5 things that can lead to nurse burnout … and how to cope with them

Wavebreakmedia Ltd
Wavebreakmedia Ltd

It’s no secret. Nurses burn out, and burn out often. I’ve known quite a number of nurses during my travels who just fizzled out like a firework.

It’s the classic too hot, too fast scenario.

All of us enter the profession with the “save the world” attitude. We adopt the “I’m going to be different” mentality. We tell ourselves “I’m not going to be like that ratchety, bitty ole’ burned-out harpie of a nurse.” You convince yourself you’ll be the exception to the rule, and these “seasoned nurses” don’t know what they’re talking about. This is a great profession, and you can’t imagine your job or your career getting so bad that you’d “burn out.”

We enter the world of nursing with fervor, zeal and that “can-do” attitude.

Then reality sets in.

The problem with nurses? None of us knows how to ease into things. We want to fix it all, quick-fast-and-in-a-hurry. So we give the full court press until something gives. Until sadly, we all learn that we can’t fix it all. Heck, sometimes we can’t seem to fix anything. Over time we keep grinding away with no relief.

Over the years I’ve discovered five things that tend to “light the match.” You can get away with one or two of these things happening in your career, but three or more and you’ve started the slow burn.


You get angry at someone or something. The source of the anger really doesn’t matter. What matters is you let it consume you. You get angry and stay angry. Soon, whatever set you off in the first place doesn’t even matter anymore. You’re only angry because that’s all you know how to be. Angry becomes a personality trait. It’s the only way you know how to be in order to survive.


This goes without saying. Everyone has staffing issues where they work. Everyone has to work in unfavorable conditions. But you get the feeling things might be bordering on unsafe. And just when thing are getting bad, someone mentions “mandatory overtime.” I can’t remember the last time anyone said thank you. Sigh.

Beaten down

You have no support. Whether from your coworkers, your managers or the “suits.” No one seems to have your back. Not only are you fighting the good fight on your own, but you feel as if you’re being ignored. When did people get so passive-aggressive?


Physically and mentally. You work too many hours and don’t enjoy your current job position. You also are just “spent.” Your emotional bank is empty and you’re just drained. There is way more bad than good.

Questioning your decision

What did you get yourself into? Nursing school wasn’t like this. Heck, why didn’t one of your preceptors give you a heads-up during clinicals?!? This crap is hard. Why are people so mean and unappreciative?

I could go on. It’s a vicious cycle. A real-life groundhog day. You feel Bill Murray’s pain.

So what do you do? How do you avoid it? Is every nurse doomed to become a firework?

I tend to believe that answer is no. Not every nurse is destined to go down in flames. I’m living proof. I WILL tell you every nurse will have to cross that bridge, though.

Every nurse will need to decide. Every nurse will feel consumed. Every nurse will battle with the bad. The difference between those who burn out and those who do not is the attitude. Your attitude and your reason for choosing this profession.

Remember: You always have a choice. You can choose to let the crap out there consume you, or you can choose to rise above it and find a better path. A path that meets your needs. A path that squashes those five things I listed.

I’m here to tell you that world does exist, but it doesn’t come without hard work and an unwillingness to settle or back down.

Let’s revisit my five things:


Stop placing blame and looking for answers. Forgive and forget. Life is too short to waste your energy on anything negative. Don’t let anyone walk on you, but don’t let anyone control you. Find solutions, not blame. If you can’t find solutions, ask for help. If no one is willing to help, than you might need to move on to someplace that does.


Don’t mistake being overworked with over-stressed. Find a balance. We all want to make more money. Overtime is a great thing, just don’t make work your only thing. Step away from work as often as you can.

Beaten down

Stand your ground. Don’t accept and don’t tolerate passive-aggressive behavior. Resolve conflict in a professional manner with facts, not opinions. Maintain your integrity, but don’t let anyone push you around. Be sure you have your ducks in a row before you raise your voice.


Take care of yourself. Be mindful of your own needs. Your entire life is not just about being a nurse. Pay attention to your physical health. Your job will be much more fun if you have your health on your side.

Questioning your decision

This is probably the most important. Spend some time being honest with yourself. Why did you become a nurse? Was it the pay? The hours? The benefits? The travel? The career options? The longer you avoid this, the harder it will be. Once you can honestly answer this question, find a place in our profession that meets that need.

Ultimately, nursing is not for everyone. Swallowing that jagged pill can make or break some of us.

I want everyone to enjoy this profession as much as I have. You get out of nursing what you put into it. Light the flame of your career to help lighten the darkness of others. Don’t let that flame burn you out.

Talk it out with other nurses. You are not alone. You’d be absolutely amazed at how many nurses out there are just like you!

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