Nursing is rewarding. However, as with all professions, it comes with its challenges, most of which have been brought to light during the COVID-19 pandemic. These challenges may play a part in driving nurses to leave the profession, because now, more than ever, nurses face unprecedented amounts of stress and burnout.
There is a common mentality that nurses need to "take one for the team." Pressure from management and lack of staff lead to over time and extra shifts which contribute to nurses getting burnt out. It is difficult for nurses to stand up for themselves because they understand that patient care will ultimately take the hit.
Preparing for these situations and learning how to address them professionally and personally can help you manage them better.
Nurses often work 10-12-hour shifts, but after the necessary admin and change procedures, they often end up being longer. Along with this also comes mandatory overtime because of insufficient staffing, and when the pandemic hit, it only got worse. Hospitals were overwhelmed with the number of sick patients - at a time when there was already a nursing shortage.
Nurses have been on the front lines of healthcare long before the pandemic and have provided care during extreme circumstances. When hospitals and other medical facilities don't have enough healthcare professionals for a shift, nurses are required to work longer hours or extra shifts.
To avoid burnout, you can research the overtime and scheduling policies of places you’re interested in working at and talk to the nurses who work there about their overtime schedules. Alternatively, you can find nursing positions that offer more traditional hours, such as a private clinic or administrative role.
You should also make sure to get enough rest when you are not working. Request help from family or friends to help you complete personal tasks so that you can spend more time resting and recharging between shifts.
Nurses need to care for themselves first before they can care for others. Burnout occurs more easily when nurses feel obligated to accept every task. Instead of prioritising their own needs, nurses tend to take on more and more responsibility.
During each shift, nurses are accountable for the safety of their patients, and may carry the emotional baggage of the trauma their patients experience. At the end of a long day, many nurses go home to further care for their families or kids.
This lack of self-care for nurses and poorly established boundaries can lead to exhaustion, stress and fatigue.
Self-care is essential for nurses to ease the negative effects of stress in the rapidly changing healthcare environment and to prevent progression of those effects to burnout - which can have devastating consequences for nurses and those under their care.
Self-care does not need to be a full day of pampering, but could be taking a walk in the park, reading a book, visiting a friend, getting a massage or going to the gym. Participate in activities that help you unwind and make it a regular part of your routine.
If you're feeling burnt out or need a break, trust your instinct and follow your heart. If you are considering leaving a specific line of nursing, it is possible to move to a job where you can still use your nursing education but requires less of your time.
The work that nurses do is personal and meaningful. Nurses become emotionally invested in their patients' lives and outcomes, which can be a difficult burden to carry. Building a relationship with patients and then watching them leave or die can be emotionally draining and finding ways to cope with that can be difficult.
Apart from that, nurses are often required to perform physically demanding duties, such as helping to lift, reposition and transport patients, carrying heavy objects, and standing for long periods of time with few breaks – all of which can lead to strain and injury.
Nurses need to find ways to deal with their feelings and emotions. This could mean leaning on a strong support system where they express their feelings after working a difficult shift or after experiencing a traumatic case. Reaching out to close friends, family members and professional counsellors will help process your experiences and cope with your feelings in constructive, healthy way.
To combat physical risks, nurses should follow safe lifting procedures and ask for help when needed. Participate in regular exercise to maintain strength, stamina and flexibility that will make it easier for your body to manage physical tasks.
No matter if you are a nurse in a permanent position or if you work for an agency, there will be rising challenges in every environment. But with the right strategies and a positive outlook, many of these challenges can be overcome. Whether you develop the right relationships or switch to temporary work, it’s important to find what strategies and lifestyle work for you.
Nurses and nurse leaders also need to advocate for change in the hospital system to improve retention rates and allow staff to take the necessary breaks to lower the potential risk of burnout. In so doing, you need to find the right fit that gives you a sense of control and that helps you avoid burnout.