I just passed the six-month mark at work: half a year at my first full-time nursing job!
It seems to have flown by, and yet the learning curve I have experienced seems exponential. For my first few months, I felt exhausted every night from being a sponge all day long: constantly soaking up information. It takes a toll on anyone’s energy level, and there’s a limit to just how much I can retain in eight hours. However, now that I am familiar with my work environment and the general pace of the day, I come home with energy to spare (which is amazing!) Suddenly, I have all this time to explore my hobbies, watch good movies, read interesting books, and prepare some delicious dinners.
Even with six months under my belt, I realize I’m still a newbie. However, I’ve noticed a high prevalence of burnout, turnover and discontent with increasing regularity. It seems as if everyone I work with is either dreading the work day, seeking out new job placements at different facilities, going back to school to pursue a different degree, or complaining about their work responsibilities.
I want to explore the topics of burnout, turnover, and discontent a little more because I believe there are layers to the issue.
In nursing school, part of my capstone course was delving into the topic of nurse burnout. It’s a real thing! In the hospital setting, nurses work twelve-hour shifts with few breaks and often receive little gratitude for unpleasant tasks like cleaning up after incontinent patients. It’s hard to assume a care giving role in which you are constantly giving to others and receiving little in return. And, let’s be honest, cleaning up after incontinent patients is less than glamorous. During my 12-hour shifts in the hospital as a nursing student, it was difficult to find 10 minutes for a quick lunch. Before we knew it, the phone would buzz with the latest x-ray results or a patient needing a blanket. The needs of nurses in the hospital are often overlooked, which quickly leads to burnout.
Burnout takes a different form in my daily work as a float nurse in outpatient care.
There’s a constant unknown: “Where will I be today?” I never know if my phone will light up with a text at 7:00am telling me that I will be in pediatrics, obstetrics, or orthopedics. Each specialty has its own flavor and knowledge base. I understand why many float nurses opt for a specific office position when one becomes available. It’s frustrating to be jolted around two, three, or four times in one morning to cover those who call in sick. I see burnout in my coworkers simply because many of them get the brunt of patients’ anger. I understand that patients are on edge when orders don’t get faxed to the laboratory, insurance doesn’t cover a procedure, or the on-call doctor is running behind due to an emergency surgery. Stress rises on both ends of the spectrum, for providers and clients. Additionally, the endless pursuit of optimal health can discourage everyone involved, since bodies decompose and wear out on a daily, hourly, minute-by-minute basis. All things considered, burnout seems reasonable, in fact, when one frustrated patient after another wears down a good-intentioned soul.
The prevalent burnout I see at work leads to high turnover rate.
Part of my responsibility as a float nurse is to cover a position during the interim time between when an employee leaves and when a new hire can replace the open position. Naturally, I feel as if I experience the full force of what “turnover” looks like. My perception may be skewed since I encounter people leaving and coming more than someone in a permanent position would, but it makes me wonder what makes people leave a job. I think it boils down to two reasons:
- Problems with the current job: burned out, too exhausting, not enough pay, no opportunity to move up, difficult coworkers, or long commute.
- Better opportunities elsewhere: better pay, better benefits, better fit of personal gifts with job responsibilities, or closer to home.
High turnover makes it difficult to provide quality care, which makes patients frustrated, which increases employee burnout and discontent, and leads to more turnover. It’s such a vicious cycle that I see daily. I am in the midst of it all, and I want to avoid the sour taste of discontent in my mouth. I want to burn with hope, not burn out. So how do I do that?
One way I can think to avoid burnout as a nurse is to deliberately attend to self-care activities. For me, this means creating sustainable routines like minimizing overtime, getting enough exercise, and pursuing my interests outside of work. I wash my hands like a fiend, so I can use my PTO time for vacation rather than sick days, and nurture friendships with other nurses. Having a job that is greatly “others-oriented” makes attending to self-care all the more important. When I take care of myself, I feel like I take care of others better and remain content with my job.