Anyone who is a nurse has either experienced, read about, or knows someone who has burnout. The official definition of burnout is “an emotional condition marked by tiredness, loss of interest, or frustration that interferes with job performance. Burnout is usually regarded as the result of prolonged stress.”
After analyzing several articles written about burnout, specific causes of this affliction in nursing were identified which include:
- Stressful, even dangerous, work environments
- Lack of support
- Lack of respectful relationships within the health care team
- Low pay scales compared with physicians’ salaries
- Shift changes and long work hours
- Understaffing of hospitals
- Pressure from the responsibility of providing continuous high levels of care over long periods
- Frustration and disillusionment resulting from the difference between job realities and job expectations
Over the last few weeks several nursing list servers have been particularly active with discussions about burnout and nurse fatigue. One nurse in particular believes that burnout is an overused term and because of that it is not getting the attention it deserves. As this nurse elaborated, nurses who are demonstrating or experiencing burnout are counseled to either take a vacation or find another job.
I believe the phrase nurse fatigue might be more applicable to define nurses who are getting “tired” of the same issues, expectations, and conversations that get them absolutely nowhere. When reviewing and participating in Facebook entries and list server comments, the majority of nurses are not commenting on “dangerous work environments” or even “pay inequity with other healthcare professions.” The comments focus on the apparent disregard by senior leadership to even notice or recognize the role of nurses in healthcare.
Another nurse provided interesting information for those of us participating in the conversation. This nurse found data to support that the best places to be a nurse is along the West Coast, specifically California, Hawaii, Oregon, and Nevada. If anyone lives on the East Coast, the best places to be a nurse are in Massachusetts, New Jersey, Maryland, Connecticut, and Delaware. After taking a quick poll on those of us participating in the discussion, we learned that none of us were licensed to practice nursing in these states.
As one participant pointed out, since the chance that nurses were going to relocate to one of these “ideal” states for nursing was slim to none, there needs to be another way or approach to take when episodes of “fatigue” set in. The participants jumped on this suggestion and generated a huge list of things that nurses can do when “fatigue” sets in. A few of these suggestions were:
Take a day off to do something only for the nurse such as get a haircut, go to lunch, shop, or spend time with non-nurses
- Find sunlight, somewhere
- Do something physically fun such as ride a bike, take a walk, play tennis, bounce a ball, or bowl
- Plan a day of special meals that are nutritionally sound and vitamin-packed
One astute participant realized that the group was generating a to-do list of things to improve the nurse and not necessary the situation. As the light-bulbs were going off and the participants were experiencing an “ah-ha” moment, the tone of the conversation changed dramatically.
Yes, nurses are notoriously overworked, underpaid, and underappreciated. However, we do not have to accept that as our plight. Each nurse possesses infinite power to change the most important person – themselves. So as each participant was slowly signing off those who remained commented that although the conversation started out as a major griping session it quickly turned around to being one of the most productive.
Spending time with other nurses has both advantages and disadvantages. The disadvantages are obvious since most nurses will feed off of each other’s negativity however at times, a positive approach can change the entire focus and outcome. One can only hope that other nurses will find the positive in an otherwise repetitively negative situation. Until that occurs, embrace the day!