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Nurse Burnout: What It Is, Its Impact and Tips to Prevent It

by Sara Sparrow | Mar 14, 2022 | Burnout, Healthcare, Healthcare Industry, healthcare organizations, mental health, nurse, nurse burnout, nurse shortage, nurses, nursing profession, physical health, preventing burnout, registered nurse, RN, stress, wellbeing
Nurse Burnout: What It Is, Its Impact and Tips to Prevent It

Nurses play a pivotal role in keeping us up and moving, especially in recent years. The nursing profession is a rewarding one that comes with many benefits. However, nurses are now experiencing nurse burnout due to being overworked, exhausted for seeing an influx of patients and also the growing nursing shortage in the U.S.

What is Burnout?

The term “burnout” goes all the way back to the 1970’s when American psychologist Herbert Freudenberger first coined the term. He used it to describe a feeling of overwhelming mental, physical and emotional exhaustion. Other signs of burnout include:

  • Low mood
  • Issues sleeping
  • Poor concentration
  • A development of apathetic feeling
  • Headaches
  • General ill health from a weakened immune system and more

Nurses may experience burnout for a variety of reasons. Those reasons may include a demanding workload, long shifts of 12+ hours, and a poor work/life balance.

Currently, 63% of nurses feel like they are experiencing burnout which costs the health care industry at large $14 billion a year and hospitals specifically $9 billion a year. In 2017, a study discovered that 50% of nurses have thought about leaving their career with 27% of them naming workload as the cause.

The Impact of Burnout in Nurses

Like any other profession, being a nurse can come with its own stresses. When nurses feel burnt out in their work, that can negatively affect their wellbeing.

Yes, there will be patients that will come and go. However, if the nurse isn’t up to par, or is simply having a bad day, that can tamper with the “we’re here to help you” image needed to serve patients.

In hindsight, if a nurse is experiencing burnout, they will most likely:

  • Feel disengaged from patients
  • Be insensitive and/or have lack of empathy or compassion towards others
  • Have work performance issues
  • Change how they view their role
  • Have negative outlooks
  • Make poor decisions which may affect patient care
  • Strain relationships with colleagues and/or co-workers, creating an uncomfortable work environment, and so on…

The Impact of Nurse Burnout on Organizations

Additionally, nurse burnout doesn’t only affect nurses, it also has a costly impact on organizations.

According to a 2021 NSI National Health Care Retention Report, the average cost of turnover for an RN is $40,038+ resulting in an average hospital loss between $3.6M to $6.5M/per year. As a result, even if nurses don’t leave an organization but experience burnout, they automatically must reduce clinical hours which leads to fewer patients, lower billing and in some cases diminished quality of care.

Errors that rise from nurse burnout also hold a heavy financial burden for organizations. A recent study from the National Center for Biotechnology Information found that “burnout” errors in hospitals and clinics cost about $20M/per year and result in approximately 100,000 deaths annually.

Therefore, when dealing with nurse burnout, the cost of malpractice suits, financial damages, and correcting these errors is also extremely costly to the organization. Many times, correcting an error involves patients having to stay longer at a hospital at no cost to them, and having providers care for the patient which they cannot bill.

Preventing Burnout

Given this is such a prevalent issue, it only seems fair to offer nurses some tips on how to prevent burnout. Here are 4 ways nurses can prevent burnout:

1.     Manage Workload

Managing your workload is a good first step to help deal with burnout. Look at your workload and see if there is anything that can be delegated to someone else. Try not to overload another nurse but be aware that you may have taken on too much yourself.

Take regular breaks, insist on being allowed 15 minutes every so often to recharge. Taking a break will reset your mind for work and allow you to decompress slightly so that you don’t feel overwhelmed. This could be difficult if your organization is short on staff or if you have a high workload. If this is the case, it is the responsibility of your manager and/or employer to come up with the best solution that is beneficial to both.

2.     Manage Physical Health and Mental Health

Practice self-care. Try and look after yourself physically and mentally to help you have a good starting point when dealing with burnout. Exercise for 30 minutes a day and attend regular therapy sessions when you can to make sure that you aren’t getting emotionally burned out.

Check your sleep hygiene. If you are experiencing insomnia or just haven’t got a good routine in place, you should speak to your doctor to find out what you can do to try and improve it. If you are too tired, you won’t be able to deal with burnout.

Find a support group of other nurses going through similar issues. It can really help to have someone who understands exactly what you are going through. Talking and expressing your feelings is a good first step as this reiterates that you aren’t alone.

3.     Set Boundaries Between Work and Home

Negotiate a good work/life balance as much as possible. As a nurse, try not to let problems in the workplace come home and if possible, avoid all contact with work whilst at home unless it’s an emergency.

Create that separation so that your home feels like a sanctuary away from the chaos at work.

4.     Talk to Management

If you are not being allowed to take regular breaks, separate your home, and work life, or are working overly long shifts it’s time to talk to management. See if you can negotiate better shift schedules and as said before insisting on regular 15-minute breaks to allow you to recharge.

This can feel quite daunting to some, especially those of us who don’t like to ask for help.  However, it is your managers job to make sure your work environment is suitable and safe for you.

Conclusion

Overall, burnout is too common an issue for you to ignore and is something that can be dealt with if you are willing to ask for help. Don’t let yourself become overworked working shifts that leave it impossible for you to effectively manage your own wellbeing.

More about our guest contributor Sara Sparrow: Sara Sparrow is a technical writer and recruitment consultant at Study Demic.

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