Nursing Burnout and a Shortage of Nurses
Nurses, among other professionals, are an essential component of the healthcare sector. They are the primary caregivers in hospitals, nursing homes, clinics, and other healthcare institutions. They have numerous responsibilities towards their clients, ranging from diagnosing diseases and administering medication to advocating for the patients and educating them about illnesses. Nurses are considerate in making decisions that can impact patients’ lives. While no job is stress-free, the nature of nurses’ working environment is highly demanding, contributing to burnout. Continuous work-related stressors cause physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion among the nurses. Government should address the shortage of nurses in the healthcare sector because it is a significant contributor to nurse burnout.
Nurses comprise the most significant percentage of the healthcare workforce in the world. Nursing burnout is a substantial risk to the health in most countries. According to Shah et al., prevalence and aspects linked with nursing burnout can vary with gender (1). The issue is the main factor that makes nurses leave or consider leaving their jobs. Shah et al. indicate that 63 % and 60.9 % of nurses quit or consider quitting their employment, respectively, due to burnout associated with inadequate staffing (1). Therefore, the shortage of nurses in the healthcare sector is a significant cause of nursing burnout.
The shortage of nurses in healthcare facilities makes available caregivers work for long hours. While the average working period per day is eight hours, most nurses work for twelve or more hours. Most hospitals have an inadequate number of nurses to serve patients. The demand for healthcare services has been increasing significantly due to the high prevalence of chronic diseases associated with the baby boomer generation. On the contrary, the rate at which colleges produce graduate nurses is low. As a result, healthcare institutions do not hire enough nurses. Understaffing these healthcare professionals has been a growing pain in the hospitals and clinics. However, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that the number of employed nurses will be about 12 % higher by 2028 (The University of St. Augustine for Health Sciences). Nurses work longer shifts, which exhaust them physically and emotionally. Most nurses also do not have well-defined working hours because they are few in their facilities. Therefore, they can be summoned at any time, even when they are supposed to be resting. Long working hours make nurse burnout inevitable, jeopardizing the caregivers’ and patients’ well-being.
Shortage of nurses reduces the period the working caregivers should be resting. This issue contributes to lack of enough sleep, which is a significant risk factor for nurse burnout. Although the number of hours an individual requires to function varies, adults’ average sleep hours per day are between seven and eight hours for them to feel their best. The long shifts and working schedule among the nurses deprive them of enough time to sleep. According to Gresh, sleep deprivation is common among nurses compared to the general population. While most nurses prefer a twelve-hour shift, amounting to 48 working hours per week, healthcare providers who offer services more than 50 hours weekly are short sleepers (Liu et al. 9). Khubchandani and Price add that 45 % of individuals in the healthcare support occupations such as nurses report experiences of short sleep (219). Sleep deprivation is potentially detrimental to nurses’ and patients’ well-being.
The burnout associated with sleep deprivation can have adverse effects on nurses and patients. On the one hand, the problem hurts nurses since it increases the risks of workplace injuries or falling asleep while driving. It can also impair one’s mood, causing anxiety and irritability (Gresh). The former and the latter can lead to strained relationships among nurses, lowering their productivity. Moreover, sleep deprivation increases nurses’ risks for heart attack, high blood pressure, and other chronic diseases (Gresh). On the other hand, the issue jeopardizes patients’ safety and treatment outcomes. Nurses can administer wrong medication or prescribe inappropriate medicines for the patients due to sleepiness and loss of concentration (Gresh). Equally, they can easily fall asleep and forget to check on the patients, increasing possibilities for complications. Therefore, health facilities need to hire an adequate number of staffs to ensure that each has enough time to sleep, preventing burnout and associated health risks.
