by Donni Alvarenga, Nurse Practitioner and Entrepreneur
It’s no secret that nurses are at high risk for burnout. According to Vahey, Aiken, and Vargas (2004), nursing burnout is a “syndrome of emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and reduced personal accomplishment.” It is associated with negative health outcomes for nurses such as “psychological distress, somatic complaints, and alcohol and drug abuse.” In this blog post, Greg Hunter and Beth Boynton suggest burnout is not good for anyone since it also contributes to poor patient outcomes.
Many nurses are feeling exhausted, dissatisfied, and burned out. With more and more nurses experiencing the symptoms of burnout, I wonder if they are now being perceived as the expected norm of a nursing career? The perception of burnout as an expected norm is a slippery slope that can contribute to a worsening problem by becoming part of the culture. We must challenge our beliefs of what is normal to keep that from happening. Is it possible that as a nurse, what you believe is normal and acceptable is really not? Here are a few questions to challenge existing beliefs:
- Is it possible that although you might believe it is normal to never feel like there is enough time to do the things that you enjoy, that it really isn’t?
- Is it possible that you believe it is normal to feel anxiety and fear as you drive into work, but it really isn’t?
- Is it possible that you feel like you don’t have the choice to experience work-life balance in how you make a living, but that you really do?
- Is it possible that you believe it is normal to take care of everyone else but yourself, but it really isn’t?
Until we see every aspect of the burnout experience as a problem, we are in danger of existing in a life less than fulfilling. We settle for survival by thinking it’s normal and expected to just survive. But that is not normal. I would therefore like to propose a new norm. IT IS possible to thrive in life as a nurse! I have experienced the possibilities of a healthier and more fulfilled nursing career myself by becoming a health coach and learning how to take better care of myself while I care for others, all while making the kind of income that meets my family’s needs. I have experienced a new kind of normal and this is what it looks like:
- It IS possible to make a living AND have time for your family and the things that are important to you.
- It IS possible to make a living doing something you love – without experiencing anxiety at the thought of doing it.
- It IS possible to make a living in life without sacrificing what is most important to you.
- It IS possible to leverage your passion for nursing to make a living while enjoying flexibility.
I have a dream that more and more nurses will experience and promote this new norm in nursing. As more nurses embrace their full potential and take better care of their health and well being, I believe it can happen. I created the Facebook Group and blog, Nursing Outside the Box, to help establish this new reality by empowering nurses to find more purpose, balance, and flexibility in what they do