While nursing is one of the most in-demand fields in the country, a shortage of available openings in nursing schools has led to a growing gap between the supply and demand for skilled nurses. Due to this gap, many nurses in hospitals and healthcare facilities are inundated with more work than they can handle.
RN Network’s 2017 study on nurse burnout surveyed over 600 professionals and determined that nearly half of nurses working in the United States have considered leaving the field. Reasons mentioned included feeling overworked, being swamped with paperwork, and an overall lack of job satisfaction.
…a shortage of available openings in nursing schools has led to a growing gap between the supply and demand for skilled nurses.
Nurses face many stressful issues in the workplace, which may ultimately lead to what is known as burnout. Everyone is susceptible to burnout, no matter their line of work. This state can have severe effects on a person’s quality of life, both in and out of work. In some severe cases, burnout may lead to resignation, as professionals struggle to free themselves from emotional exhaustion.
What is Nurse Burnout?
Nurse burnout is a physical, mental, and emotional state caused by chronic overwork and a sustained lack of job fulfillment and support. Common burnout symptoms may include physical or emotional exhaustion, job-related cynicism, and a low sense of personal accomplishment. Rather than improving on its own, untreated burnout may lead to clinical depression, as unaddressed symptoms compound over time.
Causes of Nursing Burnout
Nurse burnout is caused by many different work-related issues. Nurses deal with death on a regular basis, and the emotional strain of losing patients and assisting grieving family members may become overwhelming. In addition, long shifts of 12 or more hours often lead to exhaustion and stress. Nurses in high-stress environments such as hospital emergency departments may be especially susceptible to burnout symptoms.
Less commonly addressed causes of nursing burnout are related to individual personality, rather than job environment. Nurses must work with others in a collaborative fashion. For some professionals, this lack of independent decision making and constant pressure to meet social expectations leads to mental exhaustion. A 2014 University of Akron study reported that nurses who enter the field with the goal of helping others may be more susceptible to burnout, as they tend to take their perceived job-related success or failure personally.
Warning Signs and Symptoms of Nursing Burnout
Everyone reacts differently to stressors, whether they be physical, emotional, or environmental in nature. Similarly, burnout can manifest in a variety of ways. For this reason, it is often difficult to recognize the symptoms of burnout in yourself or a coworker. While several common nurse burnout symptoms are described below, this list is by no means exhaustive. Some individuals may experience certain indications and not others, or they may experience one symptom at a greater intensity than another.
The most important thing is to recognize symptoms as early as possible before they become overwhelming. No matter how minute warning signs may seem at the time, it’s crucial to listen to your body and mind. All healthcare professionals should be familiar with potential burnout symptoms, and should be prepared to deal with them as quickly as possible.
What Are Nurse Burnout Symptoms?
While irritability is a common human emotion, excessive or chronic irritability in the workplace can be an early sign of burnout. If you are frustrated more often than not at work, examine the cause and try to adjust your perspective.
Frequently Calling in Sick
Everyone needs a sick day now and then, but if you are regularly relying on sick days, you may need to seek an alternate method of self-care that does not interfere with work.
Intolerance to Change
Change in the workplace can be difficult to deal with. When a reluctance to adjust to changes begins interfering with professional efficacy, however, you may be pushing yourself closer to a state of burnout.
Nurses work long, hard hours, and at least some fatigue is to be expected among professionals. However, if you feel constantly exhausted, even on days off, your job may be causing burnout.
"Checked Out" Mentality
A chronic feeling of “going through the motions” is one of the most common burnout symptoms. Try to engage with your work in new ways. Speaking with coworkers about experiencing this symptom may help.
Areas With High Levels of Nurse Burnout
While individuals in all nursing jobs and employees in all industries are susceptible to burnout, there are some specialized nursing positions in which cases of burnout are more common. Typically, oncology and emergency response encounter the largest number of nurse burnout cases.
Oncology nurses form relationships with cancer patients. As participants in the emotional and sometimes lengthy journeys of those battling cancer, these nurses may experience acute feelings of loss as they face higher instances of patient death.
In the emergency department, cases typically come with a greater sense of urgency than other nursing environments. In addition to facing high-pressure situations on a regular basis, emergency nurses handle an exceptionally large volume of patients. Compared to a typical medical ward, in which nurses typically see four patients per shift, emergency nurses might be responsible for up to 50 before their shift is over. These conditions often cultivate a burnout-prone environment.
Battling Burnout for Nurses
As with many health concerns, the best way to fight burnout is to recognize its warning signs, take the symptoms seriously, and seek intervention as early as possible. While it’s certainly possible to treat an active case of burnout, preventing it in the first place is ideal. Changing an entire work environment is difficult, if not impossible, but professionals can take several steps to safeguard their mental health. Nurses experiencing burnout symptoms have a variety of resources at their disposal.
…hospitals offer employee assistance programs for nurses that include free phone counseling sessions, or other forms of stress management and self-care support.
Increasingly, hospitals offer employee assistance programs for nurses that include free phone counseling sessions, or other forms of stress management and self-care support. For those who need more advanced coping resources, professional and pastoral counseling, support groups, and therapy are also available.
Perhaps the best method for reducing job-related stress, however, is adapting behavior outside of work. By keeping your professional life and your home life separate and avoiding dwelling on work issues at home, you can more easily relax when off the clock. Take time for self-care by maintaining a well-balanced diet, exercise, and getting adequate rest. Enjoying hobbies and investing in relaxation techniques like meditation or journaling are also excellent ways to relieve stress.