Nurses perform many of the most important tasks in the medical field. They serve as the “face” of health care in many clinical settings, interacting directly with patients more than virtually any other type of provider.
That’s partly why it’s so crucial to address two related problems that are threatening the quality of health care: nurse burnout and the nursing shortage. Due to chronic stress, an aging population, and high nurse turnover rates, the United States is facing an ongoing nursing shortage. According to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, this shortage is so acute that over 1 million new nurses would have to enter the field before 2022 to fill the projected gaps.
Nurse burnout ― physical, emotional, and psychological exhaustion related to the job ― is among the main reasons for the nursing shortage. Personal and professional stressors are leading nurses to leave the field or retire early at alarming rates. This stress can, in turn, affect patient satisfaction and overall health outcomes as well.
The good news is that, with more attention to job quality and the implementation of key strategies by nursing leaders, nurse burnout doesn’t have to continue at its current rate. One strategy is to explore an advanced nursing degree, such as an online BSN to Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) program. This program’s curriculum is designed to help nursing leaders develop the necessary skills and aptitude to overcome on-the-job stress in the nursing field.
Read on to learn more about what nurse burnout is, how you can recognize it in staff members, and how well-trained DNPs could help curb the crisis and improve health care for everyone.
What Nurse Burnout May Look Like
Nurse burnout, or burnout syndrome, includes physical, emotional, psychological, and mental exhaustion. Symptoms may include decreased loyalty to an employer, depression, anxiety, shorter attention span, depersonalization, a lowered sense of personal fulfillment and professional accomplishment, and decreased job satisfaction. Nurses who experience burnout may find it harder to stay awake and fully focused. They may also feel desensitized, easily frustrated, a propensity to “check out,” chronically negative, or hopeless.
These symptoms can have an adverse effect on overall performance. The combination of sleep deprivation and emotional exhaustion can lead some nurses to make mistakes or errors in judgment. Nurses who experience burnout may also be irritable or often call in sick, leading in some cases to poor job performance and further understaffing.
Research quoted by the American Association of Colleges of Nursing indicates that in hospitals where nurse burnout rates are high, patient health outcomes and reported levels of satisfaction are lower. This means that curbing nurse burnout is crucial for the safety and overall well-being of both patients and nurses.
The Causes of Nurse Burnout
According to an RN Network study, the root cause of nurse burnout can be traced to stress. However, the stressors are diverse and can range from increased responsibilities in the role, to long work hours, to secondhand stress from being near traumatic situations and grieving individuals.
Overworking is one primary cause of nurse burnout. On average, nurses who work shifts longer than 12 hours experience higher levels of burnout. They are also more likely to leave nursing altogether in less than a year.
While any nurse may experience burnout, those who work in emergency rooms, nursing homes, hospices, or ontology clinics are especially vulnerable. Emergency rooms are notoriously overcrowded, leading in some cases to a hectic, even chaotic work environment that can wreak havoc on a nurse’s emotional stability and physical health. Moreover, many people who arrive at the emergency room are dealing with major health problems at the moment of crisis, which can cause health providers to experience secondhand stress (or even secondhand post-traumatic stress in severe situations).
In nursing homes, hospices, or ontology clinics, nurses may suffer from burnout syndrome as they grieve alongside the spouses and families whose loved ones are experiencing a terminal illness or undergoing end-of-life care. In these settings, nurses provide crucial emotional and physical support to patients and their loved ones at a difficult time. This emotional pain of loss may affect health providers as well. This can sometimes lead to a sense of depersonalization, a loss of self, or even dissociation from the job, which is part of what’s commonly known as “compassion fatigue.”
The projected nursing shortage could also potentially make nurse burnout worse. As the overall population ages, more nurses will be needed to provide crucial care in clinics and nursing homes alike. At the same time, many nurses are themselves aging and will be retiring in the coming years.
The shortage causes understaffing and overcrowding in emergency rooms, hospitals, and other medical facilities. To help fill the gaps caused by the shortage, nurses may end up extending themselves too far and working more shifts than they’re physically and emotionally capable of. Even if nurses know they need a rest, they may decide against it. They may feel pressured not to take vacation time or may choose to forgo necessary self-care to work longer hours.
