This month I am featuring Alicia from Yorkshire, talking all about her experience with nurse burnout. Alicia shows me that that nurse burnout is a world-wide problem and how she’s combating her burnout is amazing! At the time of writing, she’s working in New Zealand and her experiences are fascinating. Read on to find out more!
Tell me about your background… Where do you call home? If you’re currently traveling where in the world are you?
I’m Alicia, a 25-year-old lover of travel and all things outdoors! I’m originally from a small village in Yorkshire, Northern England (4 hours North of London). In June 2018 my partner and I left everything that we knew on a trip around the world! So far we’ve slowly traveled to Australia for a year whilst working alongside our travels. We are now doing the same in New Zealand for the next few months!
What kind of nursing do you do and how long have you been a nurse?
I trained as a Paediatric Nurse in the UK 4 years ago! Over the last four years of my nursing career, I’ve gathered all sorts of experience. I began with Paediatric Neurosciences after graduating which I loved but always found NICU nursing so interesting. So after a year, I went across to the NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit) which is where I’ve called my ’nursing home’ for the last 3 years. I’ve nursed both permanently and via agencies in both Australia and New Zealand.
Why did you choose to become a nurse?
My decision to become a nurse feels like it was so long ago now. I never quite knew what I wanted to do as I grew up. I always changed my mind (I still do) about which career path I was going to take. What I did know is that growing I always wanted to work with babies and children. After studying a Health and Social Care course at college (which is the 2 years after high school in the UK) I got to experience placement in a children’s ward at the local hospital and I loved it! I loved the thought of making such a difference in these innocent children’s lives and help their families through what could be some of the hardest times. I watched the nurses carry out their duties and found them all so inspiring. Shortly after returning to college, I made the decision that was what I wanted to do. I was going to become a children’s nurse to make a difference.
Tell me a little bit about healthcare in your home country. At what age do you go to nursing school, how long does it take you to graduate? How do people receive healthcare? Is there anything unique or different about healthcare in your country?
In the UK we finish school at age 16. We then have the choice to go into a job or continue for another two years at school in the ‘sixth form’ or college. After we finish that at 18 we decide what course to take at University which when I started my Nursing Studies at University. In the UK we have different pathways of nursing, Paediatrics, Adult, Mental Health, or Learning Disabilities. Before applying for the course you have to choose which field of nursing you want to study, unlike a lot of other countries in the nurse we specialize straight away in one of the above fields. Once at University the nursing course is three years long. The course is full time with a mix of hospital placements and university study.
Unlike a lot of countries in the rest of the world in the UK, we are fortunate enough to have a National Health Service. This means that. The government fund all of our healthcare. As a UK citizen, you are entitled to free healthcare which includes GP appointments, vaccinations, hospital stays, any medications for chronic diseases or illnesses. We pay a small fee for general antibiotic prescriptions. We are so lucky to have this service which I honestly took for granted until I worked in Australia where people have to pay for a lot of health care, it was a real eye-opener! My partner is also a Type 1 Diabetic and when we started paying for his prescriptions in Australia it really put into perspective how lucky the UK is when it comes to healthcare.
Have you practiced healthcare (including volunteering) anywhere else abroad? Tell me about your experience.
Other than the UK I’ve also practiced in Australia and New Zealand. In Australia, I worked as an agency nurse. An agency nurse is someone who is appointed to a certain hospital or service when they need extra staff. This way of nursing was perfect as it allowed me to travel the country whilst keeping my career firmly intact. The agency I worked for was incredibly flexible and I got to write my own roster which made a huge difference in preventing nurse burnout, which I suffered from a lot in the UK! Nursing in Australia also gave me a significant pay rise which was also incredible keeping my travel fund firmly topped up! I encourage anybody to take the plunge to the nurse out there. The staffing ratios are incredible and it’s the one country I’ve felt like I was always able to give the best care thanks to the staffing situations. My biggest nursing regret is not taking on a rural nursing placement in Australia. Australia is also a fabulous country to travel around and there really is no other place like it!
