What is Nurse Burnout?
COVID-19 brought healthcare burnout to the forefront of conversation as hospitals everywhere faced staffing shortages and fought to encourage staff retention. Nurses experience daily challenges like patients who fall, aggressive patients or visitors, long hours with back-to-back shifts, difficult surgeries, death, exposure to COVID-19, and more. These are a few of many factors leading to nurse burnout.
When nurses experience burnout, they often quit, adding to staffing shortages and turnover issues at hospitals.
Nurse Burnout Definition
The National Academy of Medicine defines burnout as "a syndrome characterized by a high degree of emotional exhaustion and depersonalization (i.e., cynicism), and a low sense of personal accomplishment at work."
Nurse Burnout Statistics
According to a Cross Country Healthcare (CCH) survey, “…nearly 37 percent of nurses identify as being burned out, stressed and / or overworked.” Workplace stress has led to increased healthcare burnout, with “…only 32 percent of nurses… very / completely satisfied with their occupation, compared to 52 percent prior to the pandemic.”
Eventually that stress, exhaustion, and depersonalization can lead nurses to leave healthcare altogether. The CCH survey reported that “29 percent of nurses say their desire to leave the profession is dramatically higher now versus pre-pandemic, noting the nursing shortage and inadequate staffing levels as top contributors to the low satisfaction.”
And two thirds — "66 percent of nurses expressed some level of consideration to leave the profession, signaling long-term impacts on our health system post-pandemic.”
Ashley Kuruvilla, MSN, APRN, FNP-C, is a nurse practitioner familiar with this crisis. Kuruvilla experienced burnout early in her career, before joining Wachter Healthcare Solutions as the NOVA Business Development Manager and Clinical Support Specialist.
"After working in various Medical-Surgical units as a new nurse and facing the difficulties of staffing shortages — including high patient-nurse ratios, having to float to different units, working overtime, and not getting bathroom and lunch breaks — I decided to leave bedside nursing after five years and pursued other opportunities within nursing," Kuruvilla said.
Signs of Nurse Burnout
Nurse burnout is a widespread phenomenon characterized by a reduction in nurses’ energy that manifests in emotional exhaustion, lack of motivation, and feelings of frustration and may lead to reductions in work efficacy.
Causes of Nurse Burnout
Several factors directly and indirectly impact burnout among healthcare workers. With additional patient care responsibilities, an aging healthcare workforce, a global pandemic, and a nationwide shortage of nurses — it's easy to see how nurses can experience burnout.
Long Hours in High-Stress Environments, Plus Lack of Support Create Nurse Burnout
In the healthcare industry, it's not uncommon for nurses to work 12-hour shifts, sometimes multiple days in a row.
Working in healthcare is extremely stressful, even for staff outside of intensive care units and emergency rooms. Factors that can cause stress in hospitals include strict deadlines, changing responsibilities at a moment's notice, workplace violence, and seeing sickness or death often.
An AHRQ publication titled Patient Safety and Quality: An Evidence-Based Handbook for Nurses notes that researchers have studied the causes of work stress among healthcare workers since 1960.
“Work stress in nursing was first assessed in 1960 when Menzies identified four sources of anxiety among nurses: patient care, decision making [sic], taking responsibility, and change.”
Later studies cited in the AHRQ piece note additional factors that can lead to workplace stress and nurse burnout, including rising healthcare costs and turbulent work environments.
A study published in Frontiers of Nursing suggests that burnout in nurses can stem from role overload, role conflict, lack of support and rewards, and uncertainty — such as how to react in specific patient care situations.
Covid Nurse Burnout
Nurses worldwide experienced an onslaught of millions of patients hospitalized with COVID-19. The stressors already experienced by nurses were exacerbated by the pandemic and worsening stress and burnout.
"COVID-19 brought on a whole new set of challenges for nurses," Kuruvilla said. "Including the uncertainty of how to handle the disease process, nurses possibly contracting COVID-19, the added physical demand related to short staffing, wearing PPE constantly and changing PPE between each patient interaction, the emotional toll of connecting with suffering patients, and the numerous lives that were lost."
Prevention of Burnout in Nursing
Preventing burnout in nurses is a team effort that includes nurses, hospital leadership, and even healthcare technology.
“The advice I would give to nurses dealing with these challenges is to take time to care for yourself," Kuruvilla said. "Nurses are always putting the needs of others ahead of their own and allowing themselves to be overworked, overstressed, and overlooked. Superheroes need to replenish their powers as well."
Nursing managers and Chief Nursing Officers can be some of the biggest advocates for nurses.
"Management should always be recruiting," Kuruvilla said. "Management needs to appreciate their staff for their hard work by recognizing, rewarding, and helping their staff get much-needed support and rest."
How Healthcare Technology Helps Reduce Nurse Burnout & Improves Nurse Retention
Technology can serve as an important tool in helping prevent burnout and improve nurse retention.
Virtual patient observation (VPO) technology helps alleviate nursing burnout. VPO technology includes devices in patient rooms where an observation technician can monitor a patient's status and condition and interact through video and audio communications.
That’s how NOVA (Nursing Observation and Virtual Assistant) helps combat nursing burnout. With NOVA, an observation technician has a virtual window into the patient room.
NOVA helps alleviate nurse burnout by reducing the need for 1:1 patient sitters and reallocating that staff for other patient care responsibilities.
"NOVA helps provide an extra set of eyes to monitor patients that are high risk or on isolation precautions, which can help manage nurse workflow and time," Kuruvilla said. "The ability of a monitor technician to communicate the needs of a patient or engage a patient helps facilitate the care that the entire healthcare team provides."
Not only are nurses glad to be using a remote patient monitoring solution like NOVA, but patients are also satisfied. One hospital in Southern California using NOVA said a patient wrote a letter to the hospital saying he was satisfied with their level of care and enjoyed the conversations he had with the observation technician.
See how NOVA can help your hospital retain nurses, eliminate nurse burnout, and improve patient care efforts by scheduling a demo today!