1. Sheets, Jennifer RN, MSN

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Nurses have long been a vital component of the healthcare ecosystem, providing critical care to patients, communicating with families, and helping other members of their healthcare team stay in step, working together to provide care. As a former ICU nurse, I know how busy and stressful the nursing profession can be, often balancing work, kids and family, hobbies, and more. After particularly emotionally draining days, I would remind myself of my "Why." Why am I in healthcare? Why do I do what I do? For me, it was the faces of patients looking for answers or hope, my relationships with fellow exhausted coworkers putting in long hours, and friends and family members as they waited for updates on their loved ones.


On top of these professional and personal responsibilities, nurses face extraordinary external factors like the COVID-19 pandemic, healthcare staffing shortages, and the population's lack of trust in the healthcare system. This has exacerbated symptoms of burnout, an outcome of occupational stress defined as physical, mental, and emotional exhaustion, leading many nurses to resign from their roles.1 More than one-third of nurses were likely to quit their current jobs by the end of 2022, with 44% citing burnout and a high-stress environment as the reason.2


However, this issue existed long before the pandemic, as more than 40% of RNs reported high burnout between December 2019 and February 2020, showcasing the need for better support overall regarding nurses' well-being and health.3 Amid growing strains on the healthcare system, it can be hard to find relief-yet it's imperative that nurses find the resources and time to take care of mental health and well-being. To help maximize self-care and improve patient care, here are some tips for nurses dealing with burnout.


Know the symptoms: Some nurses may not realize they're experiencing burnout given the long hours, extreme physical demands, lack of sleep, and other stressors associated with working in healthcare. If you have issues waking up or catching up on sleep, dread going to work each day, experience physical sickness from anxiety or stress, or suffer from compassion fatigue or emotional detachment, you may be experiencing burnout.4


You're not alone: With a staggering 95% of nurses reporting feelings of burnout, developing strong interpersonal relationships in the workplace (and at home) can aid in battling it. Having someone to talk with about common emotional, personal, and professional pressures and encouraging each other to communicate with management can help.5


Self-care activities: In nursing, maintaining a healthy work-life balance and prioritizing personal relationships can be challenging. Taking proactive steps to increase self-care is vital and can include setting boundaries between work and personal life, planning that vacation you always wanted to go on, unplugging and listening to music or a favorite podcast, meditating and exercising, eating healthy, and spending time with friends outside the world of nursing.6,7


Make life easier: Look to simplify daily tasks by reducing the number of decisions you need to make throughout your day. Planning, leveraging automation, and forming habits and consistency in your routine can help alleviate additional stressors that can contribute to burnout (that is, automating bill payments, setting calendar alerts and reminders, meal prepping, and the like). In addition, by removing the need to make smaller decisions during your day, you'll have more bandwidth to handle bigger tasks that take up emotional, physical, and mental energy.8


Opportunities for flexibility: If your current role is causing symptoms of burnout, look for opportunities that offer flexibility. Talk with your supervisor to see if there's an option to implement shorter shifts or less overtime for nursing staff. Home healthcare has also emerged as a powerful option for nurses looking for flexibility in their careers because they can determine their own work schedule, form deeper connections with patients, and enjoy greater autonomy.6,7


Seek help when needed: It's vital that you consider your employer as a partner by leaning on them and communicating where and when you can. Seek help from your organization when you need access to emotional support or if you feel the need to set boundaries in the workplace. Nurses can also look to therapy and counseling services within or outside of work.6


Take notice, take action

Nursing burnout can have unintended ripple effects across organizations, leading to poor employee retention, so employers must take notice and action as well. For example, healthcare organizations can implement work-life enrichment programs to help nurses apply their skills to opportunities that appeal to their life and careers, in addition to instituting policies to mitigate burnout like encouraging or requiring nurses to use vacation days. Outside of work, nurses can also look to burnout prevention programs like the web-based platform run by the American Nurses Association, which offers a growing collection of tools and audio and video educational content to help prevent career burnout.9


Nurses are the core of the healthcare system, but their work often comes at a detriment to their own health and well-being. An estimated 1 million RNs will retire by 2030.10 That number could rise with the current state of burnout affecting those working in physicians' offices, hospitals, home healthcare services, nursing-care facilities, outpatient care centers, and more. Nurses and healthcare leaders must come together to implement actionable solutions to mitigate burnout and ensure our nurses can continue supporting those who need it most.


To this day, I continue to encourage other nurses to keep their "why" in mind to draw strength, courage, and conviction. The challenges facing nurses and the healthcare industry won't cease tomorrow, but we must remember the driving force behind what we do. It's what makes all the difference in the lives of the patients and families we serve, and it makes all the difference in our lives.




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4. Western Governors University. Nurse burnout: why it matters and how to fight it. 2019. [Context Link]


5. Nursing CE Central. Nurse Burnout Study 2021. 2021. [Context Link]


6. Duquesne University. How to deal with nurse burnout: coping strategies and tips. [Context Link]


7. Rockhurst University. Tips to avoid nursing burnout. 2022. [Context Link]


8. Medica News Today. What is decision fatigue? 2020. [Context Link]


9. SE Healthcare. The Nurse Burnout Prevention Program. 2016. [Context Link]


10. American Association of Colleges of Nursing. Fact sheet: nursing shortage. 2020. [Context Link]