Dr. Dolores Fazzino, DNP, RN, FNP-BC, CRNFA
Rev. Sophia E. Falke, MILR, OUM
You know it. I know it. Now what are we going to do about it? “It” is the major crisis facing the nursing industry: Nurse Burnout. In 2013 over half a million RNs in the U.S. left the profession. The main reasons cited were high workloads, limited staffing, and mandatory overtime. If you work in the healthcare industry, this data is no surprise. These issues are easily measured. However, there’s another, less easily quantifiable reason for burnout – emotional exhaustion. Almost a third of nurses experience this phenomenon, which is defined as “feelings of being emotionally overextended and exhausted by one’s work.” (MBI Human Services Survey).
Healthcare delivery is constantly being challenged – you might even say it’s under siege – by technology, government regulation, insurance company demands, hospital privatization, litigation, providing quality healthcare to all (regardless of ability to pay), and more. On the front line of healthcare delivery are our nurses. And they end up taking the brunt of the emotional burden brought on by these challenges.
We’ve heard people say that nurses just need to “toughen up.” They would be wrong. We must ease the emotional burden on our healthcare workers. While hospital administration, government, and insurance companies should be doing their due diligence, the rest of us need to address the emotional drain on nurses. If we don’t, we are going to lose a vital member of our healthcare team in droves because, quite simply, they either can’t or won’t take it anymore.
Unfortunately, those who should be supporting or offering practical, hands-on solutions don’t. For example, many State Boards of Nursing don’t recognize and support programs offering CEUs to educate nurses on how to nurture and provide self-care for themselves. Many unions are more interested in economics than quality of life.
What many fail to realize is that if those providing the front-line healthcare are not assisted and supported in their own emotional and mental health, how adequate is the care they can provide for others? When you try to draw from an empty cup, there’s nothing to give. It’s time we teach our nurses how to fill their own cups so they “runneth over,” making it possible for them to give fully from the overflow to their patients (and co-workers). We cannot expect nurses to lead by example – especially to their patients – if they don’t have the tools to help themselves.
Where do we start? We can begin in the schools that train our nurses, teaching, empowering, and mentoring them on self-care tools to increase the chances of a better life-work balance once they begin practicing. But what about those who are already in the healthcare workplace, taking on the emotional stress of today’s healthcare challenges – many getting ready to leave because they see no other way to relieve their emotional stress? We need to offer the programs and tools to our nurses on the front lines now, before it’s too late.
The literature talks a lot about emotional burnout – saying what it is and citing studies. Yet it’s difficult to find ongoing programs – especially those focused on the individual nurse – to solve the problem. Bottom line, it’s the individual nurse who has the power to change conditions by reconnecting with their true, authentic self. Does this sound like “woo woo”? It’s not. Quantum physics has proven that whatever you focus on, you create. If you focus on the challenges, they will grow. If you focus on what brings you joy, then that will become your daily experience. There is a reason you became a nurse. It’s part of your “Why” for living. Isn’t it time to recognize and reunite with what called you to nursing in the first place?
Don’t let outside conditions and emotional exhaustion extinguish your passion for nursing. Find a structure of support that will help you live a life you don’t need a vacation from. Programs are out there. It’s just that it isn’t always easy to find a system of support that focuses on the uniqueness of nursing. If you would like to learn more about one such program click the LINK.
It’s time to reignite the flame within you. Are you ready?