- 43 I know now how burnout occurs. It occurs with the death of nursing. It occurs when the compassion well has been overturned by those who insist on inflicting both nurses and patients to the moral depravity of never-ending torturous care.
Burnout starts with an oath, taken at the pinnacle of pride and passion when entering a new profession. Burnout starts with caring, which is a quality we hope all health-care workers possess. Burnout starts with hope; hoping that we can make a difference in our patient's lives.
I took an oath on the day of my pinning; my graduation from nursing school. It was the Nightingale Oath. Here is that oath:
“I solemnly pledge myself before God and in the presence of this assembly, to pass my life in purity and to practice my profession faithfully. I will abstain from whatever is deleterious and mischievous, and will not take or knowingly administer any harmful drug. I will do all in my power to maintain and elevate the standard of my profession, and will hold in confidence all personal matters committed to my keeping and all family affairs coming to my knowledge in the practice of my calling. With loyalty will I endeavor to aid the physician, in his work, and devote myself to the welfare of those committed to my care.”
I have broken every aspect of that oath in my endeavor to care for my patients. My life is not pure. It is tainted with the misery of the broken that I care for. I don't practice faithfully. When my patient of six months is asking for death and an end to the monotonous routine of turns, dressing changes and mouth care, my faith fails me. I no longer have the faith that my patient will live a meaningful life.
I have not abstained from the deleterious and mischievous. Many of the therapies prescribed in the never ending ephemera of standing orders and the imperial standards of care, while trying to preserve the hospital's legal standing, bring harm to my patients. I position them in spine twisting angles which limit breathing and stiffen limbs placed on pillows to elevate bottoms and heels and hands. I have bloodied mouths with the routine mouthcare no matter how soft the sponges.
Every drug that I administer is harmful. I promote blood pressure at the cost of digits. I give life-saving antibiotics, yet I rob patients of their kidney function and hearing. Every drug has a cost. . . .
I attempt to maintain and even elevate the standard of my profession through my intelligence, my compassion, and eternal search for knowledge. I interweave therapies with the delicacy of a spider weaving a web. If one part fails, the web falls. I manipulate each organ system with a symphony of drugs in the attempt to create a harmonious whole. And when the physician calls me the mindless bedside attendant, or when the physician states that my tasks are so easy that a monkey could perform them, I smile with inner strength because I know that the physician does not even know how to work the pump to infuse the drug, and does not possess the skill to access a vein for their pharmacopeia's remedies.
I have broken confidence with families. I give reality. I give the grand picture. I comment on quality of life and last wishes. I talk of death with dignity. I broach those subjects which are so taboo to us. I give hope. I give reason. I give honesty. I give my heart and I have given my tears. I cannot uphold an image painted by a patient's service of hope and recovery when experience and statistics tell my heart the truth. I cannot support a physician that states a patient will walk out of my ICU when he is so weak that he cannot lift a finger, and can merely shake his head no to decline care. I can only do what my conscience and my heart guide me to do.
I have limited loyalty for physicians. I cannot bear dishonesty. The physician is no longer the captain of the ship steering the course to recovery. It is my job to question, to demand, and when called for, to take a stand between my physician and my patient when decisions are poorly made or when decisions are against my patient's wishes.
The one portion of my oath which I have steadfastly upheld to the best of my ability is that I have devoted myself to the welfare of those committed to my care. I have cared for my patient and my families more than I have cared for myself. I have become the object of ridicule on behalf of my patients. I have, despite great fear, risked myself professionally to uphold my patient's wishes by taking a stand on the patient's behalf.
And now, after having lost another fight on my patient's behalf, I feel like the nurse in me has died. The spark that lit my way to healing and the flame that guided my intentions has burned to ashes in the aftermath of flood reaped upon me. I am morally depraved and ethically sullied and I have become an empty shell.
I am no longer a nurse. I am a tender. I tend to the garden of patients with little mind for needs and a conscious drive of simply meeting obligations of care. This is burnout.
Is there a way to re-light the flame of nursing? I think it would take a new oath, one less pure, and one of less responsibility.4Jul 27, '09 by discontentmentI feel for you and I far too much understand. I have only been a nurse for 3 years and am already so burntout that I dont know what to do with myself most days..... I love the patients, I love taking care of them, but.... policy and procedure get in the way... and on my floor, bathing is the MOST important item to do. It is nothing to have every person on the floor giving a bath to a patient and have the telemetry alarms blazing red with HR>140 in afib and O2 sats in the 60's because everyone is giving baths and noone is acting on these alarms.
