By Jennifer Thew, RN
Giving nurses time to connect with why they chose to be nurses can stop burnout before it begins.
Burnout is more than just being overworked. It's a response to chronic workplace stressors that leaves workers experiencing one or more of the following components: emotional exhaustion, cynicism, and inefficacy.
Unfortunately, nurses often experience higher rates of burnout than other healthcare workers.
A 2011 study by nurse researchers at the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing found that 34% of nurses scored higher than the average for healthcare workers on the Maslach Burnout Inventory emotional exhaustion subscale.
But Page West, RN, MHA, MPA, senior vice president and chief nursing executive at Dignity Health is working to change that by helping the organization's nurses cultivate resilience.
"I look at resilience as the prevention of burnout. If we focus on resilience and figuring out what is that magic piece of work that allows nurses or providers to keep in touch with their heart and soul, then we don't reach the burnout phase," West says.
"It's the antidote really, if you will, for burnout."
Time to Reconnect
Most nurses go into nursing because they want to make a difference in people's lives. But that goal can get lost among the intensity and chaos of a typical day.
It's for this reason that West advocates for building in time for nurses to reconnect with the reasons they went into the profession in the first place.
"We need to continue to build processes and time into the work day for the nurses to be able to connect their heart and their mind. To allow them to have some moments for reflective pause that get them through the day rather than just having to do task after task after task," she says.
For example, at Dignity there is time built into the end of a code blue for nurses to pause and reflect on the life that was lost.
"The nurses just take a second, instead of going back to their assignment, to reflect on the life that they just lost and honor it as well as taking a moment to reflect among the team about what just happened," West says.
"They allow themselves to get [centered], to grieve for a minute if they need to, to listen to each other, to thank each other for what they've done."
Outside some patient rooms there is a picture of a hand that says, "Stop and reflect."
"It's a visual reminder to reflect on what it is you're about and what it is you want to do for this patient," she says.
Work-life, Personal-life Benefit
Giving nurses more control over their work environment also helps prevent burnout, says West.
"One of the things we learned is that they'd like to have a "weather report" so each unit knows what's going on in the rest of the hospital," she says.
"So if they're going to get five admissions, they understand the reason they're getting them is because their sister unit is either full or doesn't have enough staff. It helps them to connect as the larger team."
At Dignity Mercy San Juan, connection between teammates is encouraged through reflective huddles.
"When they're feeling stressed, [the nurses] can call a quick huddle and they all talk about what's making them unhappy at that moment and what they can do to help each other get over it so they can change the emotion and tide of the way a unit is going," West says.
The nurses have responded positively to the resilience training work, she says.
"[They talk] about what a difference it has made in their life—both in their quality of work-life and in their persona- life. They feel more rested when they go home and interact with their families," she says.
"I see in their eyes, when they think about the profound difference they have made even in one life during a shift, there's just joy that comes over them, this sense of peace. It's that fulfillment of why you go into nursing in the first place which is to make a difference in the lives of our patients and each other."
For more help dealing with nurse burnout, check out Carol Ebert’s column on the Leaders’ Lounge blog.