Uniting for Change: Collaborative Efforts to Prevent Nurse Burnout
The United States health care system experienced many challenges in the past several years, from the aging population and demand for senior care to the waves of the pandemic and nursing shortage. As a result of these mounting demands, workforce burnout is an increasing concern for those who work in health care and for the millions of Americans who rely on these professionals for accessible, timely and quality care. Mental health resources and self-care for nurses are critical for the success of the entire system. More hospital and health care leaders, policy-makers and health care workers are interested in preventing nurse burnout, being mindful of nurse burnout symptoms and promoting self-care in nursing.
Learn more about the current state of nurse burnout in the United States, how to navigate high-stress work environments, mental health support for nurses and practical solutions that can help address the nurse burnout epidemic.
Nurse Burnout Reaches an All-Time High in the United States
Nursing professionals are the backbone of the health care system. Nurses represent the largest health care profession in the United States and include over 4.2 million registered nurses (RN). Nurses are the primary care providers across hospitals and deliver most long-term and geriatric care services. Without trained and healthy nursing professionals, millions of Americans would not have access to life-enhancing and life-saving care.
As a result, burnout is top-of-mind, and leaders seek ways to protect the health care system and front-line workers. According to the World Health Organization’s ICD-11: “Burn-out is a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. It is characterized by three dimensions:
- Feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion
- Increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one's job
- Reduced professional efficacy
Burnout refers specifically to phenomena in the occupational context and should not be applied to describe experiences in other areas of life.”
After an especially stressful few years, nurses need unwavering support from leaders everywhere to quell stress and navigate the aftermath of the pandemic. A recent study surveyed 2,500 nurses, and three-quarters of the sample size said they had experienced burnout since the inception of the pandemic.
Nurse Shortage and Nurse Burnout Statistics
The nurse shortage is inextricably linked to nursing burnout, as the lack of health care providers aggravates the pressure felt by working nurses. The following statistics represent the current nursing shortage and burnout in the United States.
Nurse Shortage Statistics:
There are approximately 28 million nurses worldwide and 5,355,450 nurses in the United States, including RNs, CNAs, LPN/LVNs, NE, CNM, NP and CRNAs.
According to recent reports, the global population will need as many as 13 million additional nurses by 2030.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects 203,200 job openings for registered nurses (RNs) will materialize each year, on average, for the next ten years.
The employment of nurse anesthetists, nurse midwives and nurse practitioners (NPs) is projected to grow much faster than the average of all other occupations at a rate of 40 percent from 2021 through 2031.
|Type of Nurse||Employment in 2020||Projected Employment in 2030||
New Employment Growth (2020-2030)
Number | %
Certified Nursing Assistant
+115,300 | +8.26%
|751,900||+63,800 | +9.27%|
|3,080,100||3,356,800||+276,800 | +8.99%|
|72,600||88,900||+16,300 | +22.45%|
|7,300||8,200||+800 | +10.96%|
|220,300||335,200||+114,900 | +52.16%|
|44,200||49,800||+5,600 | +12.67%|
Total Number of Nurses
|5,509,300||6,102,800||593,500 | +10.77|
(Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics)
Nurse Burnout Statistics:
- In 2019, the World Health Organization (WHO) added the term “burnout” to the International Classification of Diseases (ICD).
- In 2020, nurse burnout surged 62 percent.
- Four of five remaining health care providers reported difficulty meeting patient needs and delivering safe care after mass quitting amid the pandemic.
- Before the pandemic, burnout cost the American health care system approximately $4.6 billion a year.
Factors That May Contribute to Challenges for Nurses
Burnout is not caused by one factor alone. A combination of stressful triggers and circumstances converge to alter manageable stress into full-blown burnout.
Four primary aspects of nursing contribute to instances of burnout.
Demanding schedules and workloads
Despite the current shortage, nurses continue to work tirelessly to provide the best care for their patients. Though their typical 12-hour shifts may sometimes extend to 13 or 14 hours, nurses remain dedicated to their profession. While working night shifts and adjusting to a compressed work week, it’s important for nurses to find time to rest and recharge.
High-pressure work environments
Nurses are dedicated professionals who work in challenging environments. Although all nursing specialties require focus and attention, some of the most demanding ones include intensive care units, emergency departments, neonatal ICUs, operating rooms, oncology and psychiatric settings. In these settings, nurses may see patients with serious injuries and life-threatening conditions. While providing life-saving treatments, they also have to deal with the emotional impact of working with distressed patients. Unfortunately, these intense work environments may exacerbate burnout symptoms in nurses.
Learn more about a nurse's role in patient-centered care
Addressing workplace bullying
It’s also important to shed light on an interpersonal issue in the nursing profession: workplace bullying. Nurses may experience verbal and physical harassment at work. The American Nurses Association (ANA) identified several types of violence and bullying and what is being done to address them, including criminal intent, nurse/patient, coworker and personal. It's important to address this problem and create a safe and respectful workplace for everyone.
