Updated: October 28, 2021

The healthcare industry is currently experiencing a true nursing burnout crisis, and lives are at stake.

With the ongoing global nursing shortage heavily impacting patient acuity, it is evident that nursing burnout is a major contributor, and we must address it; it is the leading cause of nurse turnover among healthcare systems.

As we know it now, nurses’ and other healthcare professionals’ mental, physical, and behavioral health are all being tremendously strained; but why is this considered a crisis? In healthcare environments of high burnout rates, the chances of medical errors, absenteeism, and reduced job satisfaction are significantly higher.

What is Nurse Burnout?

From a reduction of energy, loss of passion and interest in the field, and crippling compassion fatigue, nursing burnout is a compilation of various negative factors that occur in the workplace. Over time, these factors lead to providers leaving the profession.

A few nursing burnout contributors include:

  • Low staffing rates
  • Emotional exhaustion
  • High workload demands
  • Workplace morale/culture
  • Lack of respect
  • Physical exhaustion
  • Pay/Benefits
  • COVID-19 direct and indirect patient care
  • Interruptions during off time
  • Verbal abuse or bullying
  • Work schedule flexibility

Where Are We Now?

Especially in the healthcare professions, burnout has been a problem for decades. However, the results of the COVID-19 pandemic have only exacerbated the issue with no true end in sight.

In states with high COVID-19 hospitalizations, some institutions have begun diverting all non-emergent surgeries in hopes of preserving bed space and resources.

What is the Burnout Rate for Nurses?

In a national study by Nursing CE Central, of the thousands of nurse participants, a staggering 95% reported feeling burnt out in their position. Following, 47.9% reported that they are either actively searching for a less stressful position, wanting to leave the profession altogether, or have already done so within the past three years.

What specialties are most likely to experience burnout? (H3)

Although burnout is everywhere throughout the healthcare professions, there are several nursing specialties that are likely to experience burnout more than others. These include emergency room (ER), intensive care unit (ICU), and oncology, as they are usually the most emotionally and physically tolling.

COVID-19 and Nursing Burnout

It is evident that the COVID-19 pandemic has been strenuous for healthcare systems, globally. From the continuous influx of patients to a general lack of resources and extreme working conditions, it has been a tremendous struggle for institutions to stay afloat. With lower-than-normal staffing ratios, lack of resources, and high risks of viral contraction, it is evident that nurses’ workloads are being spread thin.

The 2021 COVID-19 surge of the Delta-variant has shown itself to be stronger and more contagious than the first strain in 2020. The death tolls are rising, more patients are being put on ventilators, and the quality of care is dropping each day simply because there are not enough nurses or resources to care for everyone.

So, the question now is, ‘what are the risks if we continue at this rate and do nothing to address this burnout crisis?

What Are the Risks of Continuous Turnover?

What happens when nurses become burnt out? Simply put, it is a cycle; let’s elaborate.

Low staffing rates lead to increased workload demands for those still working in the field. Both physical and emotional exhaustion then come into play as time continues to pass, which inevitably raises the risk of burnout; resulting in nurses then leaving the profession.

If nothing is implemented to stop this cycle, patient acuity will continue to suffer, and lives will be lost.

So, what can be done?

What is Being Done and What Else Can We Do?

Are Organizations Working on This?

Fortunately, yes! As this crisis continues to worsen, nursing organizations are beginning to take a stand to address the currently unhealthy and high-stress workplace environments that nurses are enduring daily.  

For example, the American Nurses Association’s (ANA) Healthy Nurse, Healthy Nation (HNHN) social movement aims to “transform the health of the nation by improving the health of the nation’s four million registered nurses.” 

The ANA is doing so by offering educational resources to anyone who is interested.

Another example is the “Leading Through Crisis” resource collection from The American Organization for Nursing Leadership (AONL) and the American Hospital Association (AHA). The aim of this compilation is for nurse leaders to utilize it if they find themselves, a coworker or mentee beginning to express feelings of high stress or burnout.

Is There Legislation Addressing Nursing Burnout?

As of August 2021, The Dr. Lorna Breen Health Care Provider Protection Act bill has been passed by the U.S. Senate and aims to “reduce and prevent suicide, burnout, and mental and behavioral health conditions among health care professionals.”

The act establishes grant opportunities for educational resources and trainings (covering burnout, suicide, and mental health) that are to be dispersed to both actively working professionals as well as students entering the field.

These resources are collected from evidence-based practices and will allow institutions to develop effective strategies that will address its providers’ mental and behavioral health needs before burnout and its aftermath occurs.

By doing so, this will improve the healthcare environment and positively impact patient outcomes.

As a Nurse, How Can I Protect Myself from Burnout?

If you are a nurse, and are currently experiencing symptoms of potential burnout, there are several things that you can do to combat these feelings:

  • Begin implementing self-care into your daily routine.

I know that there is only so much time during the day before you must clock in, but the pros truly outweigh the cons in utilizing this time and dedicating it to yourself. Whether it’s cooking a nice meal, having an at-home spa session, or practicing meditation and breathing exercises, there are so many ways that you can implement self-care and it is of the utmost importance that you start now.

  • Talking to someone

This can be a friend, colleague, family member, significant other, or mental health professional. Being able to speak your mind and vent your feelings can truly take some of the pent-up weight off your shoulders.

  • Establishing boundaries

Now more than ever before, I know that this seems easier said than done, however, you cannot care for others if you do not care for yourself, too. Whether it’s not coming in on your day off or not staying later than your scheduled time for the week, these are just a few tangible examples of boundaries that you can set for yourself.

Find additional tips for nursing self care.

How Can We Get Involved in Addressing and Combatting Nursing Burnout?

Although there are several national initiatives being taken now, this does not mean you cannot contribute; raising awareness can happen on any scale.

From collaborating with a supervisor and developing educational resources for your facility to reaching out to executives and addressing the problem of burnout are all ways that you can make a difference in overcoming this crisis.

As a nurse, you are in the healthcare profession because you care about the well-being of others. Take this passion, use your voice, and advocate for nurses just like you.

If you never try, you will never know.

Sources: 50 State Boards of Nursing, University Websites, U.S. Department of Education, Bureau of Labor Statistics. Ranking Methodology.