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Avoiding Burnout in Nursing


Published: 04 April 2017

Cover image for article: Avoiding Burnout in Nursing

The word ‘burnout‘ can be used to mean many things.

Stress, fatigue, irritation with yourself or others, hunger, a loss of inspiration or a combination of these can all be symptoms of burnout.

It often occurs in those who have high-stress jobs or those who tend to view their career as a priority, but everyone can experience it.

Nurses fall into the high-stress category, and burnout is a common term in the field. But what exactly does ‘burnout’ mean?

For bright-eyed, less stressed nurses it might just be a foreboding term of times to come, but understanding burnout might be a key in preventing it.

Burnout can best be defined as an emotionally, physically, and/or mentally exhausted and drained state of mind. This is caused by overextending one’s self or an overload of stress.

It can come from a variety of sources; from a traumatic event with a patient, to seemingly endless 12 hour shifts; it may not be as easily avoided as you’d think. It can also come from external sources.

Many people who face burnout have pressure coming from their personal life as well. This could be due to illness in the family, stressed relationships, or even moving house.

It’s important to note that burnout isn’t a sign of weakness, it’s something even the most passionate, selfless nurses can experience.

So, how can you avoid or prevent it? Here are some tips to help:

tips for avoiding burnout

Tips for Nurses to Avoid Burnout

A good start is knowing your personal limits and levels of stress. Does a long overnight shift tend to leave you physically and mentally exhausted? Or is it a particularly challenging patient?

On an even more basic level: do you prefer working alone or with others, and do staff meetings aggravate you?

It all comes down to personal preference. Think of the thing you dread doing the most; that’s probably the most likely thing to cause burnout. When you identify this particular task, or set of tasks, it’s important to start your burnout prevention.

Another large contributor to burnout is loss of purpose. Nurses each have their own reasons for choosing their profession but many share the common desire to help people.

Even then, losing purpose is possible. For example, there will be cases where a patient will die, regardless of what you do. This can make some nurses feel like they have no control or power to help, which might make them feel like their job has no purpose.

This could also occur with a patient who is chronically ill and is seeing no relief. If you start to feel this loss of purpose, make sure you take a step back and remember why you chose to become a nurse. It might even help to write it down so that you have it easily accessible.

Sometimes it’s hard to pull yourself out of the situations that wear you down the most, but doing so will help you identify and solve them more quickly.

A third contributor to burnout can be your lifestyle. Are you taking work home with you, whether literally or mentally? Have you taken a vacation recently? Do you constantly feel exhausted?

What about your diet and exercise? If it seems like you’re more focused on work and less on your personal life, this might be actively contributing to your burnout.

The best thing to do is to find hobbies and activities that help you decompress and relax. For some, it might be reading a book, for others it could be going to the gym; it just depends on your personal preference. Doing so will bring you more peace of mind at work and will help you leave the stress at the workplace.

Burnout For Employers

Burnt out nurses are never a good sign. It shows itself negatively to your patients and it can drag your whole team down.

To avoid nurse burnout, a quality employer invests time and effort into their employees’ mental and physical states of being. Here are some things to look for:

  1. Does someone look tired? Ask them how they’re doing. Let them vent if they want to, but if they instead need to quietly slip away, let them do that as well. Sometimes, just having someone listen to their complaints and worries can help them deal with the situation. Even if they don’t end up venting to you, checking in on them will definitely make them feel better.
  2. Is the workplace a happy place? What can be done to make it better? While it might be difficult to change the environment in a hospital setting, there are still small things you can do to make a difference. For example, start with the break room. Make it a relaxing environment for your staff by offering magazines, books, refreshments, and a cheerful atmosphere. Your nurses will appreciate the chance to take a breather!
  3. Finally, is the workplace functioning properly? Is all of the equipment well maintained and running? Are your nurses working in fair, reasonable conditions? Is anyone being compensated unfairly? Make sure you communicate with your employees and let them have a voice. Doing so will ease their stress and make them feel like their needs are met.

Burnout is a difficult condition to deal with. However, if you spot it early and take all of the necessary steps to prevent it, you can avoid running into it and its negative effects.

Nurses need to make sure they take care of themselves so that they can properly care for their patients, and their employers need to do the same to ensure a healthy work environment for their employees. Doing so will make everyone happier, sure of the career path they chose, and ready to rise to any challenges that can come up along the way.


Portrait of Rachel Stires
Rachel Stires

Rachel Stires is a media relations specialist for the Management Training Institute. She enjoys talking about trends in management and how industry leaders can make the most of the opportunities available to them. See Educator Profile

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