Physical and emotional demands
Being a nurse requires a lot of physical exertion; nurses walk and interact with patients for long hours. According to Healthline, nurses take an average of 16,390 steps per day, which is the second-highest among all occupations, after waiters. Nurses also experience emotional strain on the job. A recent study reveals that nurses deal with feelings of compassion, helplessness and grief following the death of a patient. Although emotionally challenging, nurses' commitment to their patients is remarkable and admirable.
The Benefits of Reducing Nurse Burnout
The consequences of nursing burnout are evident; burnout leads to exhausted, dissatisfied and potentially endangered staff and patients. Conversely, successful efforts to minimize burnout for nurses result in myriad benefits.
Reducing nurse burnout:
Improves safety and quality of care for patients
Enhances safety and well-being of health care workers
Helps boost employee attraction and retention
Helps relieve the nursing shortage due to improved retention
Enhances workplace attitudes and bedside manners
Allows nurses to offer compassion and emotional support
How to Prevent Nurse Burnout: Tips for Nurses
Nurses need support and advocacy from the wider health care system and their leaders to reduce burnout in meaningful and lasting ways. However, self-care for nurses will make or break the effectiveness of these suggested strategies. Nurses can take charge of their well-being and implement healthy habits to prevent and minimize exhaustion, stress and burnout.
Identify the main source of stress
The first step to alleviating nurse burnout is identifying the main source of stress. Nurses can take inventory of their emotional state and measure top stressors to create an effective plan. For example, a nurse may encounter verbal abuse from a patient that affects their satisfaction and performance at work. This nurse can set up a meeting with their leader to address the issue head-on and eliminate added strain. Another nurse may experience physical fatigue from overtime shifts and strategize with their leader to transition from a compressed work-week to shorter, more frequent shifts with extended rest time.
Uphold a healthy routine
Healthy sleep, diet and exercise routines bolster mental health and prevent burnout. Nurses can monitor their sleep schedules to clock between seven and eight hours of rest per night. If this feels impossible to achieve, nurses can explore flexible scheduling that allows for naps or request day shifts based on their lifestyle. Nurses can also observe their dietary habits to optimize energy. Eating a well-balanced diet of whole foods and cutting out preservatives and simple sugars can help stabilize blood sugar and evade associated energy highs and crashes. Although nurses are incredibly active and log thousands of steps daily, they could incorporate low-impact pilates, yoga or stretching after work to build strength and aid muscle recovery.
Seek work-life balance
Work-life balance is setting boundaries between one’s workplace and home life. For nurses, an important element of work-life balance is employing compartmentalization. According to psychology experts, compartmentalization is “a defense mechanism in which people mentally separate conflicting thoughts, emotions, or experiences to avoid the discomfort of contradiction.” Although compartmentalization can be maladaptive, it is an effective strategy for individuals who work in highly stressful environments, including police officers, doctors and nurses. Nurses can use this technique to mentally separate the emotions felt at work from the realities of their daily lives. Additionally, nurses can achieve work-life balance by maintaining a healthy social life and relationships outside work and continuing to explore hobbies and interests in their free time.
Join individual or group therapy
Finally, nurses can benefit from individual or group therapy with a trained counselor or mental health care professional. Counselors can help nurses vent workplace conflict, share personal struggles and ideate behavioral or mental shifts that can help them cope with stress. The Daily Nurse recommends five effective forms of therapy for front-line nurses:
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT):
This is a form of psychotherapy that aims to help people change negative thought patterns and behaviors. CBT focuses on the present moment and helps individuals identify and challenge negative beliefs and assumptions. It typically involves a structured program of therapy sessions, homework assignments and other techniques, such as relaxation exercises and exposure therapy.
Intensive outpatient programs:
These are structured, short-term treatment programs that provide therapy, counseling and support for individuals struggling with addiction, mental health issues or other behavioral problems. They typically involve several hours of therapy or counseling sessions per week and allow patients to continue with their daily activities while receiving treatment.
Mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR):
This program was developed by Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn in the 1970s and teaches people how to manage stress and improve their well-being through mindfulness meditation, body awareness and yoga.
This includes the use of pharmaceutical drugs to treat or prevent disease, including mental illness. This type of therapy requires the advisory, expertise and training of pharmacists and medical professionals.
Interpersonal therapy is a type of therapy that focuses on improving relationships and communication with others. Addressing interpersonal issues and enhancing communication skills can help reduce stress and improve the overall well-being of nurses. It can be especially helpful for people who are struggling with anxiety, depression or other mental health issues related to social interactions.
How to Prevent Nurse Burnout: Strategies for Health Care Leadership
After understanding the context of the nurse shortage and nurse burnout, it’s critical for health care leaders, educators and policymakers to build strategies capable of reducing nurse burnout and improving mental health.
