Young and Already Burned Out By Nursing – Part 1

Employees, managers, and researchers agree that the new, young nurse needs to be mindful of occupational stress.

A feeling of being “completely” overwhelmed, constant tiredness, a lack of empathy, little to no patience, and a high level of anxiety — these represent the symptoms of burnout that *Kaitlyn S., a registered nurse who practices at a large suburban hospital outside of Philadelphia, PA, began to experience collectively less than 1 year into her job working as an RN.

A concept that has gained increasing awareness in the nursing and other healthcare fields (as well as in the corporate space), burnout does not have a clinical definition, according to the Mayo Clinic. The World Health Organization classifies burnout as an “occupational phenomenon” and it is included in the 11th revision of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11), where it is defined as a “syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.” 

Recent studies1,2 have focused on the concept of burnout specifically for its impact on younger healthcare employees to less-than-encouraging results. ADVANCE recently spoke with nurses, nurse managers, and key opinion leaders while using these studies as a backdrop to get a better sense of what burnout means for the younger population and what types of coping strategies and prevention best practices may exist to help lessen the impact of burnout or avoid it altogether. 

Stressing The Impact of Burnout on The Young Nurse

More young people are living (and ultimately working) today than at another point in time.3 By 2020, it is projected that there will be more than 3.5 billion people under the age of 30 globally.3 Since stress can manifest in various ways and impact people differently and at varying levels, it stands to reason that the idea of burnout and the effects of burnout can mean different things to different people while causing a multitude of symptoms that depend on the person, the level of stress their body is experiencing, and the physical and mental impact that the stress has on their body. For Kaitlyn S., she begins to notice poor sleep quality and her immune system being compromised. “Often, I’m drained physically, mentally, and emotionally on my day off,” she said. At 24 years old, Kaitlyn S. is pigeonholed as a “Millennial,” or one who was born between 1981 and 1996 (22-37-year-olds). Beyond the general stereotypes that are connected by many to this age group,4 it is becoming increasingly evident that those of this generation are up against certain challenges as they pertain to the workspace, at least as far as the healthcare and social care sectors are concerned.1 Key findings by the Global Health Workforce Network, a network of stakeholders from a range of sectors, claim that gender stereotyping, bias, discrimination, and violence in the healthcare and social care workforce are experienced within training and work environments at a staggering prevalence for young and newly qualified workers. Additionally, youth workers are said to face alarmingly high rates of violence including verbal, psychological, physical and sexual.

Compound that with the nurse’s general personality traits of striving for compassion, advocacy, and support (if you can forgive yet another set of stereotypes) and you have a population of young employees who are ripe for stress and burnout, according to Robin Hertel, EdS, MSN, CMSRN, president of the Academy of Medical-Surgical Nurses (AMSN). “As nurses, we run the inherent risk of giving until our personal cup is depleted,” she told ADVANCE. “We become so adept at multitasking and managing the care of our patients, of working with the inter-professional team members and students, as well as committee work, that we often end the day with nothing left for ourselves. As a newly licensed nurse, there are so many additional factors that come into play, such as clinical experience, critical thinking and judgment, and the honing of skills that place these nurses at risk for high levels of emotional and physical stress.”

Summer Bryant, DNP, MSN, RN CMSRN, treasurer of the AMSN, sees a connection between those facilities that offer robust orientation and residency programs with lower turnover rates among their younger, inexperienced nurses because the lack of appropriate support systems in place to overcome the education-to-practice transition could contribute to burnout, which in turn contributes to turnover to those who don’t offer such amenities. Other symptoms of poor working conditions for the younger nurse could be a lack of flexible time-off programs, employee assistance programs, and equitable staffing and scheduling practices, said Bryant, adding that not only should flex time be offered but that employers should encourage young employees to take advantage of it. “Related to staffing and scheduling practices, if an employer only lets the most tenured staff have time off, then the less tenured staff end up working more, which can lead to resentment and/or burnout,” she said. “In my experience with inexperienced and/or younger staff, I’ve always stressed the importance of taking breaks, not working too much overtime, and maintaining a support system of friends, family, and coworkers that they can talk to and work through the emotions of being a newer nurse.”

Learn how to identify signs and triggers as well as coping strategies in part 2 of this important series.

References

  1. Youth Hub, Global Health Workforce Network, World Health Organization. Youth and decent work in the health and social care sector: an evidence synthesis. GHWN. 2019. Accessed online: www.who.int/hrh/network/YouthPaper-PS-SR_23May2019.pdf
  2. Survey reveals factors behind millennial burnout. Yellowbrick. 2019. Accessed online: www.yellowbrickprogram.com/blog/survey-reveals-factors-behind-millennial-burnout
  3. Gordon L. Special report: the world’s youngest populations. London: Euromonitor International; 2012.

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