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Contributed Content: National Nurses Month: Enhancing Nursing Support Systems to Address Burnout

By Kathy Driscoll  
   May 13, 2024

Fostering a culture that prioritizes employee wellbeing is a vital step towards mitigating burnout.

Editor's note: Kathy Driscoll, MSN, RN, NEA-BC, CCM, is the senior vice president and chief nursing officer at Humana.

As health care professionals, we are no strangers to the perils of burnout. This is a crisis that predates the pandemic and has persisted at an alarming rate in the United States, as 49% of physicians report experiencing burnout and 64% of nurses say they feel “a great deal of stress because of their job.”

During May, we observe both Mental Health Awareness Month and National Nurses Month. This serves not only as an opportunity to acknowledge the more than 5 million nurses who function as the backbone of patient care, but also to consider how we can support the mental health of these nurses who often struggle with work-related stress and burnout.

With more than 30 years of experience in the nursing profession, I recognize the importance of creating a supportive work environment that acknowledges, actively addresses and supports nurses' physical and mental well-being. Strategies such as adjusting staffing models, providing access to mental health resources and fostering a culture that prioritizes employee wellness are vital steps toward mitigating burnout and promoting a healthier, more sustainable nursing workforce.

I’ve been working closely with nurses in the home health field, and I’ve noticed the cause of their stress is different from the cause of stress that nurses experience in a hospital setting. Specifically, the structure of in-home care allows nurses to work in a flexible environment and form close relationships with patients. At the same time, it can place them in situations where they must handle complex medical issues alone, without the immediate backup found in more traditional health care settings. These challenges highlight the importance of a strong, multidisciplinary support network that goes beyond basic needs.

For instance, at CenterWell Home Health — a part of Humana— we ensure that our nurses are supported by a team of diverse clinical professionals, including physical, occupational and speech therapists, and social workers who all work together to ensure that our patients' comprehensive care needs are met. This integrated approach allows for a more holistic care experience for patients and can help build a professional support system that helps prevent our nurses from feeling they’re practicing in a silo. 

In any clinical setting, nurses can and should focus on establishing robust mentorship relationships and fostering camaraderie in the workplace. Structured mentorship can provide essential guidance, knowledge transfer and support from experienced nurses to those at all levels of their career journeys. Mentorship is a great way for nurses to enhance skills, confidence and opportunities.

On a broader scale, advocating for industry-wide changes is critical for sustainable improvements in nursing. Policies to improve work conditions, such as regulating work hours and optimizing nurse-to-patient ratios, are essential to prevent burnout and ensure high-quality care. Integrating new and innovative technology can streamline administrative tasks, allowing nurses more time for patient care. In addition, mental health support programs that include counseling and stress management must be readily available to address the psychological demands faced by nurses.

Nurses operate at a unique crossroads where health, education and community converge. This multifaceted role positions them not only as caregivers, but also as educators and community advocates. As we look toward the future of nursing, initiatives designed to support these professionals must comprehensively address each of these aspects. Such approaches enhance the effectiveness of nursing care and also ensure that nurses are valued, supported and equipped to meet the challenges of their essential roles in our nation's health care system.

Editor's note: Care to share your view? HealthLeaders accepts original thought leadership articles from healthcare industry leaders in active executive roles at payer and provider organizations. These may include case studies, research, and guest editorials. We neither accept payment nor offer compensation for contributed content.

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Leaders should adjust staffing models, provide access to mental health resources, and prioritize employee wellbeing to build a more sustainable workforce. 

Nurses should focus on establishing mentorship relationships and building camaraderie in their work environments.

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