Regularly monitor and measure stress among staff
Nursing leaders can schedule mental health check-ins with their staff and regularly measure stress levels to prevent burnout. HR leaders can collect and monitor anonymous satisfaction surveys or interview workers to gauge stress levels throughout the year. This data can also be used to measure the effectiveness of new stress management strategies.
Promote an open and empowering workplace
Despite efforts to monitor nurses' mental health, a team member’s distress could still fly under the radar. This is why it is crucial to build an open and empowering culture where nurses feel comfortable expressing their needs. HR staff and managers can implement team check-ins and mental health support groups that provide health care workers with resources and an outlet to be seen and heard. Health care leaders can help prevent nurse burnout by pursuing relevant training, effectively communicating with staff and creating a safe space for employees.
Advocate for policy changes
It’s too simple to tell leaders to stop overworking nurses; substantial change takes place in policy-making and requires advocacy and involvement from the top down. Although nurses can work to maintain self-care efforts, nurses also need support from leadership and the health care system. For example, during the COVID pandemic health care researchers developed “A Blueprint for Leadership During COVID-19: Minimizing Burnout and Moral Distress Among the Nursing Workforce.”
This blueprint outlines institutional- and national-level changes to help combat nurse burnout, including legitimizing nurse authority, allowing nurses to oversee staffing, installing a well-being governing board, creating standards for nurse well-being and optimizing workflow. Health care leaders must listen to well-being experts, collaborate with policymakers and institute workforce transformation strategies that can sustain real change.
One example of a nursing leader in the United States who used policy changes to help prevent nurse burnout is Dr. Bernadette Melnyk, the Chief Wellness Officer at The Ohio State University. Dr. Melnyk created a program called "Evidence-Based Practice and Wellness," which emphasizes self-care and stress management for nurses, and also implemented policies such as mandatory breaks and reducing mandatory overtime for nurses. These changes have resulted in a significant decrease in nurse burnout and an increase in job satisfaction among nursing staff.
Benefits of Entering a Career in Nursing
Despite the risks and stressors associated with nursing, many nurses lead satisfying and fulfilling careers with considerable benefits. According to Gallup's annual Most Honest and Ethical Professions Poll, registered nurses ranked #1 for the 18th consecutive year. Nurses are trusted professionals across the nation and see various benefits as a result of their hard work and commitment to the practice.
Nurses may also enjoy the following advantages.
Job security, benefits and salary
As discussed, the demand for nurses is surging and shows no sign of slowing down. As a result, nurses can expect a positive job outlook and associated job security. Additionally, nurses receive favorable benefits, like paid time off, paid holidays, sick leave, health and life insurance, retirement benefits and more. Salary opportunities are also positive. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual wage in 2021 was $77,600 for registered nurses and $123,780 for nurse anesthetists, nurse midwives and nurse practitioners. This demonstrates that registered nurses can obtain additional education and credentials to access higher salaries throughout their careers.
More health care leaders are implementing self-scheduling to improve retention among nurses. According to the health care recruiting software company Apploi, flexible nursing schedules are among the top retention tools for health care leaders, and 83 percent of businesses currently offer a form of flexible scheduling to their employees. Some nurses use virtual health care tools to work from home and deliver remote monitoring and management. Additionally, alternative scheduling allows nurses to select start times, shift duration or compressed work weeks to suit their unique preferences and lifestyles.
Nursing is a rewarding career founded on helping others, and nurses feel rewarded by their sense of purpose. Surveyed nurses shared that the most rewarding aspects of their work include: helping people and making a difference in the lives of others, working at a job they enjoy, being good at what they do, being proud to be a nurse and their relationships with patients and coworkers.
Nurses can move into related jobs as health care educators and family nurse practitioners (FNPs) or transition into health care technology. With additional education, nurses who have experienced mental health strain and burnout may also be interested in working in governments, helping to drive policy to improve health care and tackle these challenges. Overall, nurses gather valuable skills from working in high-stress, fast-paced environments and possess soft skills like communication, empathy and problem-solving, which serve them in various career paths.
Earn a Nursing Degree from Elmhurst University
If you are a compassionate, hard-working and motivated individual interested in nursing, Elmhurst University offers two flexible online options ideal for those with a bachelor’s degree in a non-nursing field.
Graduate in just 16 months with a BSN with our online Accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing (ABSN). The ABSN coursework draws on your general education to focus on nursing science, theory and practice.
Our online Master’s Entry into Nursing Program (MENP) endows a Master of Science of Nursing (MSN) degree upon graduation and qualifies you for the Clinical Nurse Leader certification exam. This program concentrates on nursing leadership and health care policy. Graduates from this program are uniquely positioned to enter nurse leadership roles.
Coursework is in a 100% online format paired with one to two residencies on campus for practical skills training to prepare you for providing direct patient care and your clinical placement rotations. Clinical placement support is available to assist you in securing placement sites in your local area.
Be the change, help reduce the nurse shortage and combat nurse burnout by starting a fulfilling nursing career.
Contact Elmhurst University for more information about how you can become a registered nurse through an online ABSN or MENP program.