The Impact of High Stress and Burnout on Nursing

April 1, 2021
April 1, 2021

For years, polls have shown that Americans view nurses as having the highest honesty and ethical standards of all professions—not only among healthcare professions, such as doctors, pharmacists, and dentists—but all major professions. Given this overwhelming admiration for nurses, why don’t more people gravitate toward the calling? Why do we continue to see nurses leaving the profession in growing numbers? 

Exhaustion and a Lack of Work-Life Balance

Kronos Inc. recently conducted a survey of 257 nurses, finding that 98% of nurses in the U.S. say their work is physically and mentally exhausting, and 90% have considered leaving their jobs to find something offering better work-life balance (Safety+Health, 2017). The leading causes mentioned were excessive workloads, the inability to take breaks, even for meals, and a lack of sleep between shifts. Just over a quarter of nurses said they have called in sick just so they could stay home and sleep.

A seasoned ER nurse recalls working 7/7 many years ago: “You needed to be superhuman to work those hours, and it took a full 24 hours to recover mentally and physically. I really messed up my brain rhythms. My personality changed, and I became depressed. Now I’m exhausted after working four 12-hour shifts. ER work requires you to brainwash yourself to stay immune to exhaustion.”

Expanded Complexity of Job Requirements

Exhaustion is just one part of the problem. Frustration with the number of job requirements that are not patient-facing is another stressor for nurses. A nurse interviewed for this article describes it this way:

“The amount of charting a nurse has to do outweighs the face-to-face interaction with patients. If a patient complains of pain, for example, the nurse not only has to go into the charting system to chart the pain, but open the MAR to check on medications, then chart on those meds in both the MAR and in the computer system, then in the chart. I understand that correct documentation needs to be completed to ensure appropriate use of narcotics. However, the mass confusion and repeated charting in multiple and redundant systems takes up time. Charting in general is redundant, repetitive, and takes away from [direct] patient care,” she says.

Paperwork Is a Problem

In this nurse’s view, the reasons for the amount of paperwork are “legal or political.” She recalls staying after the end of shifts to complete paperwork to ensure her duties did not fall to the next shift and to avoid write-ups from her supervisors. 

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Safety+Health, The Official Magazine of the National Safety Council Congress and Expo. (2017). “Survey of nurses shows fatigue causing many to consider leaving current job.” Retrieved from