As a nursing student or experienced nurse, you understand the importance of having the right job that meets your goals and lifestyle. Nursing is often known to be one of the most high-stress professions, but not all jobs are created equal regarding stress levels. In this article, we’ll explore some of the most stressful nursing jobs on offer so you can make an informed decision about choosing which specialty best fits your needs. As always, mental well-being should be a priority – so read on to learn more about maintaining a balance between work and rest time!
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Nurse Burnout Statistics, Causes, Effects, and Symptoms
Nurse burnout has become a pressing issue in recent years, and the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic has sent those statistics skyrocketing. According to the Medscape Nurse Career Satisfaction Report 2021, 34% of LPNs and 35% of R.N.s reported feeling burned out or very burned out.
These statistics are sobering, suggesting that nursing may be reaching a crisis point. Burnout has far-reaching and damaging consequences, from nurses opting out of their careers to harmful impacts on their mental, physical, and emotional well-being. This can lead to serious mistakes and errors, putting patients at risk. We must support our nurses and address this issue before it is too late.
A high nurse burnout rate can have devastating financial consequences for hospitals, as the cost of refilling a bedside R.N. position can range from $5.2 to $9.0 million. However, it doesn’t have to be this way. The first step in preventing nurse burnout is identifying the root causes, varying from workload to inadequate training. Once the causes have been identified, solutions can be put in place. These solutions often involve setting boundaries and practicing self-care, such as taking breaks and getting enough sleep. By taking steps to address nurse burnout, hospitals can not only save money, but also improve patient care and keep staff happy and healthy.
What Is Nurse Burnout?
Nurse burnout is a state of physical, emotional, also mental exhaustion caused by excessive demands on nurses. It can occur when nurses are overworked and underappreciated, leading to feelings of helplessness and hopelessness. Burnout can lead to depression and anxiety, loss of motivation, fatigue, difficulty concentrating, withdrawal from colleagues, reckless behavior outside the workplace, decreased job satisfaction and performance, substance abuse, or addiction problems.
1. Workload: This can include having too many responsibilities and insufficient time to complete them or lacking support from colleagues or supervisors.
2. Working Conditions: Poor working conditions [such as facing long shifts] can lead to burnout.
3. Lack of Control: Feeling like you have no control over your work can be incredibly stressful, leading to an inability to cope with your demands.
4. Unclear Expectations: Not knowing what is expected of you at work can leave you feeling overwhelmed and unable to meet expectations.
5. Unsupportive Culture: Lack of recognition for hard work can create dissatisfaction in the workplace and lead to burnout.
6. Poor Communication: Not understanding the expectations or goals of your role can lead to confusion and frustration that can contribute to nurse burnout.
The effects of nurse burnout are far-reaching and can damage the individual nurse and their patients. This includes:
1. Loss of motivation
2. Low job satisfaction
3. Increased absenteeism
4. Higher rates of physical illness
5. Mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, stress, and insomnia
6. Decreased patient satisfaction and safety due to mistakes made by exhausted nurses
7. Increased risk for medical errors
Nurses who experience burnout may also exhibit specific symptoms, including fatigue, emotional exhaustion, low self-esteem, and hopelessness.
Some steps can be taken to prevent nurse burnout. These include:
1. Setting boundaries: Establishing clear expectations for yourself and your job will help you balance work and personal life.
2. Practicing Self-Care: Take time to rest, eat healthy food, exercise regularly, get enough sleep, spend time with friends and family, etc.
3. Seeking Support: Be bold and ask for help from your colleagues or seek professional support if needed.
4. Staying Connected: Develop relationships with other nurses to receive peer support and share experiences.
5. Taking Initiative: Take the initiative to address workplace stressors, such as asking for a change in shift or workload if needed.
6. Identifying Root Causes: Evaluate what factors contribute to your burnout and create solutions tailored to these issues.
7. Assessing Your Job Satisfaction: Regularly check in with yourself regarding how satisfied you are with your job and take steps to improve it if necessary.
What Do Recent Nurse Burnout Statistics Show?
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the rates of nursing burnout reached alarming levels. A survey conducted in July 2021 by Nursing Central among thousands of U.S. nurses found the following results:
- 95% reported feeling burned out at the time of the survey or during the previous three years
- 91% were either considering or actively looking to leave nursing.
- Low staffing, emotional exhaustion, heavy workloads, low workplace morale, and lack of respect were the top five factors contributing to burnout.
- 44% of nurses had brought their feelings of burnout to management’s attention but felt nothing was done to help them;
- 27% did not feel comfortable discussing it with administrators.
These statistics are concerning, showing that nurse burnout is real and should be taken seriously by healthcare providers to prevent long-term consequences on staff well-being and patient safety.
What Are the Signs of Nurse Burnout?
