Burnout is one of the leading causes of distress and goes beyond feeling tired or overwhelmed. The World Health Organization has recently labeled burnout as an official medical diagnosis, defined as emotional, mental, and physical exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress.
Due to a high-stress work environment and lack of sleep, nurses and medical professionals face a greater risk of burnout. It impacts nurses' personal lives, the patients they take care of, and the organizations they work for. From constant call bells going off, running on survival mode and the staff-to-patient ratio, our nurses are suffering from extreme exhaustion caused by unrealistic expectations. In fact, an estimated one million RNs will retire by 2030.
During a recent survey of more than 6000 acute and critical care nurses done by the AACN, 92% of nurses believe that the pandemic has depleted nurses at their hospitals, and as a result their careers will be shorter than they intended. 66% of nurses surveyed feel their experiences during the pandemic have caused them to consider leaving nursing.
Burnout in nurses can hinder job performance, change how they view their role, and even put patients in danger. LaCresha Sims, a productivity and mindset coach and former nurse says "When you're surrounded by other nurses that are unhappy about working extra hours, it's harder for you to... enjoy the career you've chosen."
"It's also easier to feel burnout when your hospital is already understaffed and nurses continue to turn in their letter of resignation," she says. "You know that you'll be picking up the extra work because nurses are leaving faster than they're being hired."
Nurses dedicate their professional lives to helping others. Even though this care impacts their personal lives and wellness, nurses would say it’s for the better - the field of nursing is extremely fulfilling. However, institutions are seeing increased reports of the opposite. Staff shortages, increased responsibilities, governmental regulations, and other job factors have contributed to nurse burnout and overall distress.
Even before stress from the COVID-19 pandemic, more than 75% of nurses surveyed in 2005 reported that nursing shortages led to increased stress levels among nurses, decreased the quality of patient care nurses provided, and drove many workers to leave the profession.
So, what does this mean for the healthcare system? What needs to change in order to retain nurses? Rachel Ellsworth, ICU nurse who has left the industry talks about returning to the field if there is a passing legislation to mandate patient ratios and support the mental health of healthcare workers. The nurse-to-patient ratio is such a massive contribution to nurse burnout. “To profit from poor working conditions should be illegal because it is dangerous for the healthcare system at large and dangerous for the patients that nurses are taking care of in those situations” she says.
During covid, the patient load doubled and sometimes tripled, but the amount of money to pay nurses didn’t go up much. Rachel adds that the incentive to hire new nurses when the profit margins were getting bigger wasn’t there until they had to pay travel nurses (because supply and demand drove the prices up). This is fixable- the money is there because the patients are there.
Travel nurse, Chelsea Walsh says, “Nurses need the cooperation of healthcare insurance companies and governments to start focusing on new technologies and new methods. We have the technology to start new programs to prevent hospital admissions to save up bed space - to decrease that patient ratio, to improve quality care and life.”
We are on the verge of collapse as a healthcare system. Lots of money is going to be lost where nurses are not able to work anymore. Or they can start investing that money into new technologies for tomorrow, and increase staff nurse pay - because if hospitals were to go to the level of normalcy where they are treated fairly, there would be more staff nurses and less need for travel nurses.
People need to start realizing what’s going on inside hospital walls because the more nurses that leave the industry, the more doctors will leave the industry, which means there will be no care for communities and families.
For our community of nurses - be sure you are setting boundaries between work and personal life, getting enough sleep, putting your physical and mental health first, and taking part in therapy or assistant programs. WE NEED YOU.