We need to talk about nursing burnout

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Jacklyn Calvard compares nurses to stars – they burn brightly but too many are now burning out

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21st November 2017 by TFN Guest 1 Comment

Burnout is a term often bandied about in nursing. I’ve heard it many times on the wards. I’ve heard it used when talking about colleagues who are off on long term sick leave, usually due to stress.

Why is this happening? Nursing is a stressful job, yes, nobody is arguing that fact, but why are so many nurses at the end of their tether?

Nurses are often compared to stars by society. “Nurse, thank you! You’re a star!”. Or, “That really helped my pain… you’re a superstar!” What if nurses are more like stars than you think? What if all the shiny brightness has a dark side too?

Jacklyn Calvard

Jacklyn Calvard

Stars burn out. Nothing lasts forever, and so eventually the star uses all its fuel, either contracting and becoming cold, or leaving in a dramatic supernova or blackhole. I am no master astronomer, so if the detail isn’t quite perfect, call me out on it. You get the picture, though. Big shiny, bright, warm entity……kaput!

If we compare the nurse to a star, then hydrogen and helium could be empathy and compassion. Nurses are often compassionate, empathetic beings. Health and well-being are nurses’ bread and butter, and yet, their own health and wellbeing is at an all-time low.

The bigger the star, the quicker the fuel depletes. This could also be said of nurses’ workload. All too often, the media has another scandal of patient neglect. These types of occurrences are never acceptable, but a single nurse administering medicines to upwards of 20 patients is never going to be safe. If a nurse has an overwhelming workload, then it also makes sense that their energy will deplete.

What forces are extinguishing our nurses’ lights? Stress and fatigue come up repeatedly. Nurses are tired, nurses are overworked and underpaid. How can we expect our nurses to be compassionate when they do not have the chance to practice self-compassion?

Personally, I have worked many minutes over my scheduled hours, just to get done what I feel is necessary just to keep patients safe. I have started at 7.45am am and worked until 11 pm to ensure patients have had vital medications when night-shift staff didn’t turn up. I have gone in early to check in monthly medication deliveries from pharmacies in time for the first morning drug round of the month.

Due to the compassionate nature of most nurses, often employers take advantage. This year’s NHS staff survey reported that over half of NHS staff work unpaid hours every week. As nursing staff make up nearly half (42.9%) of the NHS Scotland work force, it is safe to assume that many nurses work unpaid overtime hours.

When reading about this, the term self-care keeps popping up. The more I think about the term self-care, the more I relate it to self-preservation. Factors in self-care include prioritising your own hydration and nutrition or having a ten-minute reflection or meditation incorporated into your day. Now, it may seem like a straightforward plan but, ensuring you empty your bladder in the middle of a meeting with a distressed relative who has lost a loved one is hardly the way to maintain a therapeutic relationship.

Maybe employers should be doing more? Offering staff the support they need to maintain a healthy workforce.

I don’t have all the answers, but it’s such an important discussion, I needed to get it off my chest. Maybe, I am in fact, practising some self-care in reflecting on what I have experienced.

To end on a brighter note, I would like to bring your attention back to all the stars out there. I don’t just mean registered nurses, but all clinical staff who constantly work to ensure people have their needs met. You are shining with compassion and empathy, and it’s beautiful!

Now, let’s ensure that we keep our stars in supply of fuel. The clinical areas of the UK do not need any more black holes.

Jacklyn Calvard is a nurse with St Columbas Hospice

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22nd November 2017 by Mags

So very true. Nurses are under more pressure of meeting targets for paperwork to completed. This leaves patients yearning for staff attention and an increase in incidents.