The field of healthcare and nursing, in particular, remains subject to increased worker burnout, fatigue, and stress. This area of expertise is highly important for today’s society, as it remains one of the pillars, upon which healthy, sustainable communities are built. Within the healthcare system, nurses serve as one of the key elements. They serve as effective links between the patients and other members of medical teams, ensuring proper communication and execution of all treatment requirements. Without due dedication, the entire treatment process may be undermined, resulting in poorer outcomes for patients. Such a situation is often entailed by the increased levels of work-related stress and fatigue. Extended workload and hours contribute to the process, making nurses push beyond their limits. As a result, fatigue and stress evolve into professional burnout, which is a pressing concern within the nursing community. In the current environment, serious efforts are made by experts and researchers to analyze the underlying reasons for burnout while proposing efficient measures of prevention or intervention. This paper examines the problem of burnout in nursing from an academic perspective, providing an evidence-based intervention proposal.
Description of the Issue
The idea of professional burnout remains prevalent in the contemporary nursing environment. Odonkor and Frimpong (2020) define this issue as “complete emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion” (para. 2). This definition is highly valuable, as it provides insight into the multi-faceted nature of the matter at hand. First of all, burnout is directly related to the problem of exhaustion. In other words, when working under increased stress, nurses rapidly deplete their inner resources. This profession often implies extended working hours combined with a serious workload. The necessity to make continuous efforts contributes to the development of fatigue, namely its physical component, through the lack of rest and peace. Second, nursing is mentally demanding, as highlighted by the definition of burnout. Proficient nurses remain engaged in the continuous decision-making process, in which they participate within the medical unit. This element contributes to the overall stressful environment, thus conditioning the mental fatigue.
Finally, the emotional side of nursing is not to be underestimated. Holistic, person-centered nursing suggests a serious level of emotional involvement and compassion toward the patient. While it is not always healthy to process all patients’ issues, nurses still experience a certain degree of emotional connection that is needed for high-quality services. In addition, they are often surrounded by strong feelings and intense emotions. Thus, the triumvirate of physical, mental, and emotional sides forms the concept of professional burnout in nursing.
Review of the Literature
Current State of the Issue
The issue of professional burnout has become acute within the healthcare system. According to Odonkor and Frimpong (2020), the problem’s scope is equally concerning, as healthcare workers account for 12% of the world’s working population. Moreover, the functioning and well-being of society, in general, depends on these people’s professionalism and preparedness to respond to emerging challenges. Dall’Ora et al. (2020) identify the key predictors of burnout among nurses. This list comprises “high workload, value incongruence, low control over the job, low decision latitude, poor social climate, social support, and low rewards” (p. 2). As a result, medical practitioners become overwhelmed by work-related stress, which gradually instills burnout. These underlying issues are present across most healthcare organizations, as conditioned by the current pursuit of efficiency. It results in lower staffing levels, thus increasing the pressure on a single nurse. The empirical examination by Odonkor and Frimpong (2020) revealed that 9% of healthcare workers are prone to burnout, whereas others experience elevated stress that risks progressing further. These statistics are alarming, considering the percentage and importance of healthcare professionals in contemporary society.
Impact of the Issue
Professional burnout in the sphere of healthcare is related to an array of negative outcomes within the system. First of all, the presence of fatigue, stress, and corresponding implications correlates negatively with a worker’s ability to perform their duties effectively. In other words, nurses subject to burnout cannot work to the fullest extent of their responsibilities. The attention levels are depleted, often leading to medical errors. As a result, the negative implications translate into poorer patient experiences on both physical and emotional levels. Professional burnout instills the lack of engagement with the patient’s tissues, thus undermining the profound emotional connection with the nurse. As a result, the requirements of the patient-centered model are not met.
Furthermore, the cases of advanced professional burnout entail worse treatment outcomes, which undermines the primary objective of health service delivery. According to Helfrich et al. (2017), insufficient staffing and burnout form a self-propelling system, in which the first issue entails the second one. Then, prompted by extreme fatigue, many professionals opt for leaving their position, thus contributing to the shortage of workers. Overall, the impact of professional burnout in healthcare is global, as it encompasses all elements of the system and impedes its effective functioning.
The problems of stress, fatigue, and burnout among healthcare workers have been an area of intense interest for experts and researchers across the globe. The professional community remains in accord regarding the topical nature of the issue, which is to be addressed in the shortest terms possible. In this context, researchers continuously examine the underlying factors and mediators of professional burnout in an attempt to develop effective intervention techniques. As such, the empirical research by Odonkor and Frimpong (2020) points toward family support as the primary source of stress and burnout relief. Thus, nurses are to be provided with better opportunities to remain engaged in their families’ lives to obtain the necessary level of support. Hobbies form the second category of mediators, contributing to burnout prevention. Both of these elements are closely related to the concept of workload, as, in the current environment, medical professionals often lack the time to pursue their interests. Duarte and Pinto-Gouveia (2017) also emphasize the role of professional psychological help in the most severe cases. Access to such help in the workplace can equally become an effective means of burnout intervention.