I’m also currently nursing in New Zealand. I’ve secured a short-term contract here in New Zealand so it’s a little different than Australia and especially strange being back on a roster as opposed to choosing my shifts! It’s easy to transfer from Australia to New Zealand so if you decide to do nursing in Australia it’s definitely worth crossing the water to experience the nursing life here too! The pay is slightly lower in New Zealand but similarly to Australia, the staffing ratios are brilliant. New Zealand is a beautiful country with a mix of mountainous landscapes, glorious beaches, and vibrant cities. I feel like so far it’s the country that has everything to offer. I’ve found the nursing experience positive but I’ve only been in my current role for one month.
I’m a huge advocate of preventing nurse burnout. What does nurse burnout mean to you? Have you ever experienced nurse burnout yourself? Tell me about your experience.
I feel that nurse burnout is something every nurse will experience at one time.
It’s hard to describe it but for me, nurse burnout is a mix of physical and mental exhaustion. Nursing and especially NICU nursing is very misunderstood in the public eye. A lot of people still think all we do is ‘change people’ and ‘cuddle babies’ all day. I wish that was what I get to do during my days at work. Of course, some days are wonderful and I do get to nurse well babies ready for discharge and I might even get to have a little cuddle. But for the most part, I’m nursing the world’s sickest and smallest babies. Babies born too early who need all the help they can get just to survive. Some weeks are wonderful and I’ve seen real-life miracles happen, I see families come together and show such strength in their darkest days. But some weeks aren’t as wonderful and babies die. It’s the harsh reality but it’s the truth. You have no idea how situations like that are going to play on your emotions until you’re in the situation. As nurses, we are often expected to ‘continue’ because it’s ‘our job’, and whilst it is our job it’s also taxing emotionally which I think is the worst kind of nurse burnout.
My burnouts have always happened after when devastating outcomes meet low staffing levels and we are expected to carry on. When things don’t go as we hope, despite our best efforts, it is truly devastating. But as nurses, we are expected to come back the next day with a smile and carry on. When we are short-staffed our level of care we give is decreased as the number of people we have to care for is increased. Having to go 12 hours without so much as a break, something to eat, or a trip to the toilet. My worst case of nurse burnout was in the UK. Underpaid and understaffed is how it’s described in the media and me, unfortunately, have to agree. After being expected to still deliver such high standards of care under immense pressure it leads me into a spiral of anxiety about work. Being expected to work so many nights then switch back onto days 24 hours later was also taking a toll on my body mentally and physically. I love my career but at this point, it was seriously affecting my health. I had to weigh up if it was worth it or not because to me my health is the most important thing in my life. Without it, I cannot help others.
How are you trying to combat or prevent nurse burnout?
After my burnout (described above) I knew I had to change something which is when we decided to go to Australia. The burnout wasn’t the only reason but I was falling out of love with my career in my current role and something had to change. Australia was always a dream of ours so we made it a plan. I decided I was going to either work agency so I could be in control of my roster or take on a part-time contract instead of full time.
Not taking on full-time contracts has made me feel like a different person! It means I get to travel and I’m dedicating more time to myself. I’m more than happy to take a pay cut if it means being happier both in my personal life and in my role as a nurse.
I also use travel massively to take that nursing stress away. I make sure that I have breaks in-between contracts so I can get out and see the world. Travel is my escapism and if I can’t travel then I’m not happy. By taking short contracts and working agency it means I have the time to travel and do what I love. I also make sure I give myself lots of self-care by eating well and filling my days with things I love that bring me joy!
Before ending, tell me one fun fact or story about yourself unrelated to nursing.
I’m a super passionate climber! On my days off if I’m not traveling you can usually find me down at the local climbing wall or out in the backcountry bouldering on some rocks, it’s great fun and really gets my adrenaline pumping!
Where can people find you?
People can find me on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter at @aliciaoverseas or Pinterest @aliciaoverseas1
If you want to talk about your experience with nurse burnout or know of someone who does, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org