A 36-Hospital Time and Motion Study

How Do Medical-Surgical Nurses Spend Their Time?

This article examines the methodology and findings of a time and motion study to measure how nurses spend their time at work. The study suggests areas for improvement in terms of efficiencies and reveals the arduous nature of nursing practice.

Nurses form the backbone of hospital care delivery. With hospitals facing financial challenges and a worsening workforce shortage, it is critical for policy-makers to reconsider work processes and the work environment to ensure safe and efficient delivery of care. In this article, the authors examine a time and motion study designed to quantify how medical-surgical nurses spend their time, how the work environment affects use of their time, and to measure the distance they travel during a work shift. The study was conducted at 36 hospital medical-surgical units within 17 health care systems and 15 states. A total of 767 nurses participated.

Key Findings:

  • More than three-quarters of nurses' time was devoted to nursing practice.
  • Patient care activities accounted for only 19.3 percent of nursing practice.
  • No relationship was found between architectural design of work units and the time nurses spent with patients.
  • Nurses traveled between 1 and 5 miles per 10-hour daytime shift and between 1.3 and 3.3 miles at night.

This study was conducted with support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.