According to the Nurse Registry, these are some of the most general symptoms of burnout:
- The difficulty to concentrate or have clear thoughts.
- Trouble remembering details or conversations.
- Inability to make decisions or solve problems.
- Apathy, increased irritability or frustration and emotional numbness.
- Sadness can also be present.
- Physical Symptoms
- Difficulty sleeping, gastrointestinal issues and headaches may appear as well.
- Comes an increase in risk-taking behaviors
- reduced ability to support your team
- abuse of substances in some cases.
It’s no wonder, then, that burnout manifests in daily life in many ways, including:
Frequently canceling plans or avoiding making them.
being cold, distant, and avoidant.
Not sleeping correctly and feeling unrested afterward.
Resentment of patients or doctors
Having grudges against certain patients and colleagues, being condescending towards them.
Physical symptoms such as a weakened immune system, digestive issues like IBS or constipation, or even heart palpitations.
12 The Most Stressful, Hardest Nursing Jobs
Now that we have discussed nurses burnout more in detail, let’s look at the most common nursing jobs that tend to be more stressful than others:
1. Long-Term Care Nursing
Long-term care nursing involves comprehensive care for patients with chronic illnesses or disabilities. Long-term care nurses must know the various treatments and medications used to treat their patients and any side effects that may occur during those treatments.
Additionally, long-term care nurses may need help managing their job’s heavy workloads and long hours.
This type of nursing can be particularly stressful when caring for patients diagnosed with dementia, as the nurses must constantly communicate and provide emotional support to the patient and their families.
The long-term care nurse felt she must do all the work herself without having any time for breaks. In addition, because of the high amount of medication passed out on these units, the stress over medication errors can be increased.
If you want to prevent burnout, long-term care nurses must be able to practice self-care strategies such as taking regular breaks the whole day and engaging in relaxation activities when needed.
The turnover rate of up to 75% in these units demonstrates how much of a problem burnout in long-term care can be.
2: Adult Critical Care Nursing
Nursing in critical care is commonly considered the most demanding nursing role and has the highest burnout rate among nurses.
As the Critical Care Societies Collaborative (CCSC) noted, up to 86% of critical care nurses have at least one primary symptom of burnout syndrome. As many as 33% may experience all signs of severe burnout.
I can personally testify to the stressful environment in these units, where patients often present severe conditions, codes, and deaths are a common occurrence, and nurses must face numerous ethical and traumatic dilemmas each shift.
Furthermore, day shifts may involve stress related to transferring patients for testing or surgery, while night shifts could involve unexpected problems once physicians leave for the day. Both are equally difficult in their ways.
3. Neonatal ICU Nursing
NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit) nursing can be as stressful as adult critical care. Nurses in this field must have specialized knowledge and skills to care for the most vulnerable patients – newborn babies with severe medical conditions.
Nurses may face difficult ethical decisions, such as end-of-life decisions and emotional challenges when the baby may require pain management or surgery.
Furthermore, they must also face emotional stress as babies struggle with life-threatening illnesses in a highly charged and tense environment.
According to the National Library of Medicine research, Burnout syndrome is common in NICU nurses, with reported levels as high as 40%.
4. Emergency Room Nursing
Emergency room nursing can be one of the most chaotic and intense nursing roles. With a constant flow of incoming critical patients, nurses must be quick-thinking and able to keep up with this fast-paced environment.
Furthermore, they may face complex ethical dilemmas and make split-second decisions that could impact the patient’s outcome.
Reports indicate that burnout rates among E.R. nurses are very high due to the demanding workload and stressful atmosphere. According to a study by the American Association of Critical Care Nurses (AACN), 30% of emergency room nurses may suffer from burnout syndrome.
5. Emergency Room Nursing
Emergency room nurses often experience an array of stressful situations, from victims of accidents to people suffering from acute illness or injury. The work can be physically and emotionally demanding, with extended hours and unexpected changes in workloads that cause even more stress.
Due to the unexpected nature of their work, E.R. nurses must know how to respond quickly and think on their feet to provide quality care for patients who come into the E.R. at any given time. Additionally, E.R. nurses must remain composed and focused despite chaotic situations.
Exposure to trauma and death is another factor that can contribute to burnout for E.R. nurses, as many times, they are unable to save lives regardless of their best efforts. E.R. nurses must have sound, dynamic support systems and reliable coping strategies to cope with these emotional stressors.
Research has shown that E.R. nurses are at a higher risk of developing symptoms of burnout syndrome due to their demanding job environments. According to a study by the American Association of Critical Care Nurses (AACN), 30% of emergency room nurses may suffer from burnout syndrome. Additionally, nurse fatigue is common among E.R. workers, as is a feeling of being overwhelmed with the amount of work.
6. Pediatric Nursing
Pediatric nursing is a gratifying yet sometimes stressful profession due to the unique needs of children and their families. Unlike adults, pediatric patients often require more complex medical treatments, which can be emotionally draining for nurses.
