RNnetwork recently published the results of a new survey of more than 900 nurses working in the United States. One of the most concerning findings in the survey is the rate at which nurses shared feelings of burnout. In the survey, 69 percent of nurses said they were experiencing symptoms of burnout, and 44 percent said that burnout has affected their performance at work. Burnout adds up — to the extent that 49 percent of nurses have considered leaving the nursing profession altogether. Here’s a look at some of the causes of nurse burnout along with suggestions on ways to address burnout in your life.
What causes nurse burnout?
Nursing is a heroic, yet incredibly difficult profession. “If you’ve worked in a hospital, patients and employees will tell you they’re not wonderful places to be,” says Roger Dulude, an RNnetwork clinical nurse liaison. He works with travel nurses and hospitals and worked as a nurse himself before joining the RNnetwork team.
Hospitals and clinics are stressful in the first place, and the national nursing shortage hasn’t helped things. The RNnetwork survey found that 88 percent of nurses feel negatively impacted by the shortage. When there are fewer nurses, the remaining nurses have to work extra hours to fill the gaps. These longer hours make it even harder for nurses to find a balance between work and life.
Nurses also face issues with difficult patients, traumatic injuries and illnesses, and hospital politics. When you pair these issues with long hours, it’s easy to see why nurses might experience burnout.
What are the symptoms of nurse burnout?
The causes of burnout are varied, but the symptoms are largely the same. Nurses who feel burnout will be physically and mentally exhausted. This fatigue may be a result of sleep issues, but it can also simply result from the mental taxation of being unhappy at work.
Nurses experiencing burnout are also not engaged at work. It’s likely that they have a hard time feeling invested in their work, even though they still care about their patients. This can make it harder to take initiative and feel creative in the work they’re doing.
Some nurses may experience only a few of these symptoms, others feel all of them. If nurses recognize they’re feeling these symptoms, it’s important to step back and assess their situation.
How do you stop feeling burned out?
The causes, symptoms, and effects of burnout are all negative. But the positive is that there are ways to address nurse burnout.
Debi Scarola, a clinical nurse liaison for RNnetwork, says that if nurses are feeling unhappy in their job, they should take out a piece of paper and physically write down what makes them unhappy about work. Is it the long shifts? A difficult coworker? The nature of the department? Once nurses can identify what’s making them unhappy, it’s easier to figure out what they can and cannot fix.
Debi’s next bit of advice is for nurses to take their time off. This might feel difficult because of staffing shortages, but it’s much better to take a week-long vacation than to leave the nursing profession. This time off includes taking five minute breaks, lunch breaks, and days off!
It’s also important to focus on life outside of work day-to-day. Nurses should dedicate time to their hobbies, treat themselves to a nice movie or dinner, and be sure to spend time with friends and family.
Long-term, nurses should fully assess their nursing careers. If, for example, emergency medicine is too stressful, nurses can always consider moving to a different department in the hospital. Debi explains that nursing always has lots of doors, and nurses have the unique ability to shape their job into the ideal situation.
“A nursing degree is a tiny seed that grows into a beautiful tree. Find your branch,” says Debi.
Change your career with travel nursing
Sometimes change is the best way to reinvigorate your career. A great way for nurses to make a change is to try travel nursing. This option is a way to eliminate many of the factors that contribute to burnout, such as the monotony of routine, administrative overload, and frustration with your current job environment.
Roger points out that travel nurses have the added benefit of essentially unlimited vacation. Nurses can take breaks for as long as they want between assignments, and they don’t have to worry about letting their coworkers down.
“In this country, we’re expected to work continuously except for two or three weeks a year when we go on vacation,” says Roger. “Travel nurses have a unique ability to say ‘You know what? I’m going to take a month off between this assignment and the next one.’ I think that’s pretty healthy.”