Burnout Bonfire:
The Why and How in Handling Healthcare Burnout

We love a good bonfire and the sharing of stories that come with it, so we decided what better way to talk about burnout than fireside (at least metaphorically).

In 2023, nurses are showing up and showing out. We talked to nurses about burnout, resilience, and mental health - meet us by the fire.

While we’re bringing back fun to the Nurses Week celebrations this year, it’s crucial that we also recognize the toll this work takes on healthcare professionals. In Nurse.org’s annual State of Nursing Report, 81% of nurses surveyed felt burned out at some point within the last 18 months. That alarming percentage is one of the highest across any profession, including higher levels of PTSD than military veterans.  

We can share posts that emphasize the importance of self-care and positivity in mitigating burnout, but who knows better than the nurses who have experienced it firsthand? Our goal is to foster a community, provide support, and create space for nurses helping nurses. That’s why we’re turning the spotlight on nurses to share the strategies that have helped them stay mentally, physically, and emotionally healthy. Below we delve into why burnout is so common, as well as tactics both from nurses and the NuWest team.  

Why burnout is so prevalent in Nurses

Marcus Buckingham calls out lack of teams as an important gap in how nurses are supported in the workplace. Humans thrive in team environments with both peer and mentor support; this is proven to build resiliency and reduce the likelihood of burnout. Nurse supervisors handle upwards of 60 nurses at any given time, diminishing any chance to run team-building exercises or hold 1:1s with each individual. 

Something that makes a difference but is less controlled by the nurses themselves, is just overall moral and feeling appreciated. Traveler or staff, having peers who are friendly and a boss who seems to actually care makes a potentially awful shift/assignment completely different.

In a recent podcast with our CEO Mona Veiseh spoke to the need for the industry to look for what’s working in healthcare and the unique strengths of healthcare professionals to create a more sustainable workplace. In short, the healthcare industry hasn’t unlocked a way to work smarter, not harder…yet.

The prevalence of burnout post-pandemic is a catalyst for healthcare labor shortages. More nurses are choosing to step away from bedside and pursue other job opportunities. This makes it more difficult to find talented healthcare professionals to meet the needs of their community, increasing the patient-to-nurse ratio and therefore increasing stress levels.

As nurses, many of you intrinsically lean into working hard. You answer the call, day in and day out, picking up extra shifts on a regular basis. That work ethic is admirable, but it also reduces your time to decompress and practice self-care.   

Tactics to overcome burnout

I think its about staying true to what makes YOU happy outside of work. For me, that's being outdoors - hiking, climbing, repelling, that sort of thing. It's important to make yourself a priority and to be intentional about getting out and doing the things that make you happy

When you’re off the clock, make time to get outside in nature and try a digital detox from phones and other screens. Doing a digital detox is a proven method for reducing stress levels and building resiliency. Don’t worry, we don’t expect you to hike Kilimanjaro. You can still reap the benefits even if the great outdoors is not your forte, simply by going for a walk, relaxing at a beach, or soaking up some sunshine sans screens.  

We will admit, recommendations for self-care often list bubble baths and skincare routines as sure-fire ways to beat burnout. While relaxing baths and skincare routines are nice, they don’t exactly wipe away the mental and physical exhaustion stemming from long shifts and a series of patients. 

Because self-care looks different for everyone, it is important to find methods of self-care that work for YOU, rather than forcing the self-care trends of Tik Tok (here’s looking at you banana bread of 2020). 

 Whether your particular form of self-care is getting enough sleep, eating healthy, exercising, or blasting music for a 10 min dance sesh – do what feels right and makes you feel at peace.  

Nurses work in high-stress environments by nature of their trade. Exploring support groups, peer mentorship programs or mental health professionals in your area is a healthy way to share experiences and learn tips to manage stress and combat burnout. Find someone you respect and aspire to and ask them to be your mentor. Seek out professional development opportunities, such as conferences or workshops, that are focused on giving you the skills to become more resilient and build community. Reach out to your employer and ask about helping create a special resource group for nurses who want more support.

You may feel pressure to take on additional shifts or responsibilities, but it is important to set boundaries and manage workload to prevent burnout. Communicate with your recruiters and supervisors to help advocate for appropriate staffing levels.  

Mindfulness and stress management techniques such as meditation, deep breathing, and yoga can be effective in reducing stress and preventing burnout. Nurses can practice mindfulness during their breaks or incorporate mindfulness and stress management techniques into their daily routine.  

If you’re able to, request a few extra days off once every few months to allow for time to truly decompress. If you feel burnout encroaching on your mental (and physical) health, approach your employer and request schedule blocking to give you several days off in a row to create space for you to recharge.  

To significantly lower the number of healthcare professionals experiencing burnout, we must address the root causes. The new challenge we face is to identify the practices that work in healthcare and lean into those strengths to create a brighter future together. While systemic change in healthcare cannot happen overnight, change is on the horizon. We’re actively engaged with local, state, and national healthcare advocacy organizations to bring about this change. Furthermore, we are bringing nurses on board to our own teams as recruiters, compliance specialists, and leaders. These team members provide expertise to help us truly understand what nurses experience, and how we can best provide support.  

If you’ve found certain actions to be helpful in overcoming burnout, please share them here (you’ll also be entered for a giveaway!). We will collect all of your advice to create a robust resource guide, by nurses and for nurses. To kick us off, we asked a few of our nurses-turned-recruiters to share their thoughts: