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The Cost of Nurse Burnout

The cost of nurse burnout.

Nursing can be stressful. The hours are long, and the work is physically and emotionally demanding — all of which can lead to nurse burnout. This is an important issue for nurses, but it also affects patients and nurses’ employers. Fortunately, there are ways to cope with the stressors that cause nurse burnout.

Defining Burnout

Understanding burnout is the first step toward addressing it. It is not a disease but rather a condition that results from prolonged physical, mental and emotional stress. Burnout is common in caregiving and assistive professions such as nursing. Symptoms of burnout include exhaustion, pain, decreased productivity, a sense of being overwhelmed, negativity and depression.

Consequences of Burnout

When nurses get burned out, job performance suffers. Stressed nurses can be less attentive, which can lead to an increase in problems such as hospital-acquired infections. This is a steep price to pay when it is easy to avoid burnout.

Nurse Retention

When healthcare managers staff enough nurses for adequate coverage, patients receive more attentive care, which helps prevent many avoidable health problems and improves nurse retention, which should be a primary focus for nurse leaders and administrators.

Appropriate Work Schedules

Healthcare organizations can prevent nurse burnout by ensuring that nurses’ shifts are reasonable and that they don’t have to work too many in any given week. This may require hiring more nurses, or it might mean simply rearranging schedules to ensure each nurse works a reasonable number of hours.

Education and Prevention

Preventing and addressing burnout should be a top priority; preventing burnout is much more effective than trying to fix it. Hospitals should educate nurses about burnout by providing informative literature, hosting seminars and leading discussions. Managers should watch for the signs of burnout, such as lethargy and inattention, and they should be aware of nurses’ workloads and responsibilities.

Supervisors can also play an active role by informing nurses about burnout prevention strategies. Ways to prevent burnout involve self-care (such as getting adequate sleep), eating a nutrient-dense diet, exercise and stress management.

Without prevention strategies, burnout can occur quickly. If this happens, addressing the situation in a timely manner is key. The nurse should work with a qualified healthcare provider to diagnose and address the issue.

Because burnout is prevalent in stressful professions like nursing, and because its consequences are so serious, it pays to address this issue right away. Administrators, nurse leaders and even nurses themselves should strive to recognize and eliminate burnout in every healthcare environment.

Learn more about the UT Arlington online MSN in Nursing Administration program.


Johnson. O. (2013, September 6). What is “nurse burnout?” American Nurses Association

Jones, C. B., & Gates, M. (2007, September 30). The costs and benefits of nurse turnover: A business case for nurse retention. The Online Journal of Issues in Nursing

Wood, D. (2012, August 3). Nurse understaffing and burnout linked to more hospital infections. AMN Healthcare

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