Sandra is in the middle of her third 12-hour shift this week.  She works on the med-surg floor of a local hospital.  Today she has 6 patients and one of the CNA’s called in and the hospital doesn’t have another CNA that can float to the floor. Four of her patients have pages-long meds, three have dressing changes, and two need to be prepared for surgery. Sandra can feel the familiar stress and exhaustion creeping in her body and she still hasn’t charted on a single patient. Sandra is experiencing work burnout in part because the hospital she works for can’t find enough qualified nurses to fill the empty job positions

Employment of registered nurses is projected to grow 15 percent from 2016 to 2026, much faster than the average for all occupations. The reality is that there are not enough nurses in the US to fill these jobs, and there aren’t enough nursing schools and nurse educators to graduate the nurses needed.

The number of nursing jobs continues to grow for several reasons. Patients that come to the hospital are sicker and they have more chronic conditions like diabetes and obesity, requiring more time and attention from nurses. Baby boomers, the juggernaut aging group of Americans with political and social power, are aging into retirement and demand healthcare services that meet their expectations for living longer and having more active lives. And as our healthcare system moves from a sick model to a wellness model, more nurses are needed to help with the recommended preventative procedures and tests.

What impact does the nursing shortage have on me?

A nursing shortage means unfilled jobs at the hospital where we work. And unfilled jobs mean higher patient/nurse ratios and higher ratios can lead to nurse burnout. Burnout results from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. Symptoms of burnout include:

  • Low energy or exhaustion
  • Becoming disinterested in your job
  • Being negative or cynical about your job
  • Being less efficient at work

Work burnout and job stress is a serious problem for nurses. Nurse burnout is associated with poorer patient safety and patient satisfaction is much lower in hospitals where many nurses feel burned out and dissatisfied with their work conditions. That is a big deal for everybody – nurses, patients, and hospital administrators.

Studies have identified the sources of stress for nurses as increased patient workload, poor management, professional conflicts and the emotional demands of patient care. And it’s no surprise to anybody that these stressors decrease job satisfaction and increase burnout. Several studies support the idea that reducing nurse workload would lessen job stress, resulting in an increase in job satisfaction. And that would be a win for everybody involved. So what’s the holdup? Oh yeah, the nursing shortage.


What can I do to avoid burnout? 

If the nursing shortage is here and expected to last a while, what can I do to take care of myself and avoid burnout? Here are some things you can do to get started.

  • Practice gratitude. Studies show that gratitude can make us happier and healthier. Learn to notice the simple things that you are grateful for. A little gratitude can go a long way.
  • Have some fun. On your days off, plan an activity that brings you joy. Spend time with people or furry friends that make you feel valued and loved.
  • Try a relaxing activity. Most cities have yoga studios popping up everywhere that have a whole range of classes and many city recreation centers have yoga classes now. Don’t live in place with yoga classes? Today there are a whole range of classes on the internet, and some are free.
  • Get some exercise. Regular physical activity can help you to better deal with stress. It can also take your mind off work.
  • Get some sleep. It can be hard to get the sleep you need if you are working evening or night shifts. But the fact is that your body needs rest and sleep.
  • Try meditation. There is a lot of talk about meditation and mindfulness these days. Mindfulness is the act of focusing on your breath flow and being intensely aware of what you’re sensing and feeling at every moment, without interpretation or judgment. In a job setting, this practice involves facing situations with openness and patience, and without judgment. There are many apps to help you practice meditation and mindfulness. My favorites are Calm and Headspace.
  • Feed your soul. Care giving can take an emotional toll. Nurses are privileged to be with patients and their families in some of the rawest moments of life. We’re at the bedside during birth, death and serious illness. Being present during these moments can be draining. Find ways to feed that most inner part of yourself with prayer, being in nature or finding a faith community.

We are all in this nursing shortage together. Remember that you a valuable part of the medical care system. You are worth the time and effort to take care of yourself!