A researcher standing between two seated students points toward a computer screen

Protecting Nurses’ Mental Health

Farzan Sasangohar, middle, tests his surveillance technologies with students in the lab before using them with health workers.


Texas A&M Engineering

Nurses help millions of people take care of their physical and mental health. But who ensures that nurses’ health is taken care of? Farzan Sasangohar, associate professor in the Wm Michael Barnes ’64 Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering at Texas A&M University, aims to better understand systemic contributors to provider mental health issues such as stress, anxiety, post-traumatic stress and burnout.

Sasangohar’s research focuses on the application of human factors engineering methods to design, develop and evaluate complex systems such as healthcare. His latest study used innovative and unconventional ways to assess how workloads and other factors could challenge intensive care unit nurses’ cognition and trigger stressful events that can lead to burnout. professional over time.

Sasangohar’s multidisciplinary research team – including researchers with clinical, psychology and industrial engineering backgrounds – used non-intrusive, wearable eye-tracking and physiological monitoring technologies to collect real-world data. Study participants were registered nurses in a cardiovascular intensive care unit at Houston Methodist Hospital. The nurses wore the goggles for their entire 12-hour shift and their physiological stress responses were assessed over multiple shifts. The data provided an objective account of tasks performed, identified potential distractions, and accurately tracked gaze behavior, which Sasangohar says is key to understanding mental workload.

“We were interested in documenting what external triggers or events lead to stressful events or high workload, and how mental health outcomes changed over the course of a shift,” Sasangohar said. “We were also interested in the differences between day and night shifts in terms of physical and cognitive loads and stress.”

The research, partially funded by a Dyer Fellowship awarded to Sasangohar at Houston Methodist Hospital, documented several key relationships between stress and physiological correlates, including heart rate and skin temperature, and eye measurements such as the number of eye fixation, entropy of gaze and pupil diameter. . An interesting finding was that workload did not differ significantly between day and night shifts. While the night shift involved relatively less social and team-related activities, the effects of drowsiness could have made the workload equivalent to that of the day shift. The unique dataset collected in this study could pave the way for further research to support the work of nurses.

“Eye-tracking data collected spanning the entire shift of more than 20 nurses provides a unique opportunity to understand the context of care and has implications beyond mental health,” Sasangohar said. “For example, the data can be used for task and teamwork training, quality improvement, workflow analysis, among others.”

This research has been the subject of two separate articles in Human Factors: The Journal of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society:

Sasangohar’s next steps are to use some of his team’s recent advances in objective measures of cognitive and physical stress to design and evaluate remote, continuous stress monitoring and self-management tools for nurses.

“Health care is one of the most complex and challenging work environments that we will all interact with and benefit from at some point,” he said. “The COVID-19 pandemic has wreaked havoc among healthcare providers and led to an alarming increase in mental health issues. I am passionate about this vulnerable population and I am happy that my research has the potential to improve their well-being.

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