Nursing professionals, including the 3 million registered nurses in the U.S., are working in one of the most demanding and stressful industries. As caregivers working on the front line providing healing and comfort to patients, the nurses’ own mental and physical states should be of utmost importance to employers.
Focusing on nurses’ wellness is important at this time, especially, as the nation faces a nursing shortage. The American Journal of Medical Quality forecasts the nursing shortage to increase by 2030, according to a 2012 report.
Part of the nursing shortage problem can be attributed to a large number of Baby Boomer nurses who will be retiring in the next few years. Also, there are a large number of registered nurses looking at retirement in the near future; 47 is the average age of a registered nurse today.
However, much of this forecasted shortage is coming from nursing burnout. A 2011 survey by the American Nurses Association cites overwork and stress as being the top health concerns for three out of four nurses. Demanding work schedules and insufficient staffing are contributing to nurses saying goodbye to the industry. Nurses are frequently found working 12-hour shifts over the course of three days. And studies show that nurses who work over eight-hour shifts are two-and-a-half times more likely to experience burnout.
Sometimes the reason nurses enter the field is the very reason they leave it. Those who are driven to help others, rather than enjoyment of the actual work, are more likely to become burnt out, according to a survey of over 700 registered nurses by University of Akron researchers.
Yet there are ways to reverse nursing burnout. While nobody can control the influx of sick patients and more complex work environments, factors within employers’ control include:
- Ensuring that nurses have a voice in the workforce and authority to implement changes.
- Providing learning to help them grow in their profession.
- Recognizing their efforts and vital role in health care.
- Encouraging mentors to help provide support when needed and guidance on the job.
Nurses, who see themselves as part of a collective family, need to take care of themselves and worry about each other. But employers also need to make sure nurses are cared for so that they can provide their knowledge and expertise to the best of their ability.
Fatigue and stress need to be minimized to retain and protect nurses. Studies have shown that nursing burnout directly affects how well patients are being taken care of, which can be costly for health care facilities.