UF Nursing Researchers Explore Tactics to Combat First-Year Nurse Burnout

Charmaine Robinson, MSN-Ed, RN
Updated July 20, 2023
    New graduate nurses are leaving the profession due to burnout. Nursing students may be next in line. Explore what one university is doing to help.
    Tired nurse taking a break outsideCredit: Getty Images
    • New graduate nurses are leaving the profession within the first year due to high stress and lack of support.
    • University of Florida researchers are exploring ways to prevent new graduate nurse burnout and high turnover rates.
    • Nursing school burnout is real and can interfere with job preparation and the transition from student to nurse.

    Burnout is like a thief on a mission. Just when we thought it had reached its highest potential — removing thousands of nurses from the profession — it has crept into the life of the nursing student.

    Researchers at University of Florida (UF) are exploring ways to alleviate the problem in hopes of creating a more manageable clinical training experience for both nursing students and new graduate nurses.

    Nursing School Burnout: The Problem

    Nursing school is demanding, time-consuming, and highly stressful, which can lead to academic burnout.

    A 2022 study in BMC Medical Education found that nursing students often experienced anxiety, depression, and stress at higher rates than students in other majors. In addition, medical and nursing students experienced burnout more than other students due to the difficult curriculum and pressure for professional performance.

    Significant workloads, competition with peers, inflexible curriculum, and preparation for the state nursing exams also contribute to the high stress that nursing students experience. The high stress leads to burnout which can negatively impact student performance.

    Academic burnout can cause psychological, physical, emotional, attitude, and behavioral problems.

    Negative effects of academic burnout include:

    • Weakness and insomnia
    • Anxiety and depression
    • Hostility and distrust
    • Aggression and nervousness
    • Emotional exhaustion from study demands
    • Apathetic/cynical attitude toward studying
    • Incompetence and loss of confidence

    Most concerning, the study reveals that academic burnout is a significant factor in predicting psychological well-being and interferes with job preparation and transition to a professional role.

    The American Nurses Association reported that almost 18% of new graduate nurses leave the profession within one year for reasons including stressful working conditions and lack of supervision.

    When nursing students receive support on their path from student to nurse, new nurse turnover rates decrease, ultimately helping to alleviate the national nursing shortage.

    Seeking Answers

    UF nursing researchers aimed to discover how new graduate nurses fared during the COVID-19 pandemic.

    Bryce Catarelli, DNP, APRN, FNP-C, Patrick Nobles, DNP, APRN, FNP-BC, CNL, and Michael Aull, MSN, RN, CEN, surveyed nurses across the UF Health System and found that although the newer nurses were at an increased risk of leaving the profession, many reported feeling resilient when facing stress.

    The team explored how initiatives focused on reducing burnout and promoting resilience in new nurses might help to improve retention rates.

    “Turnover becomes a huge problem for institutions where the overall ‘working experience’ is not positive,” said Aull.

    Their strategy to support new graduate nurses includes:

    • Widespread changes in workplace culture
    • Improvement in job satisfaction
    • Mentoring/residency programs
    • Mental health support programs for new grads

    “If health systems can find new ways to meaningfully integrate these support systems at both the unit and hospital level, that would make a world of difference in improving retention rates,” said Aull.

    In fact, the team found that UF Health already had systems in place to support both nursing students and new grads.

    UF nursing students have the opportunity to build mentoring relationships with staff nurses at UF Health Jacksonville. The students work one-on-one with nurses to ensure clinical success.

    UF Health nurse residency programs are already in place for new graduate nurses. Catarelli cited residency programs as the number one way to increase new graduate nurse job satisfaction. These programs have been shown to improve seamless transitions to practice and better nurse retention rates.

    UF Health also provides wellness resources to its nurses and encourages safe workloads and working environments.

    [New graduate nurses] are the future of the nursing profession, and we want to do our best to ensure they have the resources they need to be successful,” said Catarelli.

    There is currently no implementation timeline for any changes.