Nurse Fatigue

New Survey Finds High Rate of Nurse Fatigue

Burnout syndrome also found common among hospital nurses

Nurse fatigue. It’s a very real problem that affects more nurses than not. And it can lead to nurse burnout.

Here are some sobering nurse fatigue and nurse burnout statistics, from a May 2017 survey by Kronos Incorporated of 257 RNs working in U.S. hospitals:

  • 98 percent of hospital nurses said their work is physically and mentally demanding
  • 85 percent noted that their nursing jobs make them fatigued overall
  • 63 percent reported that their work has caused nurse burnout
  • 44 percent worry their patient care will suffer because they are so tired
  • 41 percent have considered changing hospitals during the past year due to burnout

DISCOVER the benefits of travel nursing with help from the experts at AMN Healthcare.

What is nurse fatigue?

Nurse fatigue is a tiredness that can occur during any shift, and may be caused by inadequate sleep, long shifts, physical demands and scheduling issues.

The American Nurses Association has created a position statement on nurse fatigue, and tools to combat it, pointing out that, “Inadequate sleep and resulting fatigue has major implications on the health and safety of registered nurses and can compromise patient care.”

What is nurse burnout?

American psychologist Herbert Freudenberger coined the term “burnout” in the 1970s to describe the results of stress among people in helping professions like nursing and medicine. 

Three of the defining characteristics of job burnout are: 

  • Exhaustion
  • Alienation from work-related activities
  • Reduced performance

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“Burnout develops after a clinician experiences chronic and excessive stress without adequate coping mechanisms,” said Vicki S. Good, DNP, RN, CENP, past president of the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses (AACN).

And the consequences of nurse fatigue and burnout syndrome are serious. 

“When a nurse reaches burnout, they can’t recover from that, and that’s when we lose people from the profession,” said Benjamin Evans, DD, DNP, RN, APN, PHMCNS-BC, president of the New Jersey State Nurses Association (NJSNA).

Or, as Carrie Silvers, MSN, RN, clinical instructor at the University of Arizona College of Nursing, cautioned, “Nurses aren’t going to stick around if we don’t see some changes in their work environment.”

Such conditions also increase the risk of patient harm. Among the nurse burnout statistics from the Kronos survey, 11 percent of the nurses admitted they’ve made a mistake or error because they were tired.

Proactive programs can bring renewal

Kathleen Culhane Guyette, MSN, RN, NEA-BC, senior vice president of patient care services and president of regional member hospitals for Mission Health in North Carolina, noted that addressing nurse burnout is a complex task—and can require a multi-pronged strategy. 

The nurses in Guyette’s organization were feeling frustrated by the demands of using the electronic health record system and the increased acuity of their patient loads.

To address their concerns and avoid the potential for burnout, the organization made a commitment to bring joy back to the workplace with a program they call “Mission reNEW.”

They used a mindfulness program called Life Cross Training to encourage resilience in employees, and they’re working to refine their various technological tools to reduce hassle and improve efficiency.

The nurses’ reaction so far? “It’s been tremendous,” said Guyette.

Beware the signs of nurse fatigue and burnout

Combatting nurse burnout statistics and the potential fallout is everyone’s responsibility.

Hospital leaders and managers must make a concentrated effort to watch out for signs that nurses are developing nurse fatigue or burnout syndrome, and nurses must do the same. 

“Signs of burnout need to be acknowledged by the nursing leadership and the organization,” said Silvers. “And the signs also need to be acknowledged by the nurse.” Once recognized, these signs need to be shared so that the organization can provide vital support.

Self-care is critical for nurses—and their patients

“You need to take care of yourself first, so you can take the best care of your patient,” said Judith Schmidt, MSN, RN, ONC, CCRN, CEO of NJSNA.

Nurses need to be aware when their body has been operating on high alert for consistently long periods of time.

When you do have a down moment, that’s when you can (and should) practice some self-care, said April McAnally, a therapist in Austin, Texas, who works with people suffering from compassion fatigue and burnout. This might involve practicing some basic mindfulness techniques, such as deep breathing exercises.

Other self-care strategies to help prevent burnout syndrome might include scheduling some exercise, going to bed earlier to make sure you get enough sleep, and taking the time to do something that you enjoy, whether it’s reading a book or going out to dinner. 

Find the activities that work for you, and it’s fine to start small, suggested Good.

“Most nurses do not even take a lunch break,” she said. “You have to start with the little things.”

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