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Beating Clinician Burnout

News  |  By Jennifer Thew RN  
   April 01, 2017

VUMC also offers a monthly program called Bedside Matters, where staff, including nurses, talk about the social and emotional issues of caring for patients and families. The group may discuss a case where a patient wanted to die with dignity but the family wanted to continue with invasive medical treatments.

"They talk about a difficult case," says Gale. "How did we deal with it? What impact did it have on the staff? How did we handle it? How did we support our staff?"

Ethical challenges like the ones discussed during Bedside Matters rounds can be contributing factors to burnout among nurses, says Cynda H. Rushton, PhD, RN, FAAN, the Anne and George L. Bunting Professor of Clinical Ethics in the Berman Institute of Bioethics and the School of Nursing at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.

"One of the things that I've spent a fair amount of time looking at is how ethical conflicts and all the stress surrounding them contribute to burnout," she says. "I think that creates a condition for people to then become emotionally and physically exhausted, trying to reconcile that difference between what they ought to be doing and what they're actually doing. You add onto that organizational factors like workload, which also lead to physical exhaustion, and it tends to intensify the feelings of stress that people are feeling at the bedside."

When this stress occurs, Rushton says individuals and leadership should see it as an opportunity rather than a failure.

"It's a signal that something is off-balance. We don't get burned out because we failed. It's because we've been trying so hard to address issues, some of which are not solvable in our skills and resources and abilities," she says. "I think leaders have to really take stock of the organizational processes, policies, and structures that are contributing to burnout and to allocate resources to support diverse strategies for clinician well-being, recognizing that one size doesn't fit all."

Jennifer Thew, RN, is the senior nursing editor at HealthLeaders.


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