Nursing burnout and compassion fatigue warrant serious attention and creative solutions—and where is creativity at its height these days if not in technology?
By embracing appropriate technology such as AI-powered chatbots, wearable medical devices, and job search apps, healthcare can better mitigate nurse burnout and stress, curbing the trend of nurses leaving their jobs and progressively reducing the nursing shortage.
Rates of Nurse Burnout
Reliable research shows that nurses and other healthcare professionals have some of the highest burnout rates. Putting this into occupational context, a May 2022 study by the McKinsey Health Institute shows that 28 percent of employees experience burnout across all occupations in the US. According to the Harvard Business Review, more than 50 percent of managers report feeling burned out, and the American Nurses Association confirms a rate of 62 percent among all nurses, with the percentage rising even further among nurses under age 25. One major underlying factor in nurse burnout is exhaustion or fatigue.
A substantial proportion (∼40–60 percent) of adults experience severe fatigue levels, which is in stark contrast to the even greater prevalence among nurses, with 92 percent of them suffering from this work-related condition that can lead to overwhelming tiredness, depression, and sleep issues, all of which can affect physical and cognitive functioning.
Demanding work schedules—a hallmark of the nursing profession—help contribute to the high prevalence of weariness and other significant factors, including physical, psychological, social, and emotional stress. These factors combined create a volatile mix that intensifies fatigue and its negative consequences, especially among female nurses, for whom it is twice as common as among males due in part to additional responsibilities outside of work. Female nurses, who often have demanding domestic duties, especially regarding childcare, are particularly at risk for high fatigue levels—remember that around 90 percent of nurses are women.
One type of fatigue specific to nursing is compassion fatigue, afflicting 52 percent of nurses, particularly those in oncology, emergency, intensive care units, pediatric units, and hospice care. It causes an emotional drain, weakening nurses’ capacity to show compassion and empathy.
If you have experienced this, please do not feel ashamed. Your feelings are important, valid, and worthy of acknowledgment. Extending a helping hand and understanding your patients is noble, but it can become taxing, eventually leading to emotional burnout.
The American Nursing Association reports that one out of three nurses find their shifts understaffed and that 96 out of 100 nurses feel fatigued at the beginning of their shifts.
Nursing Shortage, Burnout, More Shortage: A Vicious Cycle
The nurse shortage in the United States and nurse burnout are intertwined issues perpetuating and exacerbating each other in a vicious cycle. The shortage with unsafe nurse-to-patient ratios drives burnout, while burnout, in turn, intensifies the shortage, creating a challenging loop that puts immense strain on nurses and the broader healthcare system.
As the demand for healthcare services continues to escalate, the shortage of registered nurses (RNs), licensed practical nurses (LPNs), and certified nursing assistants (CNAs) leaves the on-the-job nurses to bear the brunt of the increased workload. This overwhelming workload and the pressure to provide quality care can lead to emotional and physical exhaustion.
Conversely, nursing burnout also contributes to the lack of nurses in healthcare. Burned-out nurses are more likely to leave their positions or even the nursing profession altogether, compounding the scarcity and feeding a deficit that is challenging to fill, particularly given the limited projected increase in the nursing workforce.
What are some nursing shortage statistics? Projections predict demand for over 3 million more RNs by 2031, compared to the projected increase in the workforce of only around 1.2 million. Clearly, the shortage still needs to be solved.
Strategies to Break the Cycle
Breaking out of this cycle requires a multi-faceted approach that addresses both the shortage and burnout, both the nurse and the workload itself. Strategies that directly focus on the shortage consider the following areas:
- Investing in graduate programs to expand the number of nurse educators
- Providing scholarships for nursing programs at all levels
- Addressing burnout and fatigue
The last point brings us to strategies to deal with burnout—the approach most healthcare organizations take—which often include the following:
- Wellness programs with e-coaching on relaxation techniques, building relationships, managing money and time, as well as onsite yoga classes or fitness centers, and many other options
- Self-care promotion with posters or messages on nutrition, exercise, or laughter
- Safety programs, including orientation and training on prevention and reporting of sexual harassment or bullying
Strategies to promote nurses' personal and professional development and fulfillment—not only focused on dealing with burnout—contemplate the following:
- Opportunities for nurses to attend conferences, workshops, and training programs to help them develop new skills and expertise
- Mentorship programs to pair experienced with less experienced nurses to provide guidance and support
- Institutional support and encouragement for nurses to pursue advanced degrees or certifications
Most of the above are widely acknowledged and implemented. However, these strategies do not address the workload itself. The truth is that as long as nurses are understaffed and overworked, the previous strategies cannot significantly reduce nurse burnout.
Reduce Nurse Workload and Burnout with Technology
The World Health Organization officially recognized burnout as a health syndrome in 2019 and "chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed" as the cause, acknowledging burnout as an organizational issue demanding collective solutions.
Lotte Dyrbye, M.D., of the Mayo Clinic, states, "We need a health care professional workforce that is thriving. Getting there will require system solutions that address workload, work complexity, administrative tasks, practice efficiency, and other factors. Health care professionals expect and want to work hard, but need to do so in environments that are sustainable."
Healthcare systems still prescribe self-care or wellness programs as the cure for burnout, leaving it up to each nurse to see whether and when to take action, primarily involving activities during their off time.
Although these strategies make a difference, they do not affect the workload. Technological support can help relieve the workload upstream, effectively attacking the roots of burnout.
What are some of these technologies that can play a significant role in addressing nursing burnout as well as the shortage? The following are a few rapidly growing technologies that can help reduce the nursing workload.
- AI-powered chatbots, for instance, the controversial ChatGPT or Bing-can, can help compose reports or document shifts using the data supplied by healthcare professionals or digital healthcare devices connected to information systems. Of course, clinicians must check the reports for accuracy, but this new AI technology is now readily available to reduce documentation overload.
- Wearable devices assist with various nursing responsibilities, such as the following:
- Patient monitoring: Using electrocardiograph (ECG) patches, continuous glucose monitoring systems, or the new smart contact lenses allows nurses and doctors to constantly monitor a patient's health status and vital signs, picking up alerts immediately.
- Patient engagement: Virtual reality provides immersive experiences that promote relaxation, pain relief, and other health benefits, empowering patients to engage in their care.
- Documentation and charting: Some wearables come with voice recognition and dictation capabilities, enabling nurses to record patient information and update electronic health records hands-free.
- Electronic Health Records (EHRs), when well designed, can streamline patient care, allow nurses quick access to patient information at the point of care, map drug information, and customize patient handouts.
- Health Information Technology (Health IT) and the Internet of Medical Things (IoMT) combine relevant information from the EHRs and expert professional studies and reports with digital communications to guide healthcare decisions and facilitate timely action.
- Intelligent medical service platforms optimize nurse allocation and scheduling to distribute the workload and reduce stress.
- Job search apps can help expand talent acquisition channels to attract a larger pool of qualified candidates and allow those candidates to choose from a broader selection of job opportunities.
Nursa passionately promotes the knowledge of and effective use of technology to mitigate nurse stress, fatigue, and burnout and is in itself a vital technological platform that seamlessly connects RNs, LPNs, and CNAs with facilities in search of qualified per diem nurses. Does your facility have shifts that need coverage? Post your available shifts on Nursa and select the applicants that best meet your needs.