Balancing Work & Life as a Nurse

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Burnout is a real, albeit manageable, concern for many professionals, including nurses. This under-addressed condition, characterized by cynicism, low sense of achievement and lack of career engagement, hinders nurses from providing the highest level of care for their patients. Addressing burnout before it affects job performance helps these medical professionals enjoy long, happy careers and treat each case to the best of their abilities.

Nurse typing on a laptop

Unfortunately, instances of burnout have been on the upswing for some time. According to a survey from Medscape, claims of burnout jumped over 25 percent during the four years between 2013 and 2017. Participants were asked to rate the severity of their burnout a scale of 1 to 7, where 1 meant “It does not interfere with my life” and 7 equaled “It is so severe that I am thinking of leaving medicine altogether.” Ratings ranged from a 3.9 to 4.6, indicating the majority of medical professionals are more impacted by burnout than not.

Burnout can be magnified in nursing, as well, as many professionals face what is described as compassion fatigue. This is when nurses feel ill or emotionally distressed due to their emotional connections with patients, including those coping with chronic illness, serious trauma, or other significant medical events. One key to preventing and reversing burnout is to establish and maintain a healthy work-life balance. Below are five tips to help nurses get started:

1. Take a Break From Your Work

At a time when professional productivity is so heavily prioritized, taking a break seems like a leisurely indulgence. This is especially true in the health care profession where there is no shortage of paperwork to complete or patients to see. Yet several university studies show taking a break enhances creativity and maximizes focus. The act of taking a break from work actually makes nurses more efficient when they return.

There is no consensus on how frequently or how long nurses should take periodic breaks, but getting outside every two hours or so is a good way to lower stress levels, maintain focus and feel more in control at work.

2. Find a Support Group

According to a report published in the National Center for Biotechnology Information, there are multiple studies that show the value in support groups for reducing stress among nurses. In addition, nurses who felt more stress were more likely to seek out social support structures from coworkers or managers.

Across the studies outlined by the NCBI report, a common result was that there was a direct benefit on nurses’ reduced stress levels due to participation in support groups, along with indications of increased productivity within an organization.

Therefore, it’s not unrealistic to suggest that nurses should look for support in times of stress, either from a direct supervisor or colleague, or in a group setting. This is one way nurses can counter effects of burnout and maintain a balance between work and life.

3. Commit to Time for Oneself

Nurses must commit to separating personal time from work time. While it is excellent that nurses are dedicated to their jobs and patients, it is also crucial that nurses make time at home for themselves. Without constant vigilance, it becomes all too easy to let work assignments encroach on personal time.

On that note, however, nurses must treat their work time similarly and not address personal matters while on the clock – except in the event of an emergency. Phones, magazines and similar distractions should be stored away until it is time to take a break. It is better for nurses to focus fully on the task at hand – charting, rounds and the like.

4. Monitor Your Commitments

Of course, it is hard to afford free time if a person constantly accepts new assignments. While many people feel compelled to say “yes” to new opportunities as often as possible, accepting every single one easily leads these individuals to spread themselves too thin.

The solution isn’t to stop agreeing to things entirely. Rather, it is to monitor what one says “yes” to. Nurses should evaluate every opportunity that comes their way and accept ones that meet at least one of the following criteria:

  • Provides a tangible benefit
  • Assists career goals
  • Offers enjoyment
  • Could improve patient outcomes

Nurses, by nature, are selfless. However, by being particular about their commitments, nurses avoid overloading themselves with too much work and running the risk of negatively impacting their performances through fatigue or stress.

5. Track Time

Once a general plan for balancing work and life has been established, nurses should monitor the time they spend on each of their assignments. It is easy to spend too much time at work or on break, especially when one gets engrossed in a task. Tracking this time reveals how much effort certain issues require and allows nurses to prioritize accordingly. For example, if a student dedicated 30 minutes per night to studying but doesn’t feel like he or she has learned the material after working for an hour, that person needs to reevaluate his or her schedule. Even if a person accurately predicts how much time they need for assignments, keeping an eye on the time helps them honor their commitment to work, school and personal life.

Many people are quick to ignore the importance of a healthy work-life balance, believing that dedicating time to oneself selfishly inhibits productivity. However, only by finding such a balance can nurses maintain a positive outlook and provide quality patient care. In addition, as the American Medical Association noted, maintaining work-life balance is part of increasing resilience (the ability to bounce back after times of stress or adversity). No medical profession is without stress, but having time to decompress allows nurses to better handle such occasions when they occur.

About Duquesne’s Online Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) Program

The Duquesne University School of Nursing is top ranked in U.S. News and World Report’s 2017 Best Online Graduate Nursing Programs. The MSN program offers three areas of specialization: Forensic Nursing, Family (Individual Across the Lifespan) Nurse Practitioner, and Nursing Education and Faculty Role. For more information, visit DU’s MSN program website.