I want to do more with my degree, I want to love what I do.... I, like you, dont know what to do to change this either.4Jul 27, '09 by pednursedebI also understand burnout. I am there. If I could just care for my patients the way I want to life would be good.
Our hospital has changed our grid twice now in 3 months. We get less staff and are asked to do more care and a better job.
It seems every few weeks another responsibility is put on our shoulders.
I went into nursing to care for people, not a corporation. Money is not the bottom line for me like it is them.
I have always done hospital nursing, but I'm looking for something else. I'm not sure what yet. I may not find it, but I have to work at least 10 more years. I know that I don't want to work 10 more years like I'm doing.
My 12 hr shifts turn into 14hrs easily.If the census is low they send someone home, but expect you to come in if needed.
My concern and obligation is to my patients. I am their advocate.
If I leave will I be abandoning those patients I could help or would someone else just do my job and it not make any difference. I'm just not sure anymore3Jul 27, '09 by MistyDawnRN06Thanks all!
I had a particularly bad week and writing is my outlet. Sometimes that writing needs an outlet other than my computer, so I offer it up to others. Writing helps me re-charge and let go and put things in perspective. Once I've let it go, I find the strength to do the internal re-phrase of the situation that I need.
I went through an emotional intelligence series at work and while it was helpful, it also brings up more of the work that I have to do internally to achieve longevity in this field.
Sometimes I catch a lot of flack when I try to fight the good fight at work. I'm still a relatively young nurse and am still learning my way through the bureaucratic and political mine fields that are hospitals. It's not always easy.
Anyway, thank you all for the kindness and the reassurances. If I was able to move some of you, I am grateful. Thank you for listening, and thank you for caring. We all need a boost at times . . .3Jul 27, '09 by Patricia L. CrossBurnout never goes away, after you take some time off, it is still there along now with the guilt you feel for being burned out. I have spent 28 years in the emergency room, burnout is the elephant in the room. I am trying to find "lighter" rn jobs, like giving flu shots and my goal is to make the guilt go away..........8Jul 27, '09 by MistyDawnRN06Someone told me that burnout occurs usually within about 5 years of becoming a nurse. That's not a very long lifespan . . .
My mom is a nurse of 30 years. She sent me this:
Nursing is occasionally comparable to the art of juggling piranhas while handcuffed, blindfolded, and riding a unicycle....on a high wire with no net. (author unknown)
That about sums it up!5Jul 27, '09 by pednursedebI would have to agree with your mom. The biggest problem though is a hospitial is run by people who never do hands on nursing or maybe never have. They might have a business degree.
Do they have more book smarts than I do? Perhaps. I only have an associate degree.
I just care about people and the care I give to them. If things keep changing I will no longer be able to give good care. This is really what is causing burnout for me. I've been a nurse for 23 years and I'm just starting to feel the burnout.
I work with an excellent group of nurses, but we are all on overload. We help each other when we can, but when you get several admissions at one time and have no unit secretary and no CNA you just can't help each other out.
I work on a pediatric uint that gets overflow. I might be taking care of anything from a r/o sepsis in an infant to a geriatric with altered mental status. It is just such a balancing act. If we do get a pediatric admission and have to start an IV sometimes it takes 3 nurses. That may be our whole staff. What happens to the rest of the patients?
Quality care is what I've always given and I want to continue to do so, but if they keep adding more work with less staff I don't see how that is possible.
Right now I just feel like I'm doing the best I can with what I've got. That's not a very good feeling.3Jul 28, '09 by Lovely_RNGreat article and yep I'm burnt out and I didn't even last two years as an LPN. Haven't even worked one day as an RN and I'm not really looking forward to it. Right now becoming an RN is solely about a bigger paycheck and career advancement. It's the only way that I have even a chance to get out of bedside nursing and I knew after my first 30 days as an LPN that I couldn't stay one because the options are just too limited. I can't see myself working for the rest of my working life (30 more years?) as a bedside nurse. I feel guilty about it because I feel like I have an obligation to "serve" as a bedside nurse but at the same time it's killing my soul and changing me into someone I don't like. I give it 5 more years at the most and I'm done.0Jul 28, '09 by thegrayeyedgirlThis is all very disheartening. I am going to start nursing school in a month and I'm already pretty sure I don't want to spend my whole career working in a hospital setting. I can't stand money-hungry corporations. In my previous jobs I've seen greed. But to see it in an organization meant to care for people I would be very disgusted. Is this happening in all hospitals? Has anyone ever worked in a hospital that really does "care"? I need to know...