How to Prevent Nursing Burnout

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Every day I see nurses who exhibit signs of being burned out. They may show up late, are not engaged in their work, have a poor attitude, are not team players, and are showing signs that they have lost that fire they once had for patient care shortly after graduating from nursing school.  I believe all nurses at their core want the best for their patients and is the main reason they entered nursing in the first place. However, many nurses find after a few years they lose this passion for the profession and find themselves dreading every day they must go to work.

After being a nurse for twelve years, there are times I have been on the brink of burn out myself. I must keep it in the back of my mind all the time that I am not invincible and that I can easily experience what is sometimes called caring fatigue.  Through my years of experience, there are six ways nurses can prevent burnout in my opinion.

Do something you believe in: This is a big one in my opinion. You cannot continue to be energized and excited about your work if you do not believe in what you are doing. I use to work on an oncology ward, and honestly, I could not do that kind of work today.  Some of the interventions were not in the best interest of the patient in my opinion. Sadly, this is the only option many of these patients have because their diseases were so advanced by the time they got to our ward. For many of them, if they would have had better information earlier and acted on that information, they could have possibly extended their lives and their quality of life.

If the treatments are not something I would recommend to my family members, then I cannot recommend it to my patients.   It may make a lot of money for the organization and seem like we are doing a great thing, but if you did not already know this, and I hate to be the one to break it to you. Not everything we do as nurses is in the best interest of the patient even though we might have good intentions. A lot of it is money driven, and when you look at unbiased studies, the outcomes are minuscule on the interventions and cost are astronomical for our health care system.

This is one reason why the United States spends the most on health care out of any developed nation and still ranks 37th in actual health outcomes which is right next to Cuba the last time I looked. Somewhere we are not getting the value for the money being poured into our health care system, and therefore our health care approach needs a change, but that is a story for another day.

Have career goals: If you feel stuck where you are at and with no way out. This is a recipe for burnout.  Make sure you have goals and a clear path of where you are going. For myself, that has been getting an MSN in leadership and using this knowledge to get a broader view of healthcare. I hope this allows me to improve the systems we currently use in my organization to focus more dollars on prevention instead of treatment. Goals keep you hungry and ambitious, and this will keep you energized and always striving to be your best. 

Don’t work too much: What I mean by this is limit the actual hours you are working at your nursing job to free you up to do work in other ways. Examples would include going to school or volunteering.  Every time I start to work at my nursing job too much I start to get somewhat homesick, and I notice I am not bringing my whole self to my patients, coworkers, and my organization. About five years ago I worked five twelve-hour night shifts in a row. Although, most of the nights were very manageable and did not have a lot of stress. By the morning of the fifth night, I was just going through the motions. I had nothing left to give. Personally, when I take time away from work to accomplish things around the house, read, spend time with my family, I feel recharged after this. Working a lot of hours for me is not sustainable, and in the end, your quality of work will suffer and eventually your health. Also, I would suggest switching to a day shift if you have not already done so. When I made the permanent switch, my hemoglobin A1C dropped from 5.6 to 5.1 just by switching to day shift. I know it seems to have a lot of disadvantages, but it will pay off in the long run when it comes to your health.

Rest more on your days off:  Do not fill your days off to the brink where you feel like you didn’t get a break and then suddenly you have to go to work again. This will not refresh you or give you the energy you need to take on a busy day of nursing care. Get adequate sleep in between shifts. Make sure you are taking time to do things that energize you and not drain you of your energy on your days off. For me, getting things accomplished around the house such as cutting the grass, going grocery shopping, or fixing the car are things that reenergize me. If these tasks start to pile up, it will start to weigh down on my mind, because I will constantly think about all the things I need to get done at home instead of being present with my patients.  

Protect your morningsIt is critical that you start your workday in a low stress, non-hurried manner. By this I mean make sure you are getting up early enough to spend some quiet time alone. During this time I like to journal my thoughts, read daily devotions and my Bible, also sip coffee and plan out my day whether I am off or working.  Also, I leave early for work and will often read my devotions in my car once I arrive at work. This allows me to get to work before the traffic gets bad and it allows me to get on the shuttle in a non-stressed manner. Listening to a podcast or music that does not get you fired up on the way is also very helpful.

Be apart of a great team:  I cannot say I have ever been on a bad nursing team, but some have been better than others. I can tell you from experience it does make a difference. For example, the nurses and manager I work with now are very supportive.  We have a small, tight-knit group of nurses who are team players. This makes it much easier to go to work every day because I am excited to be working with my nursing team. If you are on a team that is not supporting you and has a lot of backstabbing going on my recommendation is to get out of there as soon as possible.  You will not be able to change them, but you can change where you are. 

You may say, how do I ensure I am getting on a good team when I interview for a job. Well, ask the right questions of the manager and talk with the nurses themselves who work there. They will appreciate you asking more in-depth questions and not just begging them to hire you, and if they are not appreciative, then you do not need to work there.  Think of these questions as a way to see if this nursing unit is the right fit for you. Very important! You do not want to get back into the same situation again.

Nursing burnout seems to be a prevalent issue in our profession. It is not difficult to reignite your love for nursing if you are intentional about it. Apply the ideas I have mentioned in this article to your daily life and give it a little time.  I am sure you will soon see that your love for nursing will return and may keep you from making an expensive, time-intensive career change when all you needed to do was change your approach and improve your self-care.

Please leave a comment and let me know how you have overcome burnout in your nursing career or any situation. I want to hear your suggestions, and by sharing these, we can help other nurses who are struggling in this area.

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Have a healthy week,

Nurse Brian