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Open Access Research article

Work factors and psychological distress in nurses' aides: a prospective cohort study

Willy Eriksen12*, Kristian Tambs1 and Stein Knardahl34

Author Affiliations

1 Division of Mental Health, Norwegian Institute of Public Health, Oslo, Norway

2 Department of General Practice and Community Medicine, University of Oslo, Oslo, Norway

3 Department of Physiology, National Institute of Occupational Health, Oslo, Norway

4 Department of Psychology, University of Oslo, Oslo, Norway

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BMC Public Health 2006, 6:290  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-6-290

Published: 28 November 2006

Abstract

Background

Nurses' aides (assistant nurses), the main providers of practical patient care in many countries, are doing both emotional and heavy physical work, and are exposed to frequent social encounters in their job. There is scarce knowledge, though, of how working conditions are related to psychological distress in this occupational group. The aim of this study was to identify work factors that predict the level of psychological distress in nurses' aides.

Methods

The sample of this prospective study comprised 5076 Norwegian nurses' aides, not on leave when they completed a mailed questionnaire in 1999. Of these, 4076 (80.3 %) completed a second questionnaire 15 months later. A wide spectrum of physical, psychological, social, and organisational work factors were measured at baseline. Psychological distress (anxiety and depression) was assessed at baseline and follow-up by the SCL-5, a short version of Hopkins Symptom Checklist-25.

Results

In a linear regression model of the level of psychological distress at follow-up, with baseline level of psychological distress, work factors, and background factors as independent variables, work factors explained 2 % and baseline psychological distress explained 34 % of the variance. Exposures to role conflicts, exposures to threats and violence, working in apartment units for the aged, and changes in the work situation between baseline and follow-up that were reported to result in less support and encouragement were positively associated with the level of psychological distress. Working in psychiatric departments, and changes in the work situation between baseline and follow-up that gave lower work pace were negatively associated with psychological distress.

Conclusion

The study suggests that work factors explain only a modest part of the psychological distress in nurses' aides. Exposures to role conflicts and threats and violence at work may contribute to psychological distress in nurses' aides. It is important that protective measures against violent patients are implemented, and that occupational health officers offer victims of violence appropriate support or therapy. It is also important that health service organisations focus on reducing role conflicts, and that leaders listen to and consider the views of the staff.