jparadisi

According to the article, egg farmers must increase the personal space of each chicken from 67 square inches to 116.3 square inches. I’m trying to visualize what this would translate to proportionately in private space for nurses.

I don’t know very much about chickens, but I do know a little about nurses. We work in tight spaces under intense circumstances.

Finding a private spot from which to make a phone call or even to enjoy a quiet half hour during a lunch break is nearly impossible for nurses. A staff lounge for breaks provides respite from direct contact with patients, but since it’s a common area, not only nurses you work with, but people from ancillary departments, usually share it too.

Here’s the thing about people — we’re all different. For some, a break means eating a lunch brought from home, catching up with friends’ updates on Facebook, or reading a book or magazine. Other nurses, however, are re-energized by using their breaks for socializing. There’s not a right way or wrong way to take a break from patient care; it’s a matter of personal diversity.

Regardless of either style, it’s not likely that hospital units or clinics will increase private space for nurses. While it’s acceptable for hens to be less productive when privacy needs are not met, it is not acceptable for nurses to be less productive or deliver unsafe care because of a lack of personal space.

How can nurses support each other’s privacy needs?

  • Respect each other’s different break styles by moderating the volume of conversation in the break room.
  • Exercise patience with coworkers who re-energize through socialization.
  • Text rather than talk on the phone whenever possible.
  • Be sensitive to signals the person you’re on break with may not want to talk, such as reading a book or magazine.

What is your personal privacy style at work? Does your institution provide a quiet space for nurses? What are your tips for finding moments of private time at work?