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Nurse Burnout: Why It Matters and How to Fight It

Dec 23, 2019

Workplace burnout happens more often than you think, and can impact employees in all industries. But unlike in other fields, burnout in nursing and healthcare is a major problem that can have extremely negative consequences, for both the nurse themselves, and patients.

What is nurse burnout?

Nurse burnout is defined as “a widespread phenomenon characterized by a reduction in nurses’ energy that manifests in emotional exhaustion, lack of motivation, and feelings of frustration and may lead to reductions in work efficacy.” Burnout is similar to stress, but it has its own unique elements. Work stress is characterized as over-engagement with your job. Work burnout is different, characterized by disengagement and detachment. Stress can often lead to burnout; an employee may feel stressed in their profession and the longer they feel stressed, the more likely that stress is to turn into burnout. 

When an employee feels too engaged, they slowly start to let go, until they’re not engaged in anything at all. This emotional and mental exhaustion caused by stress leads directly to burnout in your profession.

Nurse burnout statistics.

Nursing burnout is a widespread, serious problem that many RNs face no matter where they work.

  • 43% of RNs working in hospital settings experience symptoms of emotional exhaustion.

  • 33% of RNs providing direct patient care in hospital settings experience burnout.

  • 50% of RNs have considered leaving the profession.

  • 37% of nurses providing direct patient care in nursing home settings experience burnout.

  • 36% of nurses working in hospital settings and 47% of nurses in nursing home settings reported that their workload caused them to miss important changes in their patients’ condition.

  • Over half of nurses are dissatisfied with their retirement benefits, and over 40% say they’re dissatisfied with their health benefits.

  • Patients also are 2% less likely to recommend a hospital to others for every 10% of nurses at the hospital reporting job dissatisfaction.  

  • An RN involved in direct patient healthcare in hospitals or nursing homes is the most likely to feel burnout.

Why does nurse burnout matter?

Nurse burnout is important to understand for a variety of reasons. The first reason is that there are thousands of nurses feeling unhappy and disengaged from their work, a reality that is harmful for their mental health and wellbeing. Additionally, nurse burnout has serious negative consequences for patients. Patients are more likely to be dissatisfied with their care, and suffer from worse health outcomes when their nurses are burned out. Burned out nurses may miss changes in their patient’s health, may move slowly and not be around for a crisis, may be distracted from their work, and more. When nurses are burned out, their mental and physical health, and the physical health of others, are all at risk.

Causes of nurse burnout.

There are many things that can ultimately cause nurse burnout in a healthcare setting including:

  • Long hours or overnight shifts.

  • High-stress environment.

  • Too many responsibilities.

  • Anxiety over if they are doing the right things for patients.

  • Bullying or harassment from patients or doctors.

  • Lack of benefits.

  • RN shortage leading to too much work and too many hours.

  • Lack of work/life balance.

  • Dissatisfaction with the job overall.

RN burnout symptoms.

There are lots of signs and symptoms that can indicate an RN is experiencing burnout. Nurses and nurse leaders need to watch for these things so they can understand when changes need to be made. These symptoms include:

  • Always feeling tired or fatigued.

  • Dreading going to work.

  • Emotional and physical exhaustion.

  • Feeling apathetic about helping others.

  • Constant dread or panic about work.

  • Loss of appetite.

  • Loss of sleep.

  • Increased anxiety and depression.

How to combat burnout in nursing.

While burnout is common in nursing, it doesn’t have to be inevitable. There are many things nurses and nurse leaders can do to help fight and prevent nurse burnout. 

Identify the signs. Know the signs of burnout that are common in nursing, and more importantly, learn what your personal signs are. Learn what your mind and body do when you start to get burned out, so you can be better equipped to take care of yourself. Knowing the signs can help you address burnout right away, instead of waiting and dealing with burnout for too long. 

Take care of yourself. When you work in nursing it’s vital you set aside time for yourself whenever possible. Though it’s not always feasible to do this while you’re at work, practice self-care outside of work to help you be prepared for the demands of your job. And when you’re at work, try and take just a few moments to breathe, drink some water, and set yourself up for the next tasks.

Learn to say “no." Many nurses get burned out because they take on too many responsibilities or feel an obligation to accept every task they’re given. Learn when and how to say “no” to things so you don’t take on more than you can handle. You’ll be a better nurse and your patients will be better served if you know your boundaries and limits, and maintain them whenever possible.

Ask for help. Don’t be afraid to reach out for help if you’re feeling burned out. Talk to a supervisor, coworker, or friend to start the conversation about how you’re feeling. Don’t hesitate to reach out to a professional if their help and advice can help you get where you want to be. It’s important to reach out to those in your circle so you’re not alone.

Reignite your passion for nursing. If you’re starting to feel burned out as a nurse, think about why you chose to become a nurse in the first place. Work to find the spark that ignited your passion for nursing to begin with. Sometimes going back to school to become a nurse leader can help you find that passion, allowing you to empower and support your peers. You can help make sure other nurses don’t feel burned out, and that patients can get the best attention and care possible. 

If you’re currently a nurse or are going to school to become one, it’s vital to understand nursing burnout and be prepared for it in your career. Knowing the signs and the best ways to fight burnout will help you be a better nurse, and ensure your patients get the very best care.

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