Nursing Burnout: Why It Happens and How to Avoid It

Nursing Burnout As a working parent, nobody has to tell you what stress feels like. You’ve juggled school with raising your family and work and managed to make it through just fine. But what if all that stress evolves into something bigger? A phenomenon in the healthcare community—nursing burnout—has become just that.

Everybody gets stressed out sometimes, but over a longer period of time, it can become burnout—in other words, emotional exhaustion and disengagement. Many nurses and nursing students can experience this feeling of burnout because of the rigor and intensity of their work or program. While nursing burnout may be a reality for some, it doesn’t have to define a nursing career.

Keep reading to learn more about nursing burnout and hear experts weigh in on why it happens. Learn how nursing burnout is affecting the healthcare community and take away tips on how you can avoid it.

What is nursing burnout?

You may be wondering, what does burnout mean? How do you define burnout?

Burnout is categorized as physical, mental and emotional exhaustion. While stress is defined by over-engagement, burnout is defined by disengagement. Burnout can lead to dulled emotions and detachment. It undermines motivation, leaving a sense of hopelessness. For those experiencing burnout, every day is a bad day.

Burnout not only affects nurses, but also cascades onto the patients they care for. Studies show the link between nursing burnout and an increased likelihood of infections in patients. And hospitals with high burnout rates tend to have lower patient satisfaction overall. Nursing burnout isn’t something only healthcare professionals should worry about—it’s something that affects anyone ever receiving care in a hospital.

Why do nurses burn out?

There are several factors that contribute to nursing burnout. Most cases develop as a result of a combination of causes. Here are a few of the biggest culprits:

1. Long shifts

Many nurses cite their long hours as a main source of fatigue. Some nurses work long, 12-hour shifts. Others may find themselves putting in overtime or being called in when staffing is short. They may also have difficulty leaving on time when their shift is over. Working longer hours can result in greater fatigue and an increased chance of error in nursing. Long, tiring shifts contribute to burnout in nursing throughout a career.

2. Putting others first

Nurses are notoriously selfless—many feel it is their calling to care for others. However, nurses driven by a desire to care for others are actually more vulnerable to nursing burnout. When caring for patients, raising a family and working long, hectic hours, nurses can neglect their own needs. Over time, this can become a major cause of burnout in nursing.

3. Busy, high-stress environments

Nurses have a lot on their plates—and now more than ever. Nursing responsibilities have actually increased over the past 15 years due to advancements in technology and documentation.

The extensive workload can cause nurses to feel overwhelmed or experience a loss of control. Short-staffing in hospital settings makes for busier, more hectic days for nurses. The fast-paced workload can cause nurses to feel overwhelmed and stressed. Over time, this stress can lead to nursing burnout.

4. Coping with sickness and death

It’s hard for anyone to keep thoughts of the workday out of mind each night—but it’s even more difficult for nurses. Daily exposure to sick or dying patients can cause emotional baggage and grief to build over time and creep into personal lives. When getting attached to patients proves all too easy, nurses may face consistent loss with little time to decompress or grieve. These emotions can wear nurses down over time and cause burnout when they aren’t dealt with in a healthy manner.


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