A few months ago, I wrote a blog post entitled “The Way We Think About Nurse Burnout is Broken”. I went on to list ten ways that burnout is approached in a broken way.
One of the bullet points read, “We stigmatize it”. In fact, I went on to write:
Since a nurse does not want to be seen as weak or viewed as though he or she is a failure, we tend to sweep burnout under the carpet. I saw a post on social media that wanted to eliminate the use of the term “burnout” and call it something else. If we assume that the person experiencing burnout did something “wrong” then of course they will not admit that they are feeling this way and will not seek out much-needed help.
Let’s take a few examples here. To shed light on how burnout in nursing might be stigmatized. And to start talking about it more so that this stops happening.
- Nurse Jane is on her third 12 hour shift in a row. It is about half way into the shift, and she is tired. In fact, she needs a break. She skipped breakfast this morning so that she could get 10 more minutes of sleep and is now starting to feel light-headed. Jane wonders if she can make it the rest of the six hours through the shift. She has not heard anything about lunch breaks yet, however she desperately needs to get something to eat. Does she ask the charge nurse for a break? How likely is she to go off the unit and get something to eat?
- Nurse Ted is new graduate on an inpatient psych unit. He is only two weeks out of orientation and still questions his ability to work as a nurse all on his own. One of the ways that Ted has decided to show that he can be a real nurse is to always volunteer to help. Even if he cannot add any more to his plate, he is the one to jump in and say “I am here for you!” It is a particularly rough day. The unit is short a nurse and two techs. His patient is getting prepped for electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) off of the unit when the charge nurse comes up to him. She asks Ted if he would be able to take the next admission. Even though Ted has not yet had a chance to sit down, let alone chart on any of his patients, he says “Sure, happy to help!”
- Nurse Sally works in a skilled nursing facility. She has been there for 27 years. Even though Sally loves her work and cares deeply for her patient population, she has been having this nagging feeling in the pit of her stomach each night as she prepares for her shift. It is almost as if Sally resents her job. And then, after those feelings try to surface, she starts to feel guilty that she even had those thoughts about nursing. Instead of talking to someone about how she feels, Sally has started drinking heavily after each shift. In fact, she almost slept through her alarm clock today and her daughter had to come into her room to wake her up for work. Sally thinks to herself, “I am not sure how much more of this I can take.”
Burnout in nursing is real.
The consequences are dangerous.
Yet we do not seem to want to talk about it.
Nurses wind up feeling stigmatized by the stress. We just keep putting on that brave face, showing up day after day, and don’t know what to do about it.
- Guilt for thinking bad thoughts about your work or patients
- Anxiety for worrying about making a mistake
- Fear that you might do something wrong and hurt a patient
- Shame in the fact that you have not asked for help or made a change yet
- Sadness that this is your life, your career
- Doubt in your abilities and the desire to be the best
- Judgement towards yourself if you say “no” and don’t feel like a team player
The list can go on and on.
It is time to stop sweeping the stigma of burnout under the carpet. Nursing is hard work. The job IS stressful. And you are not a superpower. You are a human being.
- You need a break from time-to-time. It’s normal.
- You can say “no”. Let someone else help out.
- Your feelings are valid. Others feel them too.
- Your worries are real. Talk about them to other people.
- Things can change. You can choose something different.
If you are experiencing burnout in nursing, you did not do anything wrong. You are not damaged goods. You should not suffer silently, fearing the shame and blame that you fear. In fact, you could very well be doing it all right. When it comes to your job.
Organizations are struggling with nurse burnout.
They do not know what to do with this issue or how to decrease the stress. Individuals can do their part by increasing their own personal resiliency. And, in addition to what we can do on our own, we need our workplaces to partner with us to make the workplace safe, healthy, and a true caring environment.
Do I have all of the answers? No. I have strategies that can help. Solutions that have worked in my own experience. Help for nurse burnout is available!
You as an individual nurse must take a stand against burnout. You must choose your own well-being. Put yourself first. Put strategies in place that allow you to enjoy your job and your life.
Your organization must partner with you. They must care about you as a human being. If you find that this is not the case, then maybe it is time for a change.
Let’s hear from you! Have you ever experienced nurse burnout? What did you do to prevent, avoid, or end it? What can you share with our readers to help them put a stop to nursing burnout?
About the Author: Keynote speaker and virtual conference host, Elizabeth Scala MSN/MBA, RN, partners with hospitals, nursing schools, and nurse associations to transform the field of nursing from the inside out. As the host of the Nurse’s Week program, The Art of Nursing, Elizabeth supports nursing organizations in celebrating and recognizing their staff in a meaningful way. Elizabeth received her dual master’s degree from Johns Hopkins University. She is also a certified coach and Reiki Master Teacher. Elizabeth lives in Maryland with her supportive husband and playful pit bull.