CARBONDALE, Ill. (AP) – Drew Williams admits he is tired.
Like many in his chosen nursing field, the RN working nights caring for intensive care patients at SIH Herrin Hospital, Williams has worked several hours over the past 15 months and has seen a lot of suffering.
He is not alone.
Across Southern Illinois and the United States, nurses have carried enormous weight and are tired – physically, mentally and emotionally – leading to widespread “nurse burnout”.
Researchers at Southern Illinois University Carbondale began studying nursing burnout more than a year ago and what they discovered has not only shown that nursing burnout is significant even before COVID-19, but even more relevant since the beginning of the pandemic.
The interdisciplinary study, called “Emotional Fatigue as a Predictor of Burnout among Nurses,” looked at what causes burnout and offered suggestions for preventing it.
Kelli Whittington, who led the research team and is director of SIU’s nursing program, said the study showed several factors that contribute to burnout.
“First, there’s a really strong relationship between workload and emotional fatigue,” he explained. “It’s not that nurses don’t handle a heavy workload, it’s how they are able to deal with it and feel as if they can manage their time, interact with each other, like they can take a break and have the workload distributed evenly. It’s about having the flexibility to handle that workload in the way that they feel best. “
In addition, she said nurses can become emotionally exhausted when they do not have a sense of control and that nurses need a sense of community in the workplace.
She said emotional exhaustion may not be apparent in the nursing unit, but it can manifest in a variety of ways.
“There are emotional aspects, like we don’t want to do anything with our friends and family. We just want to go home, stay home and not interact with people and our temperaments become short. We can even see it with things like depression or stomach pain, ”he explained.
Williams said it’s the very nature of nursing – the call to care for others – that makes the job challenging, especially when patients are suffering or passing out.
“In this job you take things personally,” Williams said. “We get to know these patients and their families and make connections. It can be really difficult.”
Steve Marlow, administrator of The Voyage, an assisted living facility in Murphysboro, said more were asked of nurses during the pandemic.
“With all the extra hours, all the extra precautions in all the environments, it was really an effort for the nursing staff,” she said. “Burnout is the real deal.”
Like many colleagues, Marlow said her organization works to combat or prevent emotional exhaustion in nursing.
“We try to make sure they get an adequate amount of free time – at least two days in a row, maybe three,” he said. “We’re also trying to make sure our structure is in a place that they want to be.”
He said managers should also show compassion – such as assisting nurses with their duties and collecting nursing or cleaning skills.
“Rolling up your sleeves and showing that you care,” he called out.
The SIU study used the widely accepted Maslach Burnout Inventory (MBI) to measure the prevalence of burnout among nurses across the nation. An MBI score of 27 indicates a burnout. Nearly half of the study participants reported a total score of 27 or higher.
Whittington said the length of the nursing career, the age and area of the nurse did not appear to influence the level of burnout.
“We’ve seen it all over the place, which tells me that if nurses work as nurses, they’re experiencing emotional fatigue,” she said.
She said the study also offers suggestions for combating or preventing burnout.
“First of all, there is recognition and the search for ways to heal ourselves,” she offered. “In addition, as leaders and nursing leaders, we need to be fair in assigning work and in promoting ways to develop a sense of community, not just among nurses, but throughout the medical community.”
For executives like Johnna Smith, executive nurse at SIH St.Joseph Memorial Hospital in Murphysboro, caring for those who care for patients is a top priority especially because burnout can ultimately affect patient care.
“I think historically, we’ve always talked about nurse burnout, but I think the pandemic brought it to light because it wasn’t just a hospital or a unit. It’s national,” she said. “There are things we can do to help our staff and then it’s about convincing ourselves to take care of ourselves so we can continue to give of ourselves.”
One example is a “relaxation room” on the second floor of the hospital. It’s a place where medical staff can “take a breath”. The staff can use a massage chair, wrap themselves in ambient sound or simply rest for a while.
“It’s a place they can use to have a moment to clear their mind of something or if they just need a moment for themselves,” Smith said.
The Heartland Regional Medical Center in Marion, like many other providers, offers an employee assistance plan to help fight fatigue from work.
“We work to ensure that our nurses have the necessary resources to prevent burnout and that it starts with mental, physical and emotional support,” said Barrie Questelle, Chief Nurse at Heartland.
Questelle emphasized the role of communication in preventing burnout as well.
“Staff-to-staff communication is also key. Our nursing executives have safety issues on a daily basis. We share information about work hours, work processes, and even more. This helps ensure that nurses have input on important hospital decisions, ”he said.
For many in nursing, just talking about things – especially among peers – is a huge help. Williams said “debriefing” with colleagues after a change is beneficial to help them deal with nursing challenges.
“Privacy laws don’t prevent us from going home and talking to our families about these situations, so we really only have our co-workers and management to talk to. There’s a lot of reliance on others. We’re cum ‘and a family,’ ”he said.
For Whittington, a nurse herself, the fight against burnout is something she said those who train nurses need to teach.
“Nursing students and providers need to be mindful of things that affect their emotional health and implement a success plan right from the start so they don’t get to the point where we’re exhausted and where we have a place and a positive culture, ”he said.
Source: Illinoisan Meridionale (Carbondale), https://bit.ly/3xjJcs5