Nursing Notes

February 7, 2010

Don’t Let Burnout Ruin Your Career

Filed under: Nursing — Shirley @ 7:05 am
Tags: , , , , ,
Stress Reduction Kit
Image by programwitch via Flickr

This article makes me mad.  On the one hand, I understand that burnout is serious and real and seems to happen to nurses quite a lot.  We all need to do everything we can to take care of ourselves if we want to be able to continue doing our jobs well.  That is a given.

Where I have a problem is that going to the movie, or out to dinner or getting a massage, while excellent for relaxation and self-care; these things will do nothing to relieve the daily stress of too much to do and not enough time in the day to do it.

I don’t know a single nurse working today who does not want to do the very best job possible and who does not want to be of help and service to the patients.  Unfortunately, whenever there are any cutbacks in the hospital staffing, it seems that nurses are the ones assigned to pick up the slack.  We do phlebotomy, we do housekeeping, we do dietary, we do clerk work, we do admission work, we do aide work, we do it all at times.

In my field, psychiatry, hospitals cut out numerous therapies–art, music, occupational, recreational, etc.  When this occurred nurses were the chosen to do those tasks in addition to the nursing responsibilities.  So, we are stressed to the max all the time.  I would love to do all for each of my patients, but when my patient load is 8 or more, I simply cannot do even the necessary things and do them well.

So, in my opinion, this article is quite simplistic although the information presented is good.  Nurses need help from more than themselves.  We can’t nurse the nurses and take care of patients too.


Burnout is one of the most dangerous aspects of a nursing career because it is one of the most challenging professions, both emotionally and physically. Any given day can be completely exhausting, and you may not even know why.

As patient educators, nurses are often teaching patients and family members that caregivers need respite and to replenish their spirits frequently, especially if the demands are many and heavy.

Typical of many health care professionals, nurses don’t always heed the great advice they dole out. Without taking the time or making the effort to regularly replenish themselves, nurses are quite vulnerable to burnout.

Part of the problem can be that it’s easier to advise someone else about their situation than to assess and evaluate your own.

Telling new parents they need to take turns getting up with the baby, or that they should ask grandparents or friends to babysit when perhaps all they need is a nap, is sound advice that hopefully they will heed.

Encouraging the hospice patient’s wife to take a break every few days, and to get out of the house while the aide comes to bathe him, seems like a no brainer.

Yet what exactly can nurses do to replenish themselves? One of the most important things you can do is to give yourself credit and a thank you for the patients that you help each day. On your ride home after each shift, think about the patients for whom you made a difference today. Don’t dwell on the negatives.

You probably worked short handed, didn’t get a break and skipped your meal break to finish something. Maybe you had to leave something for the next shift to complete, or feel guilty for having to delegate so many tasks. You can’t change these things. You can try to be more productive tomorrow, but today is over. Dwell on what went right and let go of the rest.

Next, think about the things you enjoy doing such as reading a good book, having a massage, sitting at your favorite coffee house people watching. Maybe going to the movies with your significant other relaxes you, or having a nice dinner out with a glass of good wine. Playing a round of golf or a good racquetball match with a friend, or shooting some hoops with your son or daughter.

Indulge yourself in the things you enjoy. Hire a babysitter or ask a family member to stay with your children for a couple of hours. Find some time on a regular basis to do something for you. You may have to make a few changes occasionally to accommodate your friends or family, but don’t neglect to reschedule your time.

Don’t be put off by a bad economy. Build a small savings by putting your loose change in a jar and after a couple of weeks see how much you have saved. Go to a matinée movie when the tickets are cheaper. Look for coupons for savings on meals. Buy your own wine and enjoy it at home with some music rather than going out.

You need to put yourself first and remind yourself you are worth it! If you don’t take care of you, you will not have the physical or emotional strength to continue to give.

If you are truly unhappy with your work situation, make a change!

Are you burned out nurses? Do you have any advice for those who are? Please leave a comment below or share your advice and experiences in the Decompression Room!

About the Author: Kathy Quan, RN, BSN, PHN is an accomplished writer and author of four books including: The Everything New Nurse Book and 150 Tips and Tricks for New Nurses.  Kathy has been in the nursing profession for over thirty years and is very passionate about patient education and mentoring new nurses.

Click here to read more on Kathy Quan.

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  1. Shirley, I completely agree with your view on this issue. In today’s nursing climate, I think these “burnout reduction methods” are analagous to telling clinically depressed patients that they’ll be fine if they light some scented candles and take a bubble bath, without offering any other forms of therapy. But hey, that’s just me. I’m one of those ungrateful nurses who never jumped up and down with gratitude when the hospital gave out free ice cream sandwiches to nurses on Nurse’s Day, while at the same time forcing nurses to take vacation time and cutting hours one month, then forcing mandatory overtime the next, increasing patient load and generally expecting the impossible while cutting back on resources to achieve the impossible.

    I really resist reading sexism into many things, but doesn’t this seem just a tad sexist to you? I have NEVER seen stress management advice given to Doctors that includes going to a movie, getting a massage or getting your nails done. To me, this advice is almost dismissive. Maybe I’m reading too much into it, but it almost sounds like, “because you’re a nurse and therefore most likely a girl, you over-react and get stressed in situations that are not inherently stressful. Take a bath, get your hair done, feel good about yourself and you won’t blow your stressful little nursing job out of proportion.” But maybe I’m just being over-sensitive. 😀

    Comment by kitchrn — February 7, 2010 @ 4:53 pm | Reply

    • Heidi,

      You’re 100% right about the sexist slant. I had not realized it until I read your comment, but that is exactly the message this article puts forth. I think next time I talk with my niece, the doctor, I will tell her to go to a movie or get a manicure to cure her stressed out nerves and see what response I get.

      Yes, telling a nurse to “take a bubble bath” to de-stress is tantamount to telling a depressed and suicidal patient to just “take a nap and it will be all better when you wake up.” The problem will still exist. The message is that you will do something to help you adapt to the situation without actually changing the situation at all.

      Great comments again, Heidi. I hope you keep reading and I hope you continue to share your thoughts with me. I truly enjoy the exchange.

      Comment by Shirley Williams — February 8, 2010 @ 3:35 am | Reply

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