The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), adopted by the United Nations in 2016, are a set of 17 goals and 169 targets that cover a broad range of worldwide sustainable development issues. The aim is to achieve these goals and targets by the year 2030. The SDGs overlap and play a role in the determinants of health, too, as they are related to all aspects of human life: where we live, play, and work.
As a major force in healthcare delivery systems, inclusion of and collaboration with the nursing profession is crucial to maximize the impact of interventions geared at achieving the SDGs. While some progress has been made towards achieving the SDGs, global efforts continue to fall short of reaching these targets. The reasons are numerous, but we are here to talk about one in particular: There is no public health without good workplace health.
A healthy and engaging nursing workforce leads to a healthier and more engaged patient population with better health outcomes. However, for nurses to realize their full potential, the practice environment must be safe, empowering, and satisfying. Today’s nurses are experiencing high rates of burnout and stress due to workplace violence, injuries, and bullying, which all contribute to burnout. The COVID-19 pandemic has presented additional challenges to healthcare organizations, adding yet another level of stress for nurses and other healthcare workers.
We already know healthy work environments (HWEs) can help reduce that burnout, but let’s take a look at how they can also support the SDGs:
SDG 10 | Reduced Inequities + SDG 8 | Decent Work and Economic Growth
Part of creating HWEs includes reducing inequalities in the workplace, like income or those based on age, sex, disability, race, ethnicity, origin, or religion. Minorities historically experience unequal access to educational opportunities, higher rates of hiring discrimination, and overrepresentation in lower-paying service occupations. These inequities are also reflected in the limited racial and ethnic diversity of the healthcare workforce.
In high resources settings like the United States, some examples of actions that might reduce inequalities include diverse and inclusive hiring practices, implicit bias training, and holistic admission policies. This contributes to a more diverse healthcare workforce, and that directly impacts patient outcomes. We know that patient-provider concordance is associated with trust, adherence, and better disease management as well as less attrition in follow-up care.
SDG 12 | Responsible Consumption and Production + SDG 13 | Climate Action
HWEs also provide an opportunity to positively impact the global environment. Hospitals generate 5 million tons of waste each year. This equates to 1% of nonresidential landfill waste. Every nurse can contribute to waste reduction in the clinical setting. Carilion Roanoke Memorial Hospital in Virginia, USA, set out to reduce hospital waste in the clinical setting. By reducing linen par levels and reviewing bed change policies, the organization was able to decrease linen utilization significantly, resulting in a six-months savings of US $83,000 for their institution. They also looked at supply waste. If you have been a nurse in the clinical setting, you know that we throw away a lot of unopened, unused items due to overstocking and oversupply. Instead of sending this type of “clean” trash to the landfill, they created a donation program. Today, they've donated over 87,000 pounds of unused medical supplies to nursing education programs.
Though not available to many of us in the nursing profession, we have to also mention the positive impact of remote work opportunities. A flexible schedule can reduce a person’s total travel by 10 to 15% and promotes gender equality with a better life and work integration.
All of the SDGs are determinants of health and well-being. So, as nurses, it is our job to promote the SDGs, but we can really only make a difference if we are backed by a healthy work environment. It bears repeating, there is no public health without good workplace health!
Valerie Clary-Muronda, PhD, RNC-OB, is a nursing instructor at Thomas Jefferson University in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, USA. In addition to being a Sigma United Nations Liaison, she is a member of Sigma’s Delta Rho Chapter.
Janice E. Hawkins, PhD, RN, is a clinical associate professor at Old Dominion University School of Nursing in Virginia Beach, Virginia, USA, and a retired Army nurse. In addition to being a Sigma United Nations Liaison, she is an executive board member of Sigma’s Epsilon Chi Chapter at Old Dominion University.