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Battling Burnout in Nursing

Battling Burnout in Nursing

Megan Malugani | Monster Contributing Writer

The odds are high that burnout will strike every healthcare professional at some point. Health workers – as well as teachers, ministers and others in the caring professions – are at increased risk for the stress syndrome because of the intensity of their work and the emotional bonds they form with the people they’re helping, experts say.

“Most people in the healthcare professions carry their jobs home with them,” says Sandy Ewing, an expert in burnout prevention and the owner of Sandy Ewing Communicates, in Preston, Connecticut. “It’s good to really care about your patients. But if you don’t know how to distance yourself at times, it will be a problem.”

Henry Pfifferling, PhD, director of the Center for Professional Well-Being, in Durham, North Carolina, urges healthcare workers to recognize and address their own needs. “Healthcare providers think, ‘I went into this for patients and now there is no time for me. I have nothing left to give,’” he says. Eventually, health professionals who constantly put their patients’ needs above their own will start to burn out.

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What Is Burnout?

Generally, burnout is caused by a person’s inability to relieve the physical and mental symptoms associated with unrelenting stress, Ewing says. It can show up as poor job performance, an impersonality with patients and lack of motivation. Health problems such as high blood pressure, insomnia, depression or addiction can also be signs of burnout. The degree of burnout and the way the syndrome manifests itself vary widely from person to person. “First-degree burnout” may include nothing more than a negativity about the workplace, while “third-degree burnout” could be so bad that a health professional has no interest in ever going back to work in the field, Pfifferling says. Another way to define burnout is “emotional exhaustion,” he says.

Warning Signs

Generally, burnout is a progressive phenomenon, signaled by subtle changes in mood, Pfifferling says. People who are on the verge of burnout take a long time regaining their energy and positive attitude about their work. For example, if it takes a week rather than a weekend away from the workplace to restore your energy, you may be burning out. A health professional’s burnout level can also be measured at the beginning and end of each day, Pfifferling says. If you’ve always awoken in the morning looking forward to the day and now you don’t, burnout may be the cause. And at the end of the day, “only recollecting the negative parts of the day is a serious sign,” Pfifferling adds.

Next: Stomp Our Burnout >>

  • Photo_user_blank_big


    11 months ago


    Amen to alwaysanurse1! If you are a good nurse, you are emotionally invested - Caring for your patients is an important part of your identity. When hospital administrators pile non-patient-care busywork on, the nurse has to either neglect her patients, face disciplinary action for failing to do the redundant busywork designed to give the illusion of nurse autonomy, or sacrifice her (or his) "real life."

    I love taking care of my patients, but I have less and less time to do so - But I can't leave at the end of the day knowing I neglected my patients to be a corporate whore, so I work ungodly hours, and neglect my personal life to the point where I don't even remember what I used to find enjoyable before this hosiptal sucked my soul dry.

    I sit in my car for 20 minutes or more trying to summon the will to walk into work each day. Sometimes I throw up. I'm on antidepressants, and still I can't sleep, can't eat.

    I'm a damn good nurse. I'm a lousy secretary and an even worse corporate shill. And I think I'm going to leave the profession for good.

    Hospitals have "nurse apreciation days," where al the nurses get a tote bag or maybe a plastic water bottle. Sometimes cake. "Nurse researchers" do studies on burnout, and suggest reiki sessions, or encouraging exercise. It's nothing but lip service, and every nurse knows it. If nurses were valued by hospital administration, they'd be given the tools to be able to care for their patients.

    I'm not to the stage of disconnect from my patients yet. It isn't their fault administrators value their care even less than the nurses who provide it. If I get to that point, I will walk away without a backward glance.

    This is what burnout looks like, and reiki sessions, yoga and tote bags will not address it. And I don't see it improving anytime soon.

  • Photo_user_blank_big


    almost 2 years ago


    good article

  • Photo_user_blank_big


    almost 4 years ago


    Alwaysanurse1, I couldn't have said it any better.

  • Family_visit_2010_068_max50


    over 4 years ago


    I take good care of myself but over time, there has been a distinct cultural shift in the hospital at which I had been employed for over 15 years. There's never any praise, only criticism or "write-ups" if your supervisor thinks that you did something wrong. Hardly ever are you given the benefit of the doubt for being the professional you are and having proved that over time. Rather, it appears that the older, experienced nurse is targeted as being a "trouble-maker" because we simply say how it really is. We remember the former days and how we could use our critical thinking skills and be patient advocates like we were taught in nursing school and that made us good nurses. Today that means that you are not conforming to management's agenda and therefore you no longer fit in and should leave or be terminated. I swear that they are trying to turn nurses into mindless robots. They have us "scripting," and spending more time with the computer than with the patient. It appears that management is trying to run the hospital as if it is some assembly-line job with standardized times and products. But that model just does not work in patient care, but they don't want to hear it. I'm so frustrated--I'm glad to be out of it for now and doing home health care. It is so much more rewarding. I can still use my brain and be commended for it by the patients and the Agency.

  • Photo_user_blank_big


    about 6 years ago


    Been nurse for a long while, what I've been doing is exercise regularly (at least 3x/week) to nurture myself . Discovered walking,hiking and be with nature to remind and refreshen my senses - long shift hours makes me feel burned out. We as nurses got to learn how to take care of our own being , to be more therapeutic in taking care of our patients. Life's too short and unpredictable.

  • Photo_user_blank_big


    about 6 years ago


    i know i am burnt out. i use to enjoy going to work. it made me happy. now every day more responsibility and demands are made . more paperwork more reports and no staffing changes i am working in a clinic that services over 2000 students from 6th grade to 12th. one lpn one nurse practioner one registrar one social worker its a full functioning service clinic. we cant even take a break many times. we have addressed the issues but honestly no one is really listening. we all are having serious medical problems of our own on top of the work load. i have seriouly started to look for new job prospects its really sad that the health field has gotten so complex. there are no easy solutions. bourdony

  • J0423100_max50


    about 6 years ago


    I agree with HAVE to keep learning and change the scenery every once in a while. Bottom line...when you're feeling stressed DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT!!!! Otherwise it'll eat you alive and make you miserable. Been there, done that, got MANY t-shirts, lol!

  • Unedit_2011_001_max50


    about 6 years ago


    Burnout can happen in any career. I've suffered from burnout several times in my career. The best thing I've found to keep burnout out of my life is to keep learning......keep settting goals for one's self and career----try to avoid from having things becoming routine! When you feel burnout coming on, if possible have a supervisor move you to a different assignment. Sometimes a change of scenery can spark what made you want to originally get into your career field. Burnout will occur, so when it does, deal with it so it doesn't ruin you!

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