Toasted and burnt to a crisp….. this is unrelated to sun exposure.  A level of stress, exhaustion, and frustration can be palpated in the air at work, has crept in behind my ears, and I can feel it in my shoulders.  This very near resembles burnout.  I know now that it has been a major contributor to my writer’s block for the last few weeks.  I think as stress builds up personally and professionally its hard to find the right words to express the topic you are passionate about and that is at the same time, burning you out.

There are so many factors that contribute to burnout in nursing.  We have all felt and experienced them.  The amount of hours we have worked this week, feeling a lack of gratitude or appreciation, personal loss in our own lives, stories of terrible struggles that our patients and their families are surviving through, increasing workloads, long hours, leaving work never feeling finished with work, and of course a lack of sleep.

This last February in Health Affairs, it was published by researchers in the School of Nursing at the University of Pennsylvania that 24% of nurses providing direct patient care in hospitals report feelings of job dissatisfaction compared to professional counterparts in other areas of nursing at 13%.  34% of hospital nurses also reported feelings of burnout compared to 22% of nurses working outside the hospital arena.

What I believe, is also contributing to this major feeling of burnout is the lack of options.  Everyone working in nursing (or trying to work in nursing) knows how tight the jobs are right now.  Where I work, my coworkers that have left (whether for school, personal or family changes) their positions really haven’t been filled.  For the first time since I’ve moved to the Puget Sound region, a health care organization in this area has announced the layoff of 300-350 employees by this October.  A newly graduated nursing student that works as a tech in my unit told me she applied for a nurse resident position at a teaching hospital in California that had >900 applicants for 10 positions.  96 people applied for our unit’s single part-time vacant nursing assistant position.   Stories like this pop up in our world everyday.  They are starting to hit a little close to home now.  I’ve talked about these experiences on the part of people searching for nursing work in other parts of the country, I had a feeling it was just lagging in Seattle.  When you feel the lack options, you know you shouldn’t get off the ferris wheel because there are hundreds waiting to get on.  While I can’t picture myself doing anything else in nursing, I love my job,  it changes the dynamic when you know you can’t even consider it.

Nurse burnout is easily recognizable.  It can be seen in body language, heard in the tone of voice we use with coworkers, patients, and visitors, and seen in the energy (or the lack there of) that we have while at work.  Professionally being burned out is more than just hard, it is emotionally exhausting.  When you are feeling pushed to the limit, exhausted, challenged, unsupported, and disinterested how do you keep up the facade? I have found you can’t push yourself through it, you can’t fake your way through it, you can’t even wish your way through it.  You have to find ways to take care of yourself, your coworkers, and your patients at the same time.

I have to look for energizing moments.  I have found myself searching, yearning, reaching, and seeking out little moments that mean so much.  A few weeks ago, 2 of my patients each remembered my name when I came back the next night.  I can’t speak as to why that meant so much, but I know that at the time it meant the world.  A handshake and thank you from a patient as he was transferred out of the ICU made my night recently; talking with my patient’s family and listening to their stories about the care they have and what they have been through with their grandmother; hearing the love in their voices; and fortunately I’ve had the chance to care for a great number of patients that have been able to make me laugh.  Whether they could tell I needed to laugh, or I just figured out what it was that I needed.  I’ve gotten what I needed from my patient’s and in the ultimate lesson of karma I’ve been trying to pass the gratitude and appreciation on to my coworkers.

Thanks you’s for amazing teamwork is the easiest place to start.

We need each other for the benefit of our patients, we need our hearts to be open so we can get through our long 12 hour shifts.  This is easier said then done, but you have to start somewhere when you’re trying to empower nurses to change the world.

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