Burnout in Nursing: Are you burnt out?

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My Experience

There was a time in my life when I dreaded going to work. Not because I’m lazy, but because I had to be prepared for the unexpected. If I was off for three days, I would start the countdown until 7 pm when I had to return to work. The closer the time got, the more I dreaded it. I would start to become impatient and easily annoyed at the people around me because of my inner struggle. Then one day I spoke to a co-worker, a fellow nurse, who told me she sometimes cried on her way to work. This really struck a chord in me. I’m not the only one. The nurse who told me she cried sometimes, was a strong, experienced, level-headed nurse, who took excellent care of her patients.

At the time, the term burnout meant nothing to me, until I attended a class that the hospital required us to go to. In it, they talked about taking care of yourself as a nurse. The instructor stated that if you feel constantly exhausted or had any other signs of burnout, then it might be a good idea to think of a job transfer. I remember thinking, well that’s easy for you to say. Because not everyone can move around in nursing, especially when you need specific hours or you don’t have enough experience or skill in that area.

Fast-forward two years later. I changed departments and changed my life.  I never dreaded going to work anymore and therefore I could really enjoy my time off with my family. There were still times when work was stressful, but I didn’t feel constantly drained like I did in my old job. I now know that it took me too long to recognize the signs of burnout to the point that it had started to infect other areas of my life.

Burnout in nursing

Are You Burnt Out?

Many nurses are feeling burnt out every day. What does that mean? Simply put, its when nurses lose their energy and become physically and mentally exhausted. If the feelings continue, the nurses will start to feel disengaged from everything around them, including their patients. They might become, irritable, cynical and unhappy at work. Burnout in nurses can happen for a number of different reasons.

  • Taking care of critical patients. Working in an intensive care unit or any other unit and dealing with sick patients can lead to burnout. Having the responsibility of another human being’s life in your hands is a lot of pressure.
  • Taking care of families. Nowadays, the medical culture has shifted to include family members in the care plan for the patient. The nurse has to help the family with coping skills when they have a loved one who is sick. This can put an emotional strain on the nurse.
  • Working long hours without sufficient break time. Because nursing care deals with people’s lives, it can be hard to schedule breaks at a specific time every day. One a really busy day, a nurse can work a whole twelve-hour shift without eating lunch.
  • Working too many days in a row. There is a nursing shortage, which means that there are unfilled positions in many hospitals across the US. A lot of nurses will pick up extra shifts, because they need extra money, or because they are trying to help their unit. Those extra days can lead to more exhaustion and ultimately burnout.
  • Working alongside other nurses that are unhappy. In my article Nurses Eat their Young, it mentions how some nurses struggle to be included as a team member on the nursing unit. This is where a lot of newbies in nursing get burnt out.

nursing burnout

Take Control

At some point in their career, nurses will have to deal with one of these stressors mentioned above. However, it should not be a constant daily struggle. This is a warning sign that they might have burnout.

As a profession that is already at a shortage for nurses, it is important that nurses take control of their lives and happiness and find ways to combat the symptoms of burnout. Otherwise, many more will leave the whole profession altogether. And this would be very sad because nursing is an awesome career choice. See why here.

For some, it might be as simple as taking a week-long vacation. For others, it might mean that they transfer to a different unit or take on another nursing role.

But the bottom line is that nurses have to take care of themselves if they are to be effective caregivers to others.