Burnout is a silent killer among nurses. A meta-analysis of 21 studies revealed burnout to exist among 52% of nurses (Zhang et al., 2018). As if burnout among nurses was not high enough, COVID-19 is avalanching many nurses with a fire retardant that threatens to extinguish any remaining passion for patient care (Sharma et al., 2020).
Many factors contribute to burnout and its companion, compassion fatigue (Zhang et al., 2018). Whereas many of these factors cannot be directly manipulated and addressed by a nurse, the framing with which a nurse chooses to experience work stress can be—and to good effect. To illustrate, a recent study of 463 nurses employed at a faith-based hospital documented that the more a nurse ascribed sacredness to work, the less burnout and intention to leave and the more job satisfaction, engagement, and commitment (Ada et al., 2020). These researchers used a measure of “sanctification” of work that assessed how much a nurse perceived work as sacred, awesome, blessed, inspiring, holy, mysterious, and so forth.
How can a nurse increase this sense of sacredness about work? A few suggestions are offered:
- See Christ in every patient and colleague, a practice that Mother Teresa reportedly found helpful. If God manifests in all of creation, then every patient is holy and each encounter is sacred. Granted, sometimes sacredness is hard to see!
- Ask, “What can this patient or situation teach me?” What did a projective reaction you had to a difficult situation teach you about your shadow? How did a patient's story inform you about how you want to chart your future? Whether painful or joyful, each work-related encounter can manifest God's grace.
- Create a spiritual climate at work. Researchers in China found that the more a nurse perceived working in a “spiritual climate,” the more job satisfaction and the less burnout and turnover intention the nurse reported (Zhang et al., 2019). A spiritual climate was indicated by respect for diverse spiritual views, and comfort and encouragement to express one's spiritual views.
Although this research was conducted in China where there are some restrictions on religious freedom, the lesson may still be applicable in increasingly polarized Western societies. Consider these questions for reflection: How can I show respect for colleagues whose spiritual views and religious practices differ from mine? How can I support them to assist their coping with work? Might this openness of heart boomerang and bring me comfort when I need it at work? Indeed, a sense of community and meaningfulness of work were found to be elemental aspects of workplace spirituality for nurses (Pirkola et al., 2016).
A story is told of three stone masons who were asked about what they did. The first grumpily replied that he chiseled stone. The second answered with slight irritation that he was building a wall. The third stone mason was unexpectedly joyful when he responded, “I'm building a cathedral!” (http://www.realgoodwork.com/the-three-stone-masons/). This story illustrates the potential positive employment outcomes for nurses who envision work as sacred.
Ada H. M., Dehom S., D'Errico E., Boyd K., Taylor E. J. (2020). Sanctification of work and hospital nurse employment outcomes: An observational study. Journal of Nursing Management
, 2020, 1–9. https://doi.org/10.1111/jonm.13162
Pirkola H., Rantakokko P., Suhonen M. (2016). Workplace spirituality in health care: An integrated review of the literature. Journal of Nursing Management
, 24(7), 859–868. https://doi.org/10.1111/jonm.12398
Sharma M., Creutzfeldt C. J., Lewis A., Patel P. V., Hartog C., Jannotta G. E., Blissitt P., Kross E. K., Kassebaum N., Greer D. M., Curtis J. R., Wahlster S. (2020). Healthcare professionals' perceptions of critical care resource availability and factors associated with mental well-being during COVID-19: Results from a US survey. Clinical Infectious Diseases
, online publication. https://doi.org/10.1093/cid/ciaa1311
Zhang Y. Y., Han W. L., Qin W., Yin H. X., Zhang C. F., Kong C., Wang Y. L. (2018). Extent of compassion satisfaction, compassion fatigue and burnout in nursing: A meta-analysis. Journal of Nursing Management
, 26(7), 810–819. https://doi.org/10.1111/jonm.12589
Zhang Y., Wu X., Wan X., Hayter M., Wu J., Li S., Hu Y., Yuan Y., Liu Y., Cao C., Gong W. (2019). Relationship between burnout and intention to leave amongst clinical nurses: The role of spiritual climate. Journal of Nursing Management
, 27(6), 1285–1293. https://doi.org/10.1111/jonm.12810