Marshmallows and Burnout (A Traveler's Perspective)

Published

The term burnout is used so much it seems to have lost its impact. My time as a travel nurse has allowed me to gain a unique perspective I would like to share. I invite you to think about the impact burnout could be having in your life and consider how to lessen its effects. Key to this process is willingness to take action and assess how and where you're burning out.

Specializes in Open Heart Recovery, Trauma/Burn, Tele. Has 13 years experience.

Marshmallows and Burnout (A Traveler's Perspective)

New Adventure

Being a travel nurse for eight years was one of the most challenging and personally rewarding experiences of my life. On my journeys I laughed many times, cried more than a few, and was transformed as I cared for cardiac, burn, and trauma patients in 18 hospitals nationally. My journeys took me from the beaches of South Florida to the New York area (just before 9/11), to lively Austin, hot Arizona, hip West Hollywood, and dazzling Las Vegas.

Packing up my 1997 Jeep Wrangler and beginning a new adventure always excited and scared me at the same time. I guess it was the unknown that held the allure. Never knowing what the provided housing was going to be like, how the new city would feel, how the unit at the hospital was going to function, and what unruly physicians I might encounter. It was all so wonderful...for a while.

The Open Road

One of the inspirational and profound aspects of being able to travel by car was the joy of getting on the open road and simply driving. Not five or six hours, but twenty-two to twenty-eight hours. Those really long cross country drives allowed significant amounts of time to simply think.

As my Jeep buzzed from large city, to suburbs, to the outskirts, to the vastness of what seemed like nothingness, I reveled in the simplicity of just being behind the wheel. Driving was very purifying and allowed me to escape, to expand my mind, and to see my life from a new perspective.

After I accepted an assignment in Scottsdale, Arizona I once again found my place on the mind clearing open road. As I journeyed from the Midwest through the nation's breadbasket to western Texas and into New Mexico, I began to see a parallel between the changing landscape and the development of my own burnout.

The start of my journey was fresh, new and forest green much like the cornfields of Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois. But as I soldiered on, the newness and initial joy I once experienced began to fade to a muted and stale tan color, much like the rocky and dry, deserted plains of western Texas. As I made my way into the Southwest, I was amazed at the beauty of the variegated rocks that were millions of years old. I was struck by the starkness, isolation, and harshness of the landscape that mirrored myself. Could I see beauty in my own burnout like the stunning beauty of what was right outside my dusty Jeep window? Was that even possible?

Head in the Sand

But instead of listening to my heart and refilling my tanks, what did I do? Likely the same thing that others do, I stuck my head in the sand, ignored the feelings of being burned out and continued on. Isn't that what we as nurses as supposed to do? Pretend it doesn't exist, ignore its nasty effects, be a martyr and soldier on.

No wonder burnout causes so much destruction because we're far too busy (taking orders, giving meds, documenting everything under the sun, being a patient advocate, being screamed at by doctors and family members, having an excessive number of patients among a ton of other responsibilities) to pay attention to how we are really doing, to how we are caring or not caring for ourselves, and to how we are coping with a highly stressful work environment.

The Beach

One of my last travel nurse assignments was in Orange County, California with its sweeping and majestic views of the Pacific. I worked on a busy telemetry unit with an endless flow of patients being admitted from the Emergency Room. But my favorite part of being in Orange County was the beach. Ahhhh...the beautiful and warm sands of Huntington Beach seemed to call my name even when I was admitting patients. I can still hear the seagulls crowing and the waves lapping on the shore. I wasn't into surfing, I was into having beach bonfires and eating really tasty food. My favorite was bacon wrapped shrimp. Yum!

Around the circle of the beach bonfire typically sat between ten to fifteen other hungry nurses who obviously enjoyed the beach as well. They really seemed to savor every minute just being there, being away from the craziness of their units, away from the business of their Southern California lives. Simply away. That's what the beach bonfires provided.

As the evening drew to a close, others started to rustle around in their bags of beach treats and pulled out making for S'mores. I have always loved them, especially the warm sugary goodness of chocolate mixing with a perfectly golden marshmallow that oozes out the side when you bite through the graham cracker. Perfection!

Everyone knows the first step to creating that delicious treat is to roast the marshmallow carefully. I watched as everyone skewered their marshmallows and hovered them over the flames. A few of the nurses payed close attention to ensure their marshmallows were toasted to a perfect golden brown, some only occasionally glanced down at their marshmallows, and some didn't pay any attention at all. Screaming and yelling quickly ensued as about two thirds of the roasters had a marshmallow that was engulfed in flames and were desperately trying to blow them out. Meanwhile, the attentive others were calmly assembling their tasty dessert and laughing at the calamity of their peers.

The Raw Mallow

Just like the changing colors of the scenery being a reflection of my own burnout, the process of marshmallow roasting was like the development of burnout. At the beginning, all of the marshmallows were pristinely white and unblemished, but as heat was added, it began to have an impact. The sugar molecules gradually heated up and over the period of a few minutes started to create a progressive browning effect. Soon, the sugar begins to burn and be replaced with carbon. Eventually, inattention develops into an out of control fiery blaze-up leaving a version of ourselves we no longer recognize.

