How burnout is affecting nurses going into the workforce during the pandemic

Before nursing alumnus Andrew Nguyen graduated in spring 2020, he wrote a paper about how nurses have one of the highest rates of burnout in any profession.

According to Mayo Clinic, caregiver burnout is a state of emotional exhaustion or a feeling of having one’s energy, strength or resources used up. When at extremes, burnout can lead to depression, personal health problems and neglected patients.

Nguyen, who works as a neurological intensive care unit nurse, said he joined the workforce at an overwhelming time last May when the pandemic was at its peak.

Every department was stressed, he said. A misconception is that only COVID-19 units were affected, but with more people in the hospital, every department had to take on more patients.

Additionally, hospitals faced a shortage of personal protective equipment and staff numbers, Nguyen said.

Coming out of nursing school, graduates won’t know everything, he said. Nursing school teaches how to be safe, but joining the workforce teaches the skills needed for the job.

Nursing junior Catalina Lopez was encouraged to get into nursing by her high school teacher, which led her to apply for a certified nursing assistant program.

While she is passionate about the field, she still worries about the pandemic and its effect on nurses.

It’s scary to think about, she said. Nurses are under a lot of stress because there is no escape from the virus. They see it at work and at home.

Lopez said she’s missing out on a full nursing school experience and feels underprepared for her career as a result.

COVID-19 has made the clinical experience more limited, she said. Students are only allowed on certain floors because of safety regulations.

Lopez said she’s grateful for the experience in a way because the extra precautions will help her prepare for situations similar to COVID-19 in the future.

Though nursing school during the pandemic might be stressful to the point of tears at times, Lopez tries to remember the grit it took to get into nursing school and her reason for being there.

Lopez said she pictures her family members and former patients who are cheering her on to become a nurse.

Nursing alumnus Leslie Thompson said nursing is challenging because no matter how much effort or care a nurse puts in, patients will still struggle with their illnesses.

It’s important to have a positive outlook on life to avoid burnout in nursing because there will always be different types of diseases, not just COVID-19, he said.

Jennifer Roye, assistant dean of simulation and technology, can see the negative and positive changes in nurses since the pandemic.

Nurse burnout is her dissertation topic for her doctoral program. Roye said nurses will leave the profession due to the high level of moral distress.

As nurses, there’s an ethical responsibility to provide the best care possible for patients, she said. But with the pandemic, care given to the masses is different from the care given to the individual, which has weighed on a lot of nurses.

But for others the pandemic has been a time of empowerment. Research has found that nurses feel more important in their roles and are proud to be in the profession, Roye said.

Roye believes the nursing program has prepared its students well for practice. Safety precautions have been strict on campus, and the severity of the pandemic has been emphasized, she said. By maintaining these stern guidelines, it gives students good experience on how to keep themselves safe in all circumstances.

In response to the COVID-19 anxieties nursing students have, Roye would remind them that they are prepared even if they don’t feel like they are. Don’t take shortcuts and don’t be afraid, she said.

“I remember stepping across the threshold of the elevator my very first day at work, being scared to death. But it gets better,” she said.

Roye said that when it gets rough, students should rely on the support of co-workers and remember that the nursing school staff is always a resource, even if they’ve kicked their students out of the nest.

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