Workload and Time Flexibility
As discussed above, the workload factor often becomes the key contributor to the development of professional burnout within medical teams. From this perspective, effective interventions require considerable changes on institutional and systemic levels. The study by Odonkor and Frimpong (2020) reveals the crucial role of personal interests and familial relationships in the prevention and eradication of burnout among nurses. In other words, the professionals who can spend more time with people they care about and pursue their hobbies are generally more satisfied and less prone to burnout. The objective of the workload-based intervention is to provide nurses with sufficient time off duties. Under the current circumstances, medical professionals are often deprived of such opportunities. The shortage of staffing forces healthcare organizations to increase the workload, making the number of patients and procedures per nurse critical. Quality transformations within this context require profound structural changes, which will enable a better distribution of workload. This way, nurses will have more personal time, establishing better work-life balance and preventing the development of severe burnout.
The first intervention proposed within the present paper is global in terms of scale and scope, requiring systemic changes. However, modern researchers propose an array of instruments that can be used in the short term to address the issue of professional burnout. More specifically, Zhang et al. (2020) emphasize the value of self-care opportunities regarding the matter at hand. Based on the research evidence, they propose a list of such tools that are applicable in the nursing setting. For example, individual-based interventions have been found particularly effective in reducing stress levels and preventing the exhaustion of physical and mental resources. Nurses who engage in yoga practices, meditation, mindfulness, and massage sessions demonstrate reduced burnout combined with better preparedness to work effectively. Therefore, organizations can either invite such therapy coaches to the institution or simply provide nurses with certificates for their services. This way, medical teams will have access to healthy practices that promote well-being on both physical and mental levels.
Professional Psychological Help
Despite the efforts made by medical institutions, professional burnout cannot always be prevented. Accordingly, when stress and fatigue have already reached critical levels, the situation calls for more advanced interventions. In this context, medical organizations are advised to establish full-time psychological help services on their premises to ensure workers’ access to professional therapy. As conditioned by the nature of the job, nurses often face suffering, pain, and even death in the line of work. In many cases, it may be difficult for them to remain distant from patients’ issues, which become processed through the nurse’s cognitive and emotional frameworks. As such, the very nature of the nursing work contributes to the development of stress, fatigue, and burnout. Psychologists are trained to provide such people with professional help, eliminating the impact of negative experiences. In such a stressful environment as healthcare institutions, psychological services become invaluable. If healthcare managers introduce full-time psychological support services and encourage their teams to use them, the situation is likely to have more positive outcomes.
Ultimately, professional burnout in nursing has become an issue of paramount importance for the healthcare system. It is born through the nexus of psychical, emotional, and mental exhaustion conditioned by the multi-faceted nature of the job and its requirements. Nurses usually work under increased stress, which is accumulated over time. Subsequently, when its levels become critical, general fatigue transforms into professional burnout that has lasting repercussions in the context of the entire healthcare system. Professionals who experience this issue become less focused on their duties, providing lower-quality care and building a weaker connection with the patients. As a result, treatment outcomes become worse, preventing the system from accomplishing its key objective. Next, as nurses suffer from burnout, they often quit, leaving other co-workers with the ever-increasing workload. The situation can be amended if healthcare management introduces better self-care opportunities and access to psychological assistance. However, to ensure long-term progress, major changes in the workload distribution policies are required on the systemic level.
Dall’Ora, C., Ball, J., Reinius, M., & Griffiths, P. (2020). Burnout in nursing: A theoretical review. Human Resources for Health, 18(41), 1-17.
Duarte, J., & Pinto-Gouveia, J. (2017). The role of psychological factors in oncology nurses’ burnout and compassion fatigue symptoms. European Journal of Oncology Nursing, 28, 114-121.
Helfrich, C. D., Simonetti, J. A., Clinton, W. L., Wood, G. B., Taylor, L., Schectman, G., Stark, R., Rubenstein, L. V., Fihn, S. D., & Nelson, K. (2017). The association of team-specific workload and staffing with odds of burnout among VA primary care team members. Journal of General Internal Medicine, 32, 760-766.
Odonkor, S. T., & Frimpong, K. (2020). Burnout among healthcare professionals in Ghana: A critical assessment. BioMed Research International.
Zhang, X., Song, Y., Jiang, T., Ding, N., & Shi, T. (2020). Interventions to reduce burnout of physicians and nurses. Medicine, 99(26).