Nurses who rate themselves as being in suboptimal health are more likely to make medical errors, reports a study in the February Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine.

Nurses who feel their workplace provides good support for wellness perceive their health as better—and thus may be less likely to make errors, suggests the study by Bernadette Melnyk, PhD, RN, of The Ohio State University College of Nursing and colleagues.

The researchers analyzed data from a national survey study including 1,790 U.S. nurses. In response to questionnaires, 54 percent of nurses rated themselves as having "suboptimal" physical and mental health. About half of nurses said they had made at least one medical error in the past five years.

Suboptimal health was linked to a higher rate of self-reported medical errors. On adjusted analysis, medical errors were 26 percent more likely for nurses with worse physical health and 71 percent more likely for those with worse mental health. One-third of nurses reported some degree of depression, which was the strongest predictor of medical errors.

Nurses who perceived higher workplace wellness were more likely to rate their health as good. Those with the highest ratings for workplace wellness were twice as likely to rate their health as good, and almost six times more likely to have high professional quality of life.

Poor well-being and burnout in healthcare providers have been linked to poor patient safety outcomes, but few studies of this issue have focused on nurses. Preventable medical errors are the third highest cause of death in the U.S., resulting in more than 250,000 deaths per year.

"Although healthcare providers are typically known for taking great care of others, they often do not take adequate care of themselves," Dr. Melnyk and coauthors write. The new findings indicate that the physical and mental health of U.S. nurses is "far from optimal," and that nurses with lower perceived health report more medical errors.

Good support for wellness at the workplace is linked to better perceived health among nurses, which is in turn related to fewer medical errors. Dr. Melnyk and colleagues conclude, "Wellness and prevention must be made a high priority in healthcare systems throughout the nation to enhance optimal health and well-being in clinicians, improve healthcare quality, and decrease the odds of costly preventable medical errors."

Citation— Melnyk BM, Orsolini L, Tan A, et al. A national study links nurses’ physical and mental health to medical errors and perceived worksite wellness. J Occup Environ Med. 2018;60(2):126-31.

About the Author— Dr. Melnyk may be contacted for interviews at

About ACOEM— ACOEM (, an international society of 4,500 occupational physicians and other health care professionals, provides leadership to promote optimal health and safety of workers, workplaces, and environments.

About the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine— The Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine ( is the official journal of the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine. Edited to serve as a guide for physicians, nurses, and researchers, the clinically oriented research articles are an excellent source for new ideas, concepts, techniques, and procedures that can be readily applied in the industrial or commercial employment setting.