Fighting Nurse Burnout

Experts offer suggestions for nursing leadership to reduce the stress levels for their staffs

By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant

Demanding on the body, mind and emotions, nursing is not an easy career path. As the pandemic has made a tough career even harder, leaders in nursing have been looking at ways to reduce burnout in the nursing field.

Acknowledging burnout represents the first step, according to Deb Stamps, an RN with a doctorate in education with Rochester Regional Health.

“Taking care of patients is stressful,” she said. “Nurses need time for debriefing, talking about how they’re thinking and feeling.”

She advocates for improved self-care so nurses can in turn better support the healthcare team. With adequate staffing, nurses can take enough time to care for themselves, both with breaks while on the clock, and sufficient days off.

“Something as simple as sleep is so important,” Stamps said. “Sleeping better is a sign we’re recovering from stress.”

She recommends nurses regularly exercise and participate in mindfulness or meditation. Stamps also thinks that nurse leaders should show appreciation for their nursing staff.

“These things don’t cost a lot, like a thank-you note or a birthday or anniversary card,” she said. “That goes a long way to showing you’re making a difference. Notes are like a badge of honor.

“It’s about being proactive and letting people have a voice. Nurses supporting nurses is great, but we need all members of the team to support each other.”

Many nurses also provide care to children or elderly parents at home. For these, the schedule is especially important. Celia McIntosh, doctorate-level nurse practitioner and legislative liaison with the Genesee Valley Nurses Association, recommends that nursing managers work with their staffs to make schedules that help them meet all their obligations.

“Forcing them to work other shifts increases the likelihood they’ll be fatigued because they had a set schedule,” McIntosh said.

She encourages leadership to recognize the signs of burnout so that it can be addressed early on through measures like a support group, mindfulness sessions or massage therapy.

Above, all, she wants more nursing leaders to listen to what their staff wants so they feel valued and heard.

Sheila Rogers has a bachelor’s degree in nursing, is a lifetime member of Rochester Black Nurses Association and holds a master’s degree in leadership. She works at Rochester Regional Health as an off-shift nursing supervisor. She encourages nurses to connect with spirituality.

“If you have beliefs outside of yourself, first and foremost, incorporate that into a daily routine,” Rogers said. “Be able to have time to do the things that bring enjoyment and fulfillment. Focus on those and make them part of your survival kit. Exercise, cooking or something else.”

She added that nurses should also take mental health days off as needed.

Finding meaning in their work is one way that nurses can prevent burnout. That is one strategy used by Julie Bausch, associate chief nurse for primary and specialty care at VA Finger Lakes Healthcare System at the Calkins Road VA Clinic in Rochester.

“That increases our sense of worth and gets back to the core of our duty to our patients,” she said. “Empowering ourselves and having all nurses form an empowering culture helps us on a personal standpoint and a professional standpoint.”

She also wants to see more nursing leaders make a personal connection with staff.

In addition to the “feel-good” aspects of reducing burnout, it saves organizations money to minimize turnover. That is one reason that Bausch thinks it is vital for healthcare organizations to offer mentoring, coaching and career counseling.

“If organizations can have one thing they can invest in, I’d recommend nursing leaders or a formal program if they can,” Bausch said.