Why Nurses Need to Understand Statistics

Statistics have been a fundamental part of the nursing profession since the days of Florence Nightingale, the first known nurse statistician and the founder of professional nursing. During the Crimean War, Nightingale used statistics to show that improved sanitary conditions led to fewer military deaths. She pushed for the standardized collection of medical data and encouraged benchmarking, even when statistics showed her hospital had the worst mortality rate. In short, Nightingale used statistics to improve health and sway public opinion.

Today’s nurses also need a working knowledge of nursing statistics for the profession to evolve and improve. That’s why students enrolled in Loyola University New Orleans’ Master of Science in Nursing and Doctor of Nursing Practice degree programs must either take a course in statistics or else transfer one in. The amount of clinical research published each year continues to grow, along with the expectation that nurses will incorporate evidence-based practices in hospitals, clinics, nursing homes, physicians’ offices, and other settings.

Statistics are all around us

Statistics are part of our personal and professional lives, whether we’re talking about the probability of rain on a given day or the odds that a patient with clogged arteries could have a heart attack. Statistics are a way of viewing and understanding data that provides information and insight as to how one event relates to another. In the nursing profession, the use of statistics directly affects patient care and advocacy efforts to advance the profession.

Support evidence-based practices

Nursing practice is increasingly based on empirical evidence that demonstrates the most effective protocols for patient care. Yet for evidence-based practice to become well established, clinicians must have a basic understanding of statistics to be able to read, understand, and interpret the relevant literature. Armed with statistics, clinicians can determine if commonly used methods or protocols should be revised based on the relevant research. For instance, a hospital may change its policy to replace an IV line every 24 hours if a study shows that replacing the IV line every 20 hours reduces the risk of thrombophlebitis by 20 percent.

Enhance patient care at the bedside

Statistics allow nurses to prioritize treatment and determine whether or not a patient requires follow-up care or immediate medical attention. Nurses can use statistics to identify patterns in vital signs and symptoms so they can make informed decisions to better respond to a patient’s changing medical status. Even the use data sheets or frequency charts to document the timing of medications given to patients is a way nurses can use statistics.

Bring about changes in the nursing profession

Statistics can be useful when it comes to allocating limited resources or bringing about change in the nursing profession based on facts, rather than relying on emotional pleas or anecdotal evidence. For example, in one study of 232,342 surgical discharges from several Pennsylvania hospitals, 4,535 patients (2%) died within 30 days of admission; the investigators estimated that the difference between 4:1 and 8:1 nurse-to-patient staffing ratios might be roughly 1,000 deaths.

Educate the next generation of nurses

Understanding statistics is an important requirement for preparing future nurse researchers and faculty teaching in nursing programs. Experts cite a shortage of nurse faculty at a time when the need for nurses to care for an aging population is increasing.

Every nurse—whether pursuing a bachelor’s or an advanced degree in nursing—has the ability to achieve a working knowledge of statistics. Nursing students at Loyola University New Orleans who embrace statistics will boost their skills and confidence to deliver the highest level of care to their patients.