A recent study by the International Council of Nurses found that burnout rates in Nursing were 40 percent before the pandemic – and now the figure has grown to 70 percent (Jan. 2021).
But statistics rarely motivate change because they are impersonal. That study was three months ago, and I still haven’t heard it on the news.
Stories, however, resonate at a deeper level and have been powerful teachers for millennia because they connect us with our values.
Melissa Cortez now identifies as a “recovering ICU nurse.” She quit nursing to start a business helping nurses cope with stress and burnout.
As the only Spanish-speaking nurse in a ward of 40 patients, and a traveler in Boston responding to the pandemic, Melissa was constantly asked to translate for patients that needed to be ventilated. Since the disparities in our country are so grossly unequal, it didn’t take long until one day every single patient needed a translator. Maybe it was that day? Maybe having to translate for all 40 patients and hear the same desperate words got to her soul? “But I have to go to work tomorrow,” each patient pleaded, deeply dedicated to providing for their families.
We have a tendency as a nation and as a profession to understand and rationalize the impact of the pandemic on nurses, as well as the over 3000 caregivers who have died. But things weren’t alright at 40 percent… or 70 percent. Nurses are suffering.
Here’s what you can do:
- Be dauntless. Never minimize the impact that you have on your work environment – especially your relationship with your peers. Say what you see. Speak your truth at all times no matter what the risk. As Brene Brown says, “chose courage over comfort”. https://www.amazon.com/Dauntless-Nurse-Communications-Confidence-Builder/dp/1537277243/ref=sr_1_1?dchild=1&keywords=the+dauntless+nurse&qid=1617045120&sr=8-1
- Be aware that the problem is our health care structure. We created a system where hospitals too often must prioritize finances above all else to exist. This system drives our staffing grids/ratios, which are the greatest stressor. The current structure will never empower and care for nurses, or allow them to practice to their full scope – this creates moral distress because it is not aligned with nurses’ values. Imagine a different system where nurses are recognized at the experts they are at the point of care and call all the shots! (https://nursestransforminghealthcare.org/)
- Be politically active. A phone call or email takes ONE minute. Let your representatives know your reality and how you feel about fact that there is still not enough staffing or PPE equipment after a year. https://www.house.gov/representatives
- Care for your peers with kind words and compliment a co-worker every single day. Take a very deep breath three times when you are overwhelmed (this literally changes your physiological response). Ask for help when you need it and know beyond a doubt that self-care is the most important priority.
- Tell your stories to your family and community. By doing so, you educate all those around you with the reality of the issues nurses face every day.
Every time a nurse does any of the above, we contribute to the creation of a different story… a story where nurses are respected and supported by the public and our legislature; a story where burnout decreases significantly because we have the resources needed to do our jobs; a story where Nurses are recognized as critical to the health of our country and our economy.
Kathleen Bartholomew, RN, MN, is an internationally recognized patient safety and health culture expert. Kathleen has spoken on leadership, communication, patient safety, and peer relationships to hospital executives and nurse leaders for twenty years.
All of her books come from her passion to understand the stories of nurses. Her books, “Ending Nurse to Nurse Hostility” and “Speak Your Truth” illuminate our relationships with our peers and physician partners. She is also co-author of “The Dauntless Nurse” which was written as a communication confidence builder.
Kathleen is also a guest Op Ed writer to the Seattle Times and has been interviewed twice on NPR’s “People’s Pharmacy”. Her Tedx Talk calls for changing our belief system from a hierarchy to equality in order to keep our patients safe – and also explains how disaster thrust her into ‘the best profession ever’.