Pediatric nurses must also be able to provide emotional support to frightened children and their families during complex medical procedures. This can be challenging as they may have to balance the needs of both the child and family while adhering to the standards of practice for nursing care.
Other factors contributing to burnout in pediatric nurses include long work hours, heavy workloads, and a need for more resources or staff members. In addition, research has shown that burnout rates among pediatric nurses are higher than other medical professionals due to the emotionally demanding nature of their jobs. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), over 50% of pediatric nurses report suffering from burnout syndrome symptoms at least once in their careers.
7. Mental Health Nursing
Mental health nursing is incredibly rewarding as it provides comfort and care for those suffering from mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia. However, it can also be an emotionally draining and stressful job due to the intensity of individual patient cases.
Mental health nurses must be able to handle difficult situations while staying composed and providing compassion. Additionally, they are exposed to challenging patients with extreme emotional reactions or outbursts, which can affect the nurse’s mental health over time.
Research has shown that burnout rates among mental health nurses are high due to the stress associated with their work environment.
According to a study by the International Council of Nurses (ICN), nearly 40% of mental health nurses reported suffering from symptoms of burnout syndrome at least once in their career. Other factors contributing to burnout include extended shifts, heavy workloads, and a need for more resources or staff members.
8. Medical/Psychiatric Nursing
Medical/Psychiatric nursing involves providing comprehensive medical care and psychological support for patients with physical and mental health issues.
Additionally, they must have excellent communication skills to support their patients and families emotionally.
Unhappy or confused patients can be a potential source of violence on these floors, a significant stress source.
A recent study at a major psychiatric hospital revealed that nearly 70% of clinical staff members were victims of physical assault within the last year.
Moreover, when staff members have harmful interactions with each other, it can have a detrimental effect on the well-being of nurses. This can lead to higher levels of depression and negatively impact their physical health.
Additionally, medical/psychiatric nurses may need help managing their job’s heavy workloads and long hours.
9. Operating Room Nursing
Operating room nursing is advantageous as it involves taking on a critical role in delivering surgical care. However, it is also a very demanding job, as nurses must stay focused and work efficiently during long shifts.
Operating room nurses are responsible for ensuring that all medical equipment and supplies are available for surgery and that the operating room environment is sterile. They must also be familiar with different medical procedures to assist surgeons during operations properly. Additionally, they provide emotional support to patients and their families before, during, and after surgery.
10. Critical Care Nursing
Critical care nursing is a challenging and vital role in the healthcare system, as it involves providing acute care to patients with life-threatening conditions or illnesses. It is an emotionally demanding job due to the intensity of individual patient cases and requires nurses to be able to handle difficult situations while staying composed and providing compassion.
11. Geriatric Nursing
Geriatric nursing involves providing medical care for elderly patients who may have complex physical or cognitive needs due to age-related illnesses or conditions. It is an emotionally demanding job as geriatric nurses must be able to build trust with their patients while remaining compassionate and understanding at all times. Additionally, they must be knowledgeable about various treatments and medications suitable for older adults.
12. Oncology Nursing
Oncology nursing involves providing comprehensive medical care for patients with cancer and other life-threatening diseases. Oncology nurses must know the various treatments and medications used to treat cancer and any side effects that may occur during those treatments.
Oncology nurses may have difficulty managing their job’s heavy workloads and long hours.
If they want to prevent burnout, oncology nurses must be able to practice self-care strategies such as taking regular breaks throughout the day and engaging in relaxation activities when needed.
These are just a few examples of nursing jobs that are more stressful than others. Regardless of your chosen specialty, it is important to remember that self-care is essential to maintain a balance between work and rest time. Taking breaks when needed and getting enough sleep are critical components to avoiding burnout and keeping yourself healthy.
Nursing is an advantageous field but has its fair share of stressors and demands. Different specialties tend to require different emotional and physical levels, with some particularly challenging due to long hours or emotionally taxing patient cases.
Nursing burnout statistics demonstrate the importance of prioritizing self-care while working in nursing. The above jobs are emotionally and physically demanding and can take a toll on nurses if they don’t practice proper self-care strategies. Therefore, nurses need to find a balance between work and rest time to maintain their well-being.
Remember: Burnout prevention should always be a priority – for both patients’ safety and your well-being! So take some time out today for yourself! You deserve it!
Mrs. Marie Brown has been a registered nurse for over 25 years. She began her nursing career at a Level I Trauma Center in downtown Chicago, Illinois. There she worked in the Emergency Department and on the Surgical Intensive Care Unit. After several years, she moved to the Midwest and continued her nursing career in a critical care setting. For the last 10 years of her nursing career, Mrs. Brown worked as a flight nurse with an air ambulance service. During this time, she cared for patients throughout the United States.