Nurses were battling burnout long before the COVID-19 pandemic, says a new paper authored by Clinical Assistant Professor Angela C. Brittain of the WSU College of Nursing in Vancouver, published in the Journal of Professional Nursing.
Aspects of the work environment, both in healthcare and in nursing education, were the cause, the paper says. Things like understaffing, increased duties and work hours, and reduced autonomy were present before the pandemic.
Since 2020, new stressors have been added such as inadequate resources and exposure to high-risk environments.
The result has been “prolonged trauma, lasting post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms, and increased rates of suicide,” Brittain writes.
Despite the causes of burnout being primarily workplace-related, potential interventions tend to focus on nurses themselves. For example, two of the largest nursing professional organizations have called for nurses to receive resiliency training to combat burnout.
Writes Brittain, “If we understand that burnout is related to factors in the work environment, and one of those primary factors is workload – why are we advocating for an increase in workload for faculty and nurses through resiliency training? The mere suggestion that nurses and faculty should provide and undergo training in order to prevent burnout implies that the fault originates with them.”
Workplace changes might be more successful in reducing burnout, the paper suggests. For example, following mandatory nurse-to-patient ratios that account for patient acuity, adequate staffing, increased nurse autonomy and the end of mandatory overtime. For faculty in nursing education, increased collaboration and communication could improve working conditions.
“It is time to listen to nurses and nursing faculty about what they are experiencing and what they need,” Brittain writes. “Nurses across the nation are crying out for help – are we listening?”