No stranger to nurse burnout, I began to experience this phenomenon in my first year in nursing. Some days dreading to drag me into work, and always wondering, how do some nurses last 30+ years in this profession?! There HAS to be another way! I constantly thought I’m too young to dread my job and not want to go to work! I’m too young to feel this stressed and exhausted when I leave the hospital.
Nurses as a whole are subject to “nurse burnout”, but working in the NICU – Neonatal Intensive Care Unit – (or any critical care floor for that matter) comes with its own share of struggles. Constantly surrounded by very sick, itty bitty babies, fighting for their lives. Some days spending 12+ hours on your feet, the NICU takes a physical and emotional toll on you. Trying to explain to parents why they can’t hold their baby for the day because he/she is too sick. Or watching parents leave the hospital while their baby stays behind in a plastic box (incubator) can be heartbreaking. Or the dreaded call you sometimes have to make, “Get to the hospital now, your baby isn’t going to live much longer.”
What is Nurse Burnout?
Nurse burnout is defined as “A physical, mental, and emotional state caused by chronic overwork and a sustained lack of job fulfillment and support” (Nursing.org). With nursing being one of the most in-demand professions, there is oftentimes a shortage of nurses and a greater responsibility placed on those in the hospital setting. The extra stress of longer hours, more workdays, and exhausted nurses feeds into the vicious cycle of nurse burnout. So how do we fix it?
Fast forward to two years into my career. That feeling of hopelessness still hadn’t gone away. Sure, I loved being a nurse, especially in the NICU, but I still knew that something wasn’t right. I started to take stock in what was important to me, and what I realized was that on my days off I was fleeing my state (Kansas), at any given chance. Two days off? Flight booked. Eight days off? Two flights booked. I realized that my way of preventing nurse burnout was by traveling.
The More I Traveled, the More I Wanted to Work
I started to realize that the more I traveled and utilized my days off work, the more I enjoyed working! After a trip, whether that be to a nearby state or to another continent, I was excited to go back to work and appreciated my time in the hospital. That exploring a new place, meeting new people, and learning a different culture changed my mindset and attitude more than sitting on the couch, waiting for my next shift to arrive. Traveling has changed my life in more ways than one, but most importantly it has turned me into a better nurse.
Fixing Nurse Burnout
So how do we fix nurse burnout? Because we can’t keep going in this vicious cycle that we’re in hoping it just “fixes itself”. We need to stop turning a blind eye to our own emotional and physical well being and we need to stop turning a blind eye to our co-workers well being too.
After taking stock in what was important to me, I learned that the way you fix nurse burnout is by doing what you love. Whether that be yoga, meditating, spa days, or traveling! We don’t make excuses, “When I have more time off.” “When I make more money.” “When I find a husband.” “When my kids are grown.” And we realize that you can’t put a price tag on happiness. That by taking care of ourselves, we’re in turn taking care of our patients. This means that we’re taking better care of each other and our profession as a whole.
That is how you start a new cycle. And THAT is how to prevent nurse burnout.
If you’re interested in learning more about traveling as a nurse, check out: