1. Stevenson, Danica

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Academic burnout is the negative emotional, physical, and mental reaction to prolonged study that may result in exhaustion, frustration, lack of motivation, and reduced ability in school.1 These symptoms can incite feelings of hopelessness and self-doubt among learners, and further lead to costly mistakes such as the inability to focus or engage in class or clinicals.1 Nursing school alone can cause academic burnout, but recent pandemic-related challenges such as social isolation and transitions to virtual learning, as well as other personal and academic stressors, have made it much harder for nursing students to stay motivated.2 Students may also face additional hurdles like employment instability, language barriers, cultural stressors, and parenting issues. Nurse educators, students, and clinical nurses must know how to identify and address academic burnout and ensure opportunities for growth for nursing students amid the COVID-19 pandemic.


Recognizing signs of academic burnout

To prevent or recover from academic burnout, educators and students alike need to know how to recognize the signs such as fatigue, loss of motivation, irritability, cynicism, and detachment.2



Feeling exhausted even after getting a full night of sleep is a clear warning sign of burnout.2 Striving for perfection in nursing school can lead to maladaptive coping and fatigue.2 This early symptom contributes to diminished immunity, insomnia, and loss of interest in hobbies.2 Fatigue also makes it harder for students to prioritize healthy practices involving their eating or study habits.


Loss of motivation

Many students experience decreased motivation at one time or another. However, chronic loss of motivation leads to procrastination, anxiety, and loss of confidence in academic abilities.1 Once the momentum is lost, students may begin to dread attending class or clinicals. Loss of motivation can be seen in small changes in daily habits such as no longer preparing meals before clinicals or waiting until the last minute to start assignments. In virtual learning environments, students may find it challenging to stay motivated due to reduced class interactions and educational commitment as well as absence of classroom camaraderie.3


Irritability and cynicism

Students who feel tired and unmotivated may find it much more difficult to stay optimistic. Beginning to view school with a negative outlook may lead to feeling overworked and undervalued.2 Students should be mindful that irritability and cynicism can spread to other students and peers.



Students who are not engaged and are missing out on opportunities may begin to isolate and feel alone. Detaching from activities that students used to enjoy can lead to harmful outcomes.4 When not addressed, burnout can lead to becoming distressed and dysfunctional.4 If this happens, harmful coping mechanisms such as substance use disorders become risks.3


Prevention strategies

While academic burnout can have serious consequences, there are many interventions to regain excitement and motivation in school. Prioritizing one's health and well-being can make it easier to manage stress. The signs and symptoms discussed can quickly compound and lead to decreased productivity and satisfaction. Consider strategies to improve mental health, such as getting out in nature, drinking water, exercising, and sleeping. Use those strategies with approaches designed specifically for nursing students completing school in a virtual format due to COVID-19.3 Key recommendations for nursing students include engaging in social interactions, showing support for fellow students, reflecting on why this academic path was chosen, and getting involved in community activities.


Social interaction offers benefits that may help prevent and address burnout. Discussing meaningful goals with others who share those goals has been shown to increase students' commitment.4 Joining virtual study groups is a good way to be productive while connecting with others. Study group activities may get off topic, but those breaks of laughter and catching up can recharge students and keep them engaged.


Supporting fellow students can go a long way to addressing burnout. Remind fellow students they are doing a good job to develop a supportive environment. Meaningful recognition has been shown to effectively prevent and treat burnout.5 A supportive environment leads to less cynicism.3


Passion and excitement helped students get through the prerequisites and accepted into a nursing program. Thinking about whatever motivated students to begin nursing school can help regain motivation to complete the nursing program. Those who are stressed but still productive can benefit by exploring what being a nurse means to them.3 There is a reason why we chose this difficult, yet rewarding, profession.


When in doubt, get involved. While experiencing burnout, students often feel like they are going through it alone. Connecting with peers can combat feelings of detachment and depersonalization.6 Attending organization meetings, becoming a peer mentor, or being a teaching assistant are examples of how students can connect with peers and faculty and renew that sense of community.


Going to nursing school during a time of uncertainty can be stressful and result in academic burnout. Student nurses who experience burnout are at a high risk of developing unhealthy habits that may be detrimental to their academic and professional outlook. Prioritizing self-care and taking the appropriate actions are key to mitigating the stress of nursing school during a pandemic.




1. Wang M, Guan H, Li Y, et al Academic burnout and professional self-concept of nursing students: A cross-sectional study. Nurse Education Today. 2019;77(1), 27-31.[Context Link]


2. Chang E, Lee A, Byeon E, et al The mediating effect of motivational types in the relationship between perfectionism and academic burnout. Personality and Individual Differences. 2016;89(1), 202-2010.[Context Link]


3. Zis P, Artemiadis A, Bargoitas P, et al Medical studies during the COVID-19 pandemic: The impact of digital learning on medical students' burnout and mental health. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. 2021;18(1), 349.[Context Link]


4. Grant AM. Solution-focused cognitive-behavioral coaching for sustainable high performance and circumventing stress, fatigue, and burnout. Consulting Psychology Journal. 2017;69(2), 98-111.[Context Link]


5. Kelly LA, Johnson KL, Bay RC, et al Key elements of the critical care work environment associated with burnout and compassion satisfaction. American Journal of Critical Care. 2021;30(2), 113-120. https://doiorg./10.4037/ajcc2021775[Context Link]


6. Huecker MR. Stoicism defeats burnout. Academic Emergency Medicine. 2020;27(12), 1374-1376.[Context Link]