3 ‘cures’ for nurse burnout, and why they won’t work for you

It’s not possible for many people to ‘just self-care your way out of burnout,’ nurse writes

An American Medical Association-led study found that reducing burnout might help to retain health care workers, and myriad stories have been written about just how to do that.

The problem, Diana Page, MSN, RN, APRN, ACNP-BC, wrote for Nurse.org, is that “‘just self-care your way out of burnout’ doesn’t work and there is far more to it when optimizing your well-being” when you work in health care.

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“To be honest some of the initiatives truly don’t make sense,” Page wrote. “I mean how many times have you heard there are free chair massages or a resiliency class but you were slammed with patient care and weren’t given the time even to pee let alone take ‘self-care break.’ We need to do better.”

Here are three recommendations to combat burnout, and why Page said they likely won’t work for you.

Quitting

During a visit to Grady Memorial Hospital in May, U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy “sounded the alarm” over burnout among health care workers. Murthy told doctors and nurse the strain from the pandemic explains why 1 in 5 doctors and 2 in 5 nurses say they plan to leave the profession.

Although finding a less stressful job can be enticing, Page warns against making your decision to quit because of some bad shifts.

“Before you decide to walk away,” Page wrote, “take time to understand what your triggers are, what is making you unhappy, what do you actually like, what’s in and out of your control and what you think would be required for a more fulfilling experience.”

Without addressing those issues, the cycle of unhappiness could just repeat itself somewhere else.

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Rest

Without enough rest, nurses “are less empathetic with patients and colleagues, vigilance becomes more variable, and logical reasoning is affected, making it hard for us to calculate, for example, the correct dose of drugs a patient might need,” Dr. Nancy Redfern, consultant anesthetist at Newcastle Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, told the Euroanaesthesia congress in June.

But taking a vacation to restore your energy is just a temporary fix, however, Page asserted.

”(I)f we recharge and then go back into the same environment and expose ourselves to the same burnout triggers, same toxic environments, and same trauma, we will find that we slip right back into our burned-out state of being, living in fight or flight,” she wrote.

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Productivity hacks

There are numerous apps available to help nurses be more productive, “but all the hacks in the world can’t fix your burnout if there are still unrealistic expectations for your workload,” Page wrote.

Hacks that enable you to squeeze more work into the same 12-hour shift will just add to your stress. Instead, she said, set some boundaries. Look for ways you can delegate some tasks, simplify some tasks and eliminate others.

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