Burnout is a state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress. It occurs when we feel overwhelmed, emotionally drained, and unable to meet constant demands.1 Burnout experienced by healthcare workers, especially ICU nurses, has recently made headlines as coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) continues to spread. Even before the pandemic, the high-acuity environment of the ICU was a high-stress workplace for nurses. Nursing shortages, mandatory overtime, and many other challenges that have surfaced as a result of the 2019/2020 pandemic have only increased the risk of burnout in critical care nursing. Burnout not only affects professional performance, it can also disturb family and personal interactions. In order to maintain a healthy workforce, all members of the healthcare team must be aware of the signs and symptoms of burnout and seek assistance if these signs develop.
A study conducted in 2016 revealed that 81% of ICU nurses answered affirmative to having one or more symptoms of burnout, with 33% indicating severe burnout with acknowledgment of more than one symptom.2 Manifestations of burnout include physical exhaustion, emotional exhaustion, job-related cynicism, chronic absenteeism, constant irritation, disengagement from job-related activities, lack of co-operation, and low sense of personal accomplishment.2 A new survey conducted in June 2020 revealed that the number of ICU nurses reporting severe burnout increased to 46.8%.3 Research has concluded that certain factors can increase a nurse's risk of burnout. Nurses who are young and new to their career, along with nurses who are single or childless, have an expanded likelihood of developing burnout symptoms.4 Institutions and ICUs with strong interpersonal connections among staff will experience less burnout than units with weak connections between team members. Night-shift workers seem to develop symptoms of burnout at a higher rate than day-shift workers.4
Exercising or discovering a new hobby can help to keep work negativity at a distance. Following a stressful shift, debriefing with colleagues in a supportive atmosphere can be therapeutic. During busy shifts, nurses should make sure to take short 5- to 10-minute breaks to ensure self-care such as hydration and use of restroom facilities. Nurses who believe they have severe burnout should inquire about their institution's employee-assistance program.
Compassion toward fellow colleagues and remembrance that the stress affects all involved need to be at the forefront of nurses' minds. Take the time to care for one another. Together, nurses can succeed in preventing burnout and maintaining exceptional patient care.
Kristie Hertel, MSN, RN, CCRN, ACNP-BC, FCCM
Advanced Practice Provider Vidant Medical Center, Trauma and Surgical Critical Care Unit Greenville, N.C.
2. Reith TP. Burnout in United States healthcare professionals: a narrative review. Cureus
3. Azoulay E, De Waele J, Ferrer R, et al. Symptoms of burnout in intensive care unit specialists facing the COVID-19 outbreak. Ann Intensive Care
4. Chuang C-H, Tseng P-C, Lin C-Y, Lin K-H, Chen Y-Y. Burnout in the intensive care unit professionals: a systematic review. Medicine (Baltimore)