Beware of a Nurse Burnout

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Published: 25th October 2012
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Every nurse who has ever worked in an acute care hospital, or nursing home, is probably familiar with nurse burnout. You may not have experienced it yourself, yet, but you most likely will eventually, unless you are vigilant, and take precautions.

There is a common thread that tends to permeate the personalities of almost all nurses. This trait is the same one that is familiar to mothers of young children. The trait is that of the martyr; The one who sacrifices herself for the good of others; The one who doesn’t take care of herself, because she is too busy caring for others.

Mothers of young children have done this since the beginning of time, and they usually make it through ok, but many nurses do not. Of course, mother’s of the very young are not in that phase of life for very long. Within 5 years, the child has grown enough to go off to school for a large part of each day. Even if a mother continues to have many children over her childbearing years, this stage of life only lasts, at most, 15 years or so before she has no really young children at home all day long. Nurses, on the other hand, may stay in this relentless sacrificial martyr mode for 20 years or more over the span of their career. And in no other career but the medical field are you dealing with potential life and death situations every single day.

Nurses are givers. They have to be, or they wouldn’t have entered into the profession in the first place. Sometimes we just don’t know when it’s time to stop giving, and start taking time for ourselves. Intellectually we know. At 3 o’clock, or 7 o’clock, or whenever our shift is supposed to be over, we know that we are supposed to be done with our jobs. But then the call light goes off, and someone is in pain, or someone needs assistance to the bathroom, or another patient’s IV is leaking. How many of us are able to just go on about our business and leave it to the next shift, especially when no one is available to care for the needs of the call light because other patients have already called. Does this new patient on the call light deserve to have to wait even longer because she was trying to be patient, or because blind luck caused the IV catheter to slip out at that exact moment? Of course not. So we stay, again, long enough to make sure that everything is stable and calm, and often after we’ve already clocked out. After-all, we’d want others to so the same for us, right?

In our schools of nursing we are taught to always put ourselves in the patients shoes. We would not want to be left in pain because our nurses shift was over, and the next shift is already busy. We are compassionate, loving beings, but if we go on like this day after day, often going home to others who need us too, we will surely burnout.

We have got to take care of ourselves if we are to continue to care for others. It is not selfish, it is mandatory. It is analogous to the start of an airplane flight when the stewardess comes over the PA system instructing everyone on what to do if there is an emergency. If you’ve ever flown, you probably know this by heart. Parents, and anyone who is physically able, are instructed to always put their oxygen mask on first, before trying to help to put the oxygen masks on their children, or others who are unable to do it for themselves. This makes sense and we know it.

If you are feeling worn down and burned out, treat yourself to some TLC. If it ‘s gone too far for too long, do some thing about it. Get in touch with employee health. Believe me, they will not think you are weak, they see it every day. Most employers of medical facilities offer some type of employee assistance program. This type of program allows you to get counseling or other needed services without any expense to you. The counselors are not hospital employees, but usually a completely separate entity which the hospital pays to confidentially take care of their employees when needed. There is no way for your employer to find out about what happens there. Patient confidentiality is in place.

If you don’t think you need that type of assistance, take a break. Most institutions would rather you take some time away to rejuvenate yourself and come back fresh, that to have you go off the deep end trying to be super nurse and super employee.

Stephanie M. has been a Travel Nurse and a successful writer about the medical field for over 5 years. Nursing Jobs, please visit

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