BHS Blog / Healthcare News and Trends

Avoiding Healthcare Professional Burnout

Posted on: December 17th, 2019

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Recognized by the World Health Organization (WHO), burnout is a serious condition that requires multiple approaches, including medication. Despite popular belief, burnout is more than just stress. Stress is an emotion that people feel and can often eventually cope with. If stress (the core cause of burnout) is not addressed, it can grow into exhaustion, disengagement, and a series of health and relationship problems. Burnout results in a state of emotional, physical, and mental fatigue.

The Symptoms

If you have worked in healthcare, you may have spotted a burned-out health care provider. Warning signs include:

  • Overwhelmingly anxious
  • Always tired
  • Frequently physically sick
  • Unable to address emotions appropriately
  • Skipping work because they can’t “handle it”
  • Depression
  • Dread toward work

If burnout isn’t addressed, it can lead to physical ailments that the healthcare provider will leak over to the patients. For nurses, it leads to dissatisfaction in their job and decreased staffing numbers, which will lead to decreased patient satisfaction.

The healthcare providers that are at the highest risk for burnout are those who work in higher stress areas such as emergency rooms, ICU, or critical care. One study showed that 25 percent of nurses that left those areas due to the burnout factor.

According to the National Academy of Medicine, one third to one half of medical professionals experience symptoms of burnout. It often starts in nursing and medical school, and continues through professional work.

Preventing Burnout

Here are some ways that clinicians can prevent burnout before it starts:

  • Maintain a healthy balance of work and social life: Make sure you don’t shut out your friends and family. It’s easy to do when working odd hours and dealing with fatigue after a night shift.
  • Connect with your coworkers outside of work: Even if you talk “shop” outside of work, try building meaningful relationships away from the bedside.
  • Eat well: Focus on proteins, fruits, and vegetables that will help you become your best self.
  • Try Yoga: You can also explore other forms of meditation.
  • Move your Body: Exercise releases natural endorphins that will help you feel more energized and happy.
  • Set goals: Determine meaningful goals and work towards them.
  • Limit Caffeine: Replace your caffeinated sugary drinks with water.
  • Have fun at work: Greet your co-workers with a happy face, make a pot of coffee, or bring in treats to share.

Already facing burnout? Beating it starts with tackling the source of your stress.

Follow these tips:

  • Breathe: It’s important to learn how to breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth to center yourself.
  • Notice your triggers: Is it just work that’s making you feel this way? Assess other factors in your life. It could be more.
  • Don’t work extra: If you are looking to make more money, don’t work yourself to the point of unhappiness. If you need extra income, think of other ideas away from the bedside.
  • Turn off your phone: If you learn not to be available 24/7, your mind can effectively recharge.
  • Say no to coworkers: Are you always covering for a co-worker by helping her get out early or taking her shifts? It’s time to start doing the bare minimum until you feel better.
  • Get professional help: Healthcare professionals preach to patients about the importance of seeking help. Sometimes, we first have to help ourselves.

Developing Resilience

The Joint Commission restricts the amount of healthcare providers in their practice. While this can be cumbersome to healthcare workers, the Joint Commission recently took another stance. They have recognized that it’s a responsibility for administrators in healthcare organizations to take a leading role in developing and fostering resilient environments. This strategy can reduce healthcare burnout.

The Joint Commission suggests ideas to consider in the work environment such as:

  • Are healthcare providers feeling valued professionally?
  • Are they feeling supported by coworkers?
  • Do they have a mentor assigned to them?
  • Do they have a supportive manager?
  • Do they use debriefing sessions on the floors?
  • Do they have the knowledge and resources to feel competent at their job?
  • Are they receiving positive praise?

According to a study by RNNetwork, almost 50 percent of nurses who considered leaving the nursing profession reported that they didn’t feel respected by their administration.

It’s time for administrations to take burnout seriously. While it’s typically not an individual problem, burnout on the unit is likely attributed to a nurse. It’s usually a combination of institutional issues like outdated technology, limited support from peers or administration, mandated long hours, and high patient ratios. A study in Australia suggests that when nurse staffing ratios are utilized to less than four patients at a time, lives can be saved and less readmission will occur.

What if we don’t address burnout?

The Washington Post explained that burnout symptoms lead to “increased risks to patients, malpractice claims, worker absenteeism, and turnover, as well as billions of dollars in losses to the medical industry each year.” Unsurprisingly, similar findings were published in The American Journal of Managed Care in 2018.

Manage staffing needs head-on by hiring travelers. Locum tenens can help fill those gaps without engaging in the culture that may be suffering. This can in turn change the culture of the healthcare unit, and relieve burnout for everyone.

Janine Kelbach, BSN, RNC-OB
About Janine Kelbach, BSN, RNC-OB

Janine Kelbach, BSN, RNC-OB is an Ohio-based nurse and freelance writer. She is currently still working as an RN in labor and delivery, married to her best friend, and raising her two boys, and two Great Danes. She loves to help other nurses start their freelance businesses. She is the author of the book Entreprenuse and cohost of the podcast The SavvyScribe. You can find her on LinkedIn and her website WriteRN.net.