Looks At Coping With Stress And Burnout In Nursing

Experts Offer Suggestions To Help Nurses With Their Careers

Marysville, WAThe problems in nursing are undeniable. A recent survey by Nurseweek magazine found that of the 4,000 nurses who responded to a questionnaire, 87% reported being satisfied with being a nurse; yet, 95% believe there is a nursing shortage and 76% think it has affected the quality of patient care by nurses.

"I don't think it's that they no longer love their jobs. What I've heard from nurses is that they really love what they do it's just these other overriding factors are driving them away from the acute care setting," says Cindy Price, senior public relations specialist with the American Nurses Association (ANA). "Factors such as being forced to work mandatory overtime … coupled with the nursing shortage--especially in an acute care setting where staffing is an issue--these other factors are what may be causing the burnout to begin with. The nurses know that they went into nursing because they love helping patients and caring for people. What we're seeing is nurses choosing to leave acute care not because they don't love being a nurse but because they're worried for their patients. They're worried that they're not going to be able to provide safe and quality care."

A recent survey by Medzilla, a leading Internet recruitment and professional community that targets jobseekers and HR Professionals in biotechnology, pharmaceuticals, healthcare and science, queried nurses about whether they're interested in leaving nursing for a career in pharmaceuticals. The question prompted a strong response, according to Frank Heasley, PhD, Medzilla President and CEO. "We're seeing more and more nurses trying to leave the profession," Dr. Heasley says. "One nurse, Sandi Bratton, RN, of Charlotte, NC, expressed her frustrations with working on the floor and being responsible for 10 to 12 patients at a time. Another simply responded with, 'Hospital nursing is terribly stressful and we are overworked and undervalued.' Those cries for help suggest to us that something needs to be done to help these nurses with burnout, frustration or whatever they're feeling."

Burnout or frustration?

Sandy Ewing, a national speaker with expertise in addressing burnout, stress and conflict, says there is controversy over the definition of burnout. Ewing, who also is a registered dietician, says that some people believe that burnout is stress overload, where people get to the point that they can't take anymore. "I don't buy into that theory mainly because you've known people who have an immense amount of stress in their lives and they're not burned out. Two nurses can be on the same shift, both have families, have all the same things going on in their lives, yet one will suffer burnout and the other will not. The other will almost thrive, in fact," she says. "What I'm beginning to find out in my research is that the difference appears to be that the people who don't burnout have made a conscious decision to figure out what is important in their lives."

According to Ewing, nurses who are stressed or frustrated can turn to stress relieving or "coping" techniques, such as taking a warm bath, exercising, eating right and so on. However, a nurse who is burned out needs more soul searching to overcome her or his dilemma.

Helping nurses through these hard times is more important than ever. "It's almost a very dangerous time for nursing. The patients aren't happy. The hospitals aren't happy and the nurses aren't happy. And so something dramatic has to change in the whole profession to really make a difference," Ewing says. "What I see now is that most nurses just don't last very long. It's sad to say but the smart ones do the hospital work on the med-surg floors for about as long as they can take it and then they find another job in nursing whether it's in a doctor's office or working for a managed care company somewhere they feel they have more control over the care that they are able to give."

Coping with stress

Ewing suggests that nurses who feel burned out to where the relaxing and stress-reducing techniques do not work should first take time to figure out what is most important. Real soul searching might reveal that nurturing patients despite the challenges is no longer a goal for a nurse. Or it might further strengthen a nurse's commitment to patients. Self care also becomes important, Ewing says.

"Nurses need to understand that yes it is important to give but it is also important to receive," Ewing says. "If we take care of ourselves first, we're actually more able to give more to others. Taking care of our health, making sure we get enough sleep, eating right--all those things nurses don't do. They skip meals, they work double shifts… So they're not taking care of themselves, first."

Once nurses have figured out what is important, they have to let those around them know, Ewing says. "That might mean letting your nursing supervisor know that you won't work double shifts on a regular basis. That might mean talking with your supervisor about how you think patient care should be administered. If in the long-run the facility you're working for isn't willing to abide by what you think is important than you need to start looking for something else. The longer someone stays in a job where they sacrifice what they think is important, the more likely they are to burnout," she says.

Recognizing and dealing with burnout

Stress reduction techniques can help you get through a bad time, but if there's no resolution in sight, it's probably time to move on. Dr. Heasley says that "The key is to recognize that the same situation is happening again and again, or that your feelings about your job and prospects appear to have no hope of improvement. Burnout can be insidious, the result of problems that could be resolved but aren't. When coping with stress becomes a way of life, it's probably time to find something else to do, or somewhere else to do it, that gives you more hope of satisfaction."

Established in mid 1994, MedZilla is the original web site to serve career and hiring needs for professionals and employers in biotechnology, pharmaceuticals, medicine, science and healthcare. The MedZilla jobs database currently contains about 10,000 open positions. The resume databank currently contains approximately 7,500 resumes, less than three months old. These resources have been characterized as the largest, most comprehensive databases of their kind on the web in the industries served.


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