Thursday, July 21, 2011

Nursing Burnout and Divine Appointments

 It is not a secret that my job has been difficult lately. So much so, that I have not felt a desire to talk about it on here much... at all. Summer time in a teaching hospital is difficult and even some of our most positive, peppy nurses have been sucked dry of energy, to the brink of burn out.

I have felt myself on the verge of it also. If I remember correctly and thankfully to the documentation of this blog.... this happened last year also. The difference is that this year my life is much more busy and hectic... but I am also a year more experienced.... so now I know when to say something and when I can just let it go.

I have a new love and respect for our medical students and I am thankful for those that have the zeal of someone who wants to help heal people and the humility of someone who knows they don't know it all. I wish our new interns and residents had the same mentality. It makes me sad when the physicians are at odds with the nursing staff. I promise we are not the enemy.... there is nothing more that I love than having a good relationship with our physicians. It makes my job so much easier and it makes everyone a lot happier. I can share my experiences and they can share their knowledge. That way everyone learns and everyone grows.... working cohesively for the better of the patient. Shouldn't that be the goal? Egos aside... the patient's safety and health is the most important thing, right?

There have been many times this past month that I have left work in tears. Exhausted and worn out. Taking care of people when they are sick and angry is difficult... especially when they take it out on you. You get opposition from all sides... the patient, the family, the doctors, the nurse execs. I have learned that sometimes the only allies you have are your co-workers.... yet, even they can fail you at times. I know I have failed a lot.

The other day a co-worker of mine overheard me explaining why I did not want to work an overtime shift and she said, "Well, you're ahead of schedule!" When I asked what she meant she explained that she was referring to the fact that the average dropout rate for new grad RN's is three years.

3 years is how long most new grad nurses last in this field. By year 2 of their career 57% of new grads will have left their job due to negative workplace conditions. *source Those aren't good odds but I have no desire nor do I have any plans to leave my job. I just simply don't want to work overtime.... hoping to preserve any love for nursing that I have left at the moment.

This past weekend I went to a BBQ with Chris' family and I ran into a random friend of theirs... an old neighbor and also a nurse for many years. This woman is now in her 80's, long retired but still very updated on nursing practice and technological advances in medicine. She has been a patient many times as well. I happened to mention something about my job and that led to about a 30 minute conversation about nursing and being a new grad and dealing with difficult physicians and the struggles of our line of work.

She told me that there were many days when she would go home in tears... so many times she had to stand up to the physicians who treated her disrespectfully even when they were in the wrong... and she told me about the time she was choked by a mentally ill patient and verbally and physically assaulted by many others. She reminded me how difficult it is to work 12 hour night shifts in the ICU. She told me that there are few careers like nursing that encompass so many sides of humanity and how there will be few people.... if any, who will truly understand what we deal with on a daily basis.

But best of all... she told me that I was not crazy... that the pain and the hurt and exhaustion I was feeling was normal and that it too would pass. She reminded me to take care of myself and take time away when it's needed. She encouraged me to lean into the relationships I have with my co-workers. She validated how I felt and affirmed that even though people don't understand how difficult it is... it does not mean that I am alone. She told me that the day I stop feeling so deeply and passionately about my job... is the day that I need to step away... but that I am not there yet.

It was a divine appointment. It was exactly the thing I needed to hear and it gave a voice to my fears and struggles and hurts. This 82 year old woman who did not even know my name gave me something that even the closest people in my life could not. Understanding... and relief.

For those of you out there experiencing burnout... whether on a scale large or small.... New grad or not.... you are not alone. And if at the very least... the next time you go to work and feel overwhelmed or exhausted or like you have nothing else to give.... know that you are not crazy. No, you are not crazy at all....

... and that this too shall pass. 


  1. Hi my dear! So sorry to hear your struggles, but I'm in the same boat... Agh, July is a tough month, especially since on our unit we have a lot more elective surgeries to add to the mix to in addition to new staff, the nursing staff is understaffed. :( I hear you. To be honest, I'm wanting to leave my job. Mostly due to the bureaucratic management and my inability to handle night shift... not because of my dear patients, whom I love dearly. I will *even* miss some of our attendings. I hope you find your happy place soon. Cheers to good co-workers who help out when needed - both emotionally and physically. :)

  2. i'm so sorry things have been hard- i don't doubt anything you've said here- and i am embarrassed for my fields participation in your burn out. remember you are teaching them- take your breaks- run it out-
    hang in- you are so good at what you do- i don't want to lose you in the world of medicine!