Nurses face unprecedented risks for burnout

By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant

Kerryanna Elhage is the manager of pediatric hematology-oncology and nephrology at Upstate Golisano Children’s Hospital.

Though the pandemic is now endemic, one of its many lasting effects is even worse staffing issues in healthcare than before.

Add to this combative patients, long hours, changing shifts, emotionally stressful work and plenty of physical challenges and it’s little surprise that nurses face high risk for burnout. Moreover, in addition to these challenges, gender discrimination in the workplace can further exacerbate stress and hinder career advancement opportunities. For female nurses, proving promotion refusal is due to gender discrimination may be an additional obstacle they face in their career progression.

“Nurses work in an inherently stressful industry, doing work that is oriented towards caring for others,” said nurse Kerryanna Elhage. “Historically, our nursing education programs haven’t taught us to care for ourselves although fortunately this is slowly improving.”

Elhage, who is the manager of pediatric hematology-oncology and nephrology at Upstate Golisano Children’s Hospital, said she believes that it is “important we learn how to care for ourselves.”

One way is finding harmony between work and home life, along with “nourishing ourselves with healthy activities, nutritious food and engaging in fun social activities are essential elements for balance.

“Additionally, nurturing positive emotions and a resilient, adaptive mindset can be key to avoiding burnout,” she said. “Happily, we are living at a time where resources such as mindfulness and meditation apps and classes, yoga and other somatic exercises and in-person or online therapies are easily accessible.”

Elhage noted that nurses at Upstate can access numerous resources to help with self-care and wellness.

Tracy Carmody, licensed mental health counselor, is the owner of Paths To Recovery Mental Health Counseling, PLLC, in Baldwinsville and Manlius.

Unfortunately, some nurses turn to substance use and other unhealthy ways to cope. To prevent this and the negative outcomes of unhealthy coping, Tracy Carmody, licensed mental health counselor and master credentialed alcohol and substance abuse counselor, encourages engaging in self-care.

“At its core it can be some basic activities like going to the grocery store and making sure you have food for the week,” Carmody said.

She serves as executive director and owns Paths To Recovery Mental Health Counseling, PLLC, in Baldwinsville and Manlius.

“Selfcare is deliberate,” Carmody added. “It’s easy to compromise yourself when you’re giving to others. Compromising self-results in less than exceptional patient care. Drug and alcohol use among nurses can be higher because of that reactive nature.”

It takes time to work through emotional trauma and nurses use substances to turn off the emotions it stirs up. It’s maladaptive, but it’s faster. Seeking mental healthcare can help deal with workplace trauma in a healthy way. Carmody said that checking in even once a month can make a big difference in mental health.

While some people may think that self-case is about getting facials and things like that, Carmody said it goes deeper, like getting enough sleep.

“The system is set up to create patient fatigue,” Carmody said. “There’s patient abandonment if a patient needs them. But there are ethical requirements to engage in self-care to provide good care and minimize mistakes.”

She also encourages nurses to exercise to combat stress, as it can help with both physical and mental health.

Some nurses who are starting to feel the effects of stress may not even realize it. Carmody calls it “tunnel vision.”

Processing stress with someone else can help ease its effects. Whether a professional therapist or trusted friends, emotional support can assist in diffusing stress.