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Nurse Burnout | 2021 Health Crisis | Part 1

January 17, 2023

Even before COVID-19 hit the stage last year, the signs were there – over the next decade, one of the greatest challenges health care organizations face is a spike in cases of nurse burnout. The number of nursing jobs available between 2019 and 2029 is expected to rise by 7%, but this increase is still not enough to cover the growing number of patients needing care. Baby boomers are living longer, more patients are presenting with chronic conditions such as diabetes, hypertension and obesity, and patients are being encouraged to become more proactive with preventive care. Each factor points to an increased need for nurses in a healthcare marketplace already facing operational challenges.

2021 Health Crisis Nurse Burnout part 1

Nurses are the primary caretakers for America’s sick and injured. Without the dedicated service of millions of nurses, healthcare as we know it would grind to a complete halt. Taking care of these essential workers must become a primary goal in every organization. This mission includes both identifying the reasons contributing to nurse burnout and giving nurses the tools they need to combat it.

What is in going to take to end burnout?

In Part One of this two-part post, we’ll look at why nurses are more likely than most professions to suffer high rates of burnout.

Simply put, burnout in any profession is chronic state of decreased health, both mental and physical, resulting from mismanaged workplace stress. High stress levels appear in any job, but nurses deal continuously with long hours, lack of sleep, the strain of instantaneous decision-making, and stress caused by caring for patients with uncertain futures. Some common signs of nurse burnout are:

  • Feeling distant and disengaged at work
  • Cynicism
  • Feelings of hopelessness or futility
  • Depression
  • Weight loss or gain caused by changes in dietary habits
  • Headaches
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Inability to concentrate

What Causes Burnouts?

Nurse burnout is typically caused by a combination of several factors.

Long Hours

While typical shifts are 8 hours, 12-hour shifts aren’t unusual for nurses. Longer shifts leave less time for restorative sleep, causing excessive fatigue and feelings of exhaustion. Burnout is two and a half times more common when nurses work shifts of 10-13 hours than when8 or 9-hour shifts are worked. It’s often common to find nurses on call.

Patient Overload

Nurses often have a daily case schedule with more patients than they can care for effectively. When a nurse covers more than four patients per shift, the rate of nurse burnout increases and the rate of hospital mortality can increase by up to 7%. Balanced staffing is a must for effective nurse scheduling.

Lack of Support

Departmental conflict, ineffective communication, lack of cooperation, and bullying by management or peers creates tense work environments and reduces performance. Nurses facing this type of stress commonly receive lower patient satisfaction ratings and a substandard employee evaluation.

High-Stress Environment

Every day, nurses make crucial decisions that change the lives of their patients. While this is very rewarding and one of the main joys of being a nurse, it can place a great amount of stress on nurses when things go wrong or their best efforts are not enough to save a life. Coping with these highs and lows can take its toll, causing employee turnover.

Specialty Risk Factors

Some nursing specialties come with a higher level of potential burnout. Nurses who work in the ICU, psychiatric care and the ED can deal with combative patients, traumatic injuries, ethical dilemmas, or a high mortality rate, while oncology and hospice nurses often suffer increased emotional exhaustion.

Now that we’ve covered the causes of nurse burnout, stay tuned for our next Float Care post…featuring strategies to defeat it!

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