Nursing burnout is not a new phenomenon. While completing my required clinical rotations as an eager, ambitious nursing student more that twenty years ago, I have vivid memories of certain staff nurses talking about “nursing burnout.” Not really comprehended their displeasure with the nursing careers that they chose, I put it out of my mind. I did not want to hear that my beloved future nursing career could be anything than remarkable. I just knew that I would not fall victim to nursing burnout.
I have experienced nursing burnout from three different perspectives. One perspective, of course is that of a staff nurse. The responsibility that is attached to staff nursing is mind numbing. This, in conjunction with work overload, short staffing issues and hospital politics is enough to send a novice nurse running for the hills. My tenure as a staff nurse has only intensified my feelings of nursing burnout. Us staff nurses wear many hats that contribute to nursing burnout. In addition to tending to the physical and emotional needs of our patients, we must also claim the title of author, (nurses write voluminous amounts when they chart on their patients), custodian, (when a patient has an accident, on the floor, we cannot always wait for the housekeeping department to arrive), waitress, (self explanatory) and any other title that the patients or their families want us to represent. Now don’t get me wrong. I love nursing, and I don’t regret my career choice for a minute. I enjoy caring for my patients, teaching and listening. My nursing burnout comes largely in part because I cannot spend more time with my patients. We are so inundated with other non-nursing tasks, that sometimes the very reason why we choose a career in nursing actually suffers and that is direct patient care. It breaks my heart that so much of my day is spent on fulfilling non-nursing tasks that take away from my time with my patients, who depend on me not only for their physical well being, but for their emotional well being. In addition to this, nursing is a very physical demanding career which contributes to a large portion of nursing burnout cases, according to my friends and colleagues. The physical demands started taking their toll early on in my nursing career, and continue today.
In addition to my career as a staff nurse, I have been a nursing supervisor as well. As a nursing supervisor, nursing burnout takes on a slightly different meaning to me. In this capacity, the physical demands aren’t as pronounced, as the nursing supervisor does not always takes on a full patient assignment load, but none the less, the nursing burnout issues prevail. My biggest challenge as a nursing supervisor was that of staffing and low moral of the staff. On many occasions as a nursing supervisor, I took a full patient load assignment. This comes with the territory. Being a nursing supervisor does not absolve me of not taking care of my share of patients. No matter what our titles are, we are first and foremost, nurses. I choose a career in nursing, not to be a supervisor or have a high administrative position, but to be at the bedside, caring for my patients.
Finally, I have experienced nursing burnout as a patient. I had no idea that nursing burnout could have such an effect on me, the patient, until I spent some time in the hospital for a surgical procedure. Yes, I knew that the floor that I was recuperating on was very busy that day, but I still was expecting that my needs would be addressed in a timely fashion, seeing that I was in one of the top ten hospitals in the country. Even in my post anesthesia induced stupor, I was well aware of nursing burnout that seemed to permeate the nursing staff. My experience was not a negative one in the sense that the nurses did not give me adequate care, but I did experience a longer than usual wait for a nurse when I pressed my call button. This could have also been in part because the staff knew that I was a nurse myself, and could sympathize with their heavy workloads. I could.
To reiterate, I have never thought to give up my nursing career because of nursing burnout. Yes, nursing burnout does effect me, but not enough give up a career that I love.