Tips on Dealing With Burnout in Nursing School
The nursing profession faces a growing staffing crisis as nurses leave the field in droves. Burnout or career fatigue are well-known drivers of this change. Nursing school burnout is just as real as in the workplace. Discover four strategies to help you combat feelings of burnout in nursing school and beyond.
- According to a 2022 National Nursing Workforce Study, an estimated 800,000 RNs, or 20% of the workforce, indicated they are leaving the profession by 2027.
- Half of the survey respondents reported feeling drained, fatigued, or burned out at least a few times a week.
- Early-career nurses accounted for 24% of RNs expected to depart, with burnout and stress as the leading culprits.
Burnout is a phenomenon that many professionals experience, but it's particularly prevalent in healthcare. Research shows that burnout is one of the most common reasons nurses leave their jobs and nursing students leave school.
Learn four tactics to help nursing students fight burnout, cultivate optimism, and regain equilibrium.
Nursing School Challenges
Nursing school was tough long before the pandemic, though the COVID-19 pandemic certainly added to the strain. The dropout rate varies significantly based on the degree type. But, recent data from the National League for Nursing shows an average dropout rate of 20% among bachelor's in nursing students.
Rigorous academic curricula and grueling hours make burnout more likely — it's also more difficult for many nursing students to find balance. There are many reasons students may drop out of school, including:
- Time management
- Subpar study skills
- Inadequate self-care
- Financial burdens
- Family obligations
- Lack of support
- Difficulty managing stress
These factors can compound the stresses of nursing school and increase the risk of burnout even further.
Burnout in nursing often manifests as emotional and physical exhaustion caused by the practical, systemic, and environmental realities of the job. This is exacerbated when nurses and students witness or must participate in something that conflicts with their values or beliefs, such as providing inadequate care because of staffing or resource shortages.
These problems are very real, but so are the coping tools available to nursing students today.
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4 Tips on Dealing with Burnout in Nursing School
Your work as a nurse is vital. Cultivating the skills to handle stress and burnout will help you be a better nurse for your patients, yourself, and your teammates.
1 | Know Your "Why"
Chances are you applied to nursing school because you want to help people, which speaks volumes about your character. But dig deeper into the reason you chose nursing.
Knowing why you started this journey will help you overcome inevitable moments of difficulty and doubt. Whether you fail an exam or struggle with a clinical skill, staying grounded and remembering your professional "North Star" will help you navigate the situation.
Remind yourself that it’s normal to struggle. Remembering why you started and that your work is invaluable makes a real difference.
2 | Explore Your Options
There has long been a general sentiment that hospitals are the best place to start a nursing career. While acute care medicine offers many learning and professional opportunities, it’s certainly not the only practice setting for nurses. Finding the right setting can help you get a handle on nursing school burnout.
Your nursing license can open many doors for you. If the thought of working in the hospital doesn’t appeal to you, research the different career options for nurses. Remember, there is no one way to be a nurse. No matter where your career takes you, there are endless ways to use your nursing license to help others — that also fit your idea of a healthy work environment.
3 | Be the Change
Nursing students with burnout may feel daunted by their educational pathway and the healthcare system beyond it — and there’s not much one person can do about either of those realities.
For nursing to change, nurses and nursing students like you must use your voice. Join a nursing student organization at your school where you can connect with other students who share your concerns and passions.
As a licensed nurse, you also have the opportunity to work in unit councils, labor rights organizations, committees, and institutions changing healthcare for the better. Remember: you are respected in your community, and you have an opinion worth hearing.
According to Dolores Huerta, civil rights and labor union leader, "Every moment is an organizing opportunity, every person a potential activist, every minute a chance to change the world."
4 | Set Boundaries
One of the biggest contributors to nurse burnout is the guilt that comes with providing inadequate care, usually because of constraints that go beyond any individual care provider. Throughout the pandemic, units across the country were extremely short-staffed, and this placed a huge strain on the staff that remained.
While it’s noble to care deeply for your patients and coworkers, you as an individual are not single-handedly responsible for staffing your hospital. Learn how to say no to unwanted extra shifts and responsibilities. It can be difficult, and you may need to pick your spots, but this desire can go a long way toward preventing burnout.
The practice of boundary setting can start in nursing school. Consider politely declining events, student organization activities, or invitations that aren’t aligned with your current capabilities. This can prevent you from getting overwhelmed and help you focus on what matters most.
Last but certainly not least, if you’re struggling with school, work, stress, or mental health, ask for help. Many nursing schools have mental health counselors or referral networks, tutoring services, and peer support. Speak with your academic advisor, trusted professor, or fellow student to get started.
Nursing school burnout is real, but so are the rewards that await. Keep your main goals in mind, let go of what you can't control, and remember why you entered one of the world's noblest professions in the first place.
National Nursing Workforce Study. (2022). NCSBN.org
Nursing Shortage. (2022). AACNnursing.org
Shah, Megha K., et al. Prevalence of and Factors Associated With Nurse Burnout in the US. (2021). Jamanetwork.com
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