Nurse Burnout Prevention Strategies
While nurse burnout is a widespread problem, there are many strategies that may help prevent and curb the issue before it affects the quality of patient care or pushes a nurse to leave the field.
Many intervention strategies have proven effective thus far. Personal proactive measures such as yoga, stress reduction programs and support groups can help nurses recognize signs of burnout in themselves and others before the problem becomes serious.
Clinical strategies such as compassion fatigue programs, grief counseling, and access to therapy can also help nurses and nursing leaders avoid or reduce symptoms of burnout syndrome. Mentorship programs — in which nurses can receive feedback about their performance and ask questions regarding their career path — can also help providers feel more connected to their facility and each other.
Other strategies to prevent nurse burnout might focus on the ‘bigger picture’ in terms of bureaucracy and policy. For example, better health benefits, shorter shifts, retirement plans, and vacation time can help ease financial stress and provide a better work-life balance for nurses.
Some of these strategies can be developed and overseen by those who hold a DNP degree. As leaders in the field of nursing, DNP-prepared nurses are well equipped to notice red flags that signal nurse burnout. They are also trained as institutional leaders so they can develop, facilitate, and help implement long-term nurse burnout prevention programs.
How DNPs Can Help with Nurse Burnout Prevention
Those who have earned a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) usually have extensive hands-on experience, a comprehensive understanding of how health care facilities operate, and deep applied clinical knowledge. They can leverage these valuable skills to help address and prevent nurse burnout on a large scale.
Regis College’s online BSN to Doctor of Nursing Practice program is structured to provide registered nurses (RNs) who have a baccalaureate in nursing with the skills and knowledge to rise up through the ranks in nursing. As nursing leaders, DNPs have the credibility and qualifications to influence health policy, implement nurse education programs, and shape clinical settings to prevent and treat nurse burnout syndrome.
For example, DNPs might launch proactive self-care programs in clinical settings, such as nurse education seminars, meditation or yoga classes, and informational classes about avoiding burnout. They may also use their knowledge of health policy to advocate for reasonable work schedules and lowered workloads for the nurses they oversee. If they see a nurse struggling, they might reach out to provide resources and brainstorm possible solutions. Finally, DNPs might choose to facilitate support groups for nurses or to direct a nurse toward an appropriate therapist to reduce stress.
It is important for DNPs to recognize signs of burnout in nurses of all ages and levels of experience. Burnout can occur at any stage of a nurse’s career. Moreover, it is possible no matter how skilled, experienced, and empathetic a nurse may be. The most effective DNPs are well aware of this and seek proactive means of helping nurses stay healthy as they provide values-based, patient-centered care.
Develop the Skills Needed to Lead
Nurse burnout prevention and treatment are crucial to maintaining high-quality patient care. This is why nursing leaders and aspiring leaders should make it a priority to address and help remedy this pervasive problem.
Students in Regis College’s online BSN to Doctor of Nursing Practice program have the opportunity to develop leadership skills, cultural competency involving the diverse landscape of today’s medical field, and deeper clinical knowledge. They may also choose a concentration in Women’s Health, Adult Gerontology, Pediatrics, Family, or Psychiatric Mental Health.
The DNP coursework at Regis College in health policy, nurse leadership, health promotion, and disease prevention helps equip baccalaureate-prepared RNs for advancement and promotion in the field. With more academic preparation, nursing leaders will be better positioned to address systemic health profession problems such as nurse burnout and the nursing shortage with professionalism and skill.
RN Network, Survey Finds Nearly Half of Nurses Considering Leaving the Profession
American Association of Colleges of Nursing, Nursing Shortage
American Mobile, Warning Signs of Nurse Burnout in Critical Care
Clinical Practice & Epidemiology in Mental Health, “Prevention Actions of Burnout Syndrome in Nurses: An Integrating Literature Review”
BMC Nursing, Predictors Of Burnout, Work Engagement And Nurse Reported Job Outcomes And Quality Of Care
Daily Tribune, Nurse Shortage and Burnout
Nursing.org, Nurse Burnout
Nursing Research, “Linking Nurse Leadership and Work Characteristics to Nurse Burnout and Engagement”
Regis College, Online BSN to Doctor of Nursing Practice
StatPearls Publishing, “Nursing Shortage”