Inadequate nurse staffing in healthcare facilities makes the work environment more stressful, increasing risks for nurse burnout. While all nursing specialties have their challenges, some areas are more stressful than others. For instance, nurses working in the emergency department with intensive care have to deal with traumatic injuries, combative patients, high mortality rates, and ethical dilemmas. These factors are associated with increased stress levels and increased risks of burnout. Equally, nurses may work without taking a break throughout their shift when they are few than recommended, and there is a constant flow of patients. Physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion is inevitable in such a working environment. According to The University of St. Augustine for Health Sciences, 30 % and 35 % of oncology nurses experience emotional exhaustion and feeling of low personal performance, respectively, which are signs of burnout syndrome. Nurses can be emotionally drained when they spend a lot of time caring for numerous cancer patients because the latter suffer excessively from the disease and its treatments. Adequate staffing in healthcare departments can improve the working environment and alleviate work-related stress and burnout.
Understaffing of nurses in healthcare facilities deprives them of necessary support, leading to burnout. Delivery of excellent healthcare services demands good teamwork and collaboration practices. Supports from other nurses and healthcare professionals are the vital element that ensures the quality of care and well-being of both patients and caregivers. According to The University of St. Augustine for Health Sciences, collaboration and effective teamwork in nursing can save lives. However, nurses may be forced to work individually when they are few in their departments. Teamwork becomes impractical, risking effective communication and cooperation among the nurses. Lack of support from coworkers increases the possibilities for medical errors due to exhaustion. Consequently, patients become at risk of complications and treatment adverse events. Thus, ensuring enough nurses in healthcare facilities can guarantee their support through teamwork and collaboration alleviating burnout.
Shortage of nurses in the healthcare sector causes emotional strain from patient care, which is a risk factor for burnout. Caring for patients is the most rewarding aspect for nursing since it facilitates connections with the clients and satisfaction feelings when helping them get better. Nevertheless, the number of patients a nurse cares for can contribute to burnout. According to The University of St. Augustine for Health Sciences, the risk of burnout rises when the nurse-to-patient ratio is more significant than 1:4. An additional one patient increases the risk of nurse burnout by approximately 23 %. Equally, nurses working in end-of-life or critical departments suffer from emotional strain due to higher mortality and lower recovery rates, leading to compassion fatigue and burnout. Therefore, the problem is preventable by hiring an adequate number of nurses to minimize the nurse-to-patient ratio and the time the caregivers spend with critically ill patients.
Nevertheless, one may argue that is the shortage of nurses is not the cause of burnout since the issue occurs in all industries. Ideally, burnout is associated with different stressors in the working environment, such as poor relations and overworking. As indicated earlier, some nurses prefer a twelve-hour shift schedule or less. These caregivers may engage with other activities outside their profession when they do not report to work rather than rest. As a result, they might suffer from sleep deprivation and consequently burnout. However, all the risk factors for nurse burnout are associated with the number of nurses a facility has. Thus, the shortage of nurses in the healthcare sector is the primary contributor to nursing burnout.
Conclusively, the increased rate of nursing burnout in the healthcare sector is associated with a shortage of nurses. 63 % and 60.9 % of nurses quit or consider quitting their employment, respectively, due to burnout associated with inadequate staffing. The shortage of nurses in healthcare facilities makes available caregivers work for long hours. It reduces the period the nurses should be resting, leading to sleep deprivation. The issue also makes the work environment more stressful, deprives them of necessary support, and causes emotional strain from patient care. Therefore, government and healthcare institutions should ensure that facilities have an adequate number of nurses to alleviate risks of nursing burnout.
Gresh, Christina. “The Problems with Sleep Deprivation”. Nursingcenter.Com, 2019, Web.
Khubchandani, Jagdish, and James H. Price. “Short Sleep Duration in Working American Adults, 2010–2018”. Journal of Community Health, vol. 45, no. 2, 2019, pp. 219-227.
Liu, Huan et al. “Sleep Problems Of Healthcare Workers In Tertiary Hospital And Influencing Factors Identified Through A Multilevel Analysis: A Cross-Sectional Study In China”. BMJ Open, vol. 9, no. 12, 2019, pp. 1-11.
Shah, Megha K. et al. “Prevalence Of and Factors Associated With Nurse Burnout in the US”. JAMA Network Open, vol. 4, no. 2, 2021, pp. 1-11.
The University of St. Augustine for Health Sciences. “Nurse Burnout: Risks, Causes, and Precautions”. USAHS, 2020, Web.