Recently I had the opportunity to talk with nurses about their mental health and well-being. The results were concerning; several nurses I spoke with felt they were burned out, exhausted, and had minimal, or nothing left to give of themselves to their patients or even to their own families. The nurses described they didn’t feel valued by their organization, the leaders, or even their patients anymore. Their healthcare institutions were not having the patient surges they experienced during the pandemic, yet many of their institutions continued to have staffing issues due to nurses resigning, retiring, or due to staffing cuts. The nurses spoke about incivility in the workplace and feeling they were not practicing in a healthy work environment.
Recent studies reveal that up to 45% to 60% of nurses and healthcare professionals are experiencing burnout (Dzau, Kirch, & Nasca, 2020). In one recent research study, up to 66% of nurses under the age of 35 reported feelings of anxiety and 47% experienced feelings of depression (ANA, 2021). In another study, 5.5% of nurses experienced suicidal ideation which is 1% higher than other healthcare workers (Kelsey, West, & Cipriano, 2021). In a recent study on nurse practitioners, 60% of the respondents were feeling burned out; 30% had experienced it for over a year and 20% experienced it for 2 years in a row (Robbins, 2022).
The Pandemic Amplified the Nursing Shortage
Those of us in healthcare have had enough! We know that the work of nursing is challenging because we are caring and advocating for people and their families during the best and worst times of their lives. We expect the work to be intellectually stimulating and at times tiring. We knew that during the pandemic we would be stretched to our full capacity, and we rose to the challenge. We expected our work/life balance would be impacted for a short time. What we did not expect was continued staffing issues, burn out, mental and physical exhaustion, and continued work/life imbalance. The nursing shortage was amplified due to the pandemic which in turn, has worsened the situation for nurses who are still practicing or thinking of entering the profession.
Healthcare Organizations Need to Provide a Healthy Work Environment
We simply need to do better! Healthcare organizations need to adopt a healthy work environment culture, staff their patient units by integrating nurse competency and patient acuity with their staffing systems, and demonstrate they value their workforce by focusing on retention of their staff by addressing compensation and benefit issues. In addition, they need to revamp their recruitment and orientation programs and develop nurse residency programs to ensure new graduates stay at their organization for longer than two years. There needs to be renewed interest in developing career pathways for those who want to move laterally into adjacent positions or move into leadership roles such as management or advanced practice.
Health care systems need to enhance their mental health coverage for their workers; this includes having adequate mental health providers who can recognize when staff are in trouble and getting help quickly to those who need it. This means working to remove the stigma of mental health care and ensuring it is easily accessible when and where the workforce needs it (Rushton & Boston-Leary, 2022). We need to engage the workforce at all levels, listen to concerns, and develop innovative solutions that make a real difference by improving workforce well-being.
Nurses know how wonderful our profession truly is when we have the means, energy, and staffing to provide the quality nursing care our patients deserve. We need to find our passion for our profession, and imagine the possibilities when well-being is at the center of who we are and what we do.
Wolters Kluwer is dedicated to providing evidence-based, information to healthcare professionals when and where they need it. Workforce well-being is crucially important to achieve the best patient outcomes; therefore, we are investing in making sure nurses and other healthcare professionals have information they need to improve their own well-being. It’s not just about Building Resilience as a Nurse; our institutions must focus on Fostering Workforce Well-Being. It’s critical to ensure healthcare professionals have the resources they need to improve their mental health and well-being, find their passion, and imagine future possibilities.
Dzau, V. J., Kirch, D., & Nasca, T. (2020). Preventing a Parallel Pandemic - A National Strategy to Protect Clinicians' Well-Being. The New England journal of medicine, 383(6), 513–515. https://doi.org/10.1056/NEJMp2011027
American Nurses Foundation. (2021, October 13). Pulse of the Nation’s Nurses Survey Series: Mental Health and Wellness. Taking The Pulse on Emotional Health, Post-Traumatic Stress, Resiliency, And Activities for Strengthening Wellbeing. https://www.nursingworld.org/~4a22b6/globalassets/docs/ancc/magnet/anf-mh3-written-report-final-foundation-edits-2.pdf
Kelsey, E. A., West, C. P., Cipriano, P. F., Peterson, C., Satele, D., Shanafelt, T., & Dyrbye, L. N. (2021). Original Research: Suicidal Ideation and Attitudes Toward Help Seeking in U.S. Nurses Relative to the General Working Population. The American journal of nursing, 121(11), 24–36. https://doi.org/10.1097/01.NAJ.0000798056.73563.fa
Rushton, C. H., & Boston-Leary, K. (2022). Nurses Suffering in Silence: Addressing the Stigma of Mental Health in Nursing and Healthcare. Nursing management, 53(8), 7–11. https://doi.org/10.1097/01.NUMA.0000853148.17873.77
Robbins, R. (2022, August 17). Medscape Nurse Practitioner Burnout and Depression Report 2022. Medscape Nurses. https://www.medscape.com/slideshow/2022-np-burnout-rpt-6015568#1