At this point we are left with a two choices, we can choose to pull off that charred and smoking outer layer to reveal our white and unblemished inner core or we can leave it undisturbed. Leaving our blackened shell intact will likely lead to us feeling used up, drained, frustrated, angry, and callous. The choice is ours, but we must take action to reveal the beauty that lies within. We must take an active role in educating ourselves about what burnout actually is, what it can do, where and how it is impacting us and learn strategies to lessen its effect in our lives. Only then can we begin to bounce back from burnout and create lives filled with more purpose, more love, more compassion, and more fulfillment.

I was fortunate to have the opportunity to pull off my burnt and blackened layer. And when I did, I discovered my gooey, loving and compassionate inner core. I knew it was still there, but had lost touch with it during my time traveling mainly due to my own inattention and ignorance. My burnout recovery meant not traveling anymore and moving away from the bedside and into a role that was a better fit. I will always be thankful for my time being a travel nurse and feel truly blessed to have bounced back from burnout.

Hello, I'm a former RN who made the career transition out of nursing and into a role that was a better fit. For me, Career Coaching was an excellent option. Now, I work with nurses to assess their current level of burnout, workplace mismatch, and co-create solutions to re-energize and experience more joy and sanity. For those who are totally fed up with nursing and want out, I also specialize in career transition. During my 13 years bedside I worked in various positions from a cardiac stepdown, to open heart recovery. Then, decided to be a travel nurse and see the amazing USA. As a traveler I did assignments in 8 states (mainly sunny ones as was trying to avoid snowy Northwest Ohio) and at 18 hospitals nationally. An amazing and profound experience I highly recommend.

2 Articles   19 Posts

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

8 Comment(s)

compassionresearcher

Specializes in Pediatrics, Women's Health, Education. Has 20 years experience.

Very creative way to look at this. Thanks for the article!

CardiacDork, BSN, RN

Specializes in Critical Care. Has 7 years experience.

Thank you for this article!

Nice descriptive essay. you must have gotten an A+ on your English Composition.

I wonder...is there a way to recover from burnout without leaving the bedside? I feel like Everytime a read a post like this one it ends in the same way. Is there hope for bedside nurses?

MattRN95

Specializes in Open Heart Recovery, Trauma/Burn, Tele. Has 13 years experience.

Absolutely! Thanks for your comment hs. I think burnout recovery is truly a personal journey and I fully believe there are effective ways to recover while at the bedside. Being able to really define what burnout means for you is an important first step as is the important question you posed.

There are many dimensions to burnout and it can be tough to say just do this or do that to recover. I believe it's more complex than that; like any path to self improvement, it takes alot of effort, willingness to change, to see your situation differently, to look at your options, and what you really want for your future.

That said, knowing burnout is basically lost energy, lost enthusiasm, feeling used up, powerless, exhausted, cynical, etc...can be a guide to developing ways to gain back energy and enthusiasm, to build personal power through changing mindsets, being mindful of what you're putting in your body and how you're caring for it.

In healthcare, there are alot of things that are truly out of our control which can lead to powerlessness (a big factor in burnout), but one thing that isn't is ourselves. I know it might sound hokey, but it's true, how we think, respond to situations, communicate with coworkers, and how we manage stress is all under our control.

Before transitioning out, the practice of Gratitude played a big role in helping me through the last few years of my career. Sounds simple, but involves making a list of the things you are truly grateful for and daily reciting the list. This made a huge difference for me. It might for you too.

Hope this helps. :)

Edited by MattRN95
Didnt see other text at bottom

Marisette, BSN, RN

Specializes in Registered Nurse. Has 28 years experience.

This is the best description of burn out that I have encountered !

"That said, knowing burnout is basically lost energy, lost enthusiasm, feeling used up, powerless, exhausted, cynical, etc...can be a guide to developing ways to gain back energy and enthusiasm, to build personal power through changing mindsets, being mindful of what you're putting in your body and how you're caring for it. "

"In healthcare, there are alot of things that are truly out of our control which can lead to powerlessness (a big factor in burnout), but one thing that isn't is ourselves. I know it might sound hokey, but it's true, how we think, respond to situations, communicate with coworkers, and how we manage stress is all under our control. "

Is being powerless really within a nurses control? How does one respond to the feeling of being abused or taken advantage of and still maintain employment. I worked for an employer numerous years, all the time tolerating unfair, and unsafe working conditions until I finally spoke up for myself. In response, my employer made things harder for me so I would leave. Now working, elsewhere and feeling the same way. Now I'm the "new" kid on the block getting the brunt of the work with lower pay and benefits. I ask myself, is this burnout, bad luck, attitude. I just can't convince my mind this is acceptable. The only gratitude I feel is that I'm still employed. I don't work at the bedside, but the feeling of burn out has been lingering for awhile now.

Edited by Marisette
spelling

MattRN95

Specializes in Open Heart Recovery, Trauma/Burn, Tele. Has 13 years experience.

Hi Marisette,

Thanks for your comment. I applaud you for standing up for yourself; more people need to do this. You have more personal power than you realize. Unfortunately, there are far too many toxic work environments that are rotten to the core. While some places are better than others, you shouldn't have to endure unsafe working conditions. This sounds more like a rotten work situation and not so much like personal burnout.

Hope this helps.