Facing Nurse Burn-Out: The Elephant in the Room

With the increase in workplace violence among healthcare workers, nursing shortages and staffing crises, now is the time we need to be addressing what happens when enough is enough. Now, more than ever, nurses are getting assaulted, threatened, over-worked, and pushed to their limits.

Nurses are expected to meet sometimes unrealistic demands and usually without thanks. Nurses are expected to fluff the pillows, bring the pain medication, and never be a moment late. Nurses are expected to lift both bodies and spirits.

Nurse burn-out can be the elephant in the room. Everyone knows it exists, but no one likes to talk about it. No one likes to admit it might be happening to them. The sad reality is, nursing is hard – physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. Some days are worse than others. Some shifts leave you questioning everything, such as life, death, family, and love. Some days you go home and question how you could ever step foot in your workplace again.

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Feeling burned out doesn’t make you a bad nurse. It doesn’t mean you are weak. It doesn’t mean you “can’t take it” or are “too sensitive.” Burn-out is real, and it can happen to the best of us. The important thing to remember is you are not alone. Recognizing changes in your behavior or signs that you might be struggling can give you necessary insight about what you might be going through. Figuring out there’s a problem before it escalates can make all the difference in both your life and the life of your patients.

Changes to be aware of:

  • Being short or “snapping” at co-workers, patients, or their families

  • Calling in sick to work more frequently

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  • Increased irritability

  • Anxiety about going back to work

  • Avoiding certain situations, patients, or doctors

  • Feeling a decreased sense of compassion or sympathy, sometimes referred to as compassion fatigue

  • Becoming distant with friends and co-workers

  • Sleep problems

  • Physical symptoms such as frequent headaches, fatigue, body aches, nausea

The beauty of nursing is that there are hundreds of jobs and positions within the field, allowing for constant opportunities for change. Not every nurse has to work at the bedside. Nurses today have options, and it’s important to explore them. If you think you might be suffering from burn-out, or maybe know someone who appears to be struggling, start the conversation. Sometimes simply talking about your frustrations, thoughts, or emotions can be an excellent tool. Find out what your resources are at your workplace, such as employee assistance programs. Finally, do some soul-searching, and figure out what brought you to nursing in the first place. Each of us has a reason for doing what we do, and sometimes we need to be reminded of that.

Nursing isn’t just a science but an art, and one of the few jobs that true passion and commitment are necessary to be successful. Nurses are so well respected because we love what we do, and if for any reason that changes, we owe it to ourselves and our patients to fix it.

Jessica Dzubak

I'm Jessica Dzubak, an Emergency Department nurse from central Ohio. I've been a nurse for about three years now. Emergency nursing has always been my goal, and I greatly enjoy working in an environment where I not only get to save lives but I never know what I'm going to see that day. I'm active in my state nursing association, working on the Council on Practice and writing for the quarterly magazine, Ohio Nurses Review. I love that I can combine my passion for writing with my nursing career, and I'm excited to share my writing with the nursing community. I'm currently working on my BSN and plan to attend graduate school for my MBA. I am happily married and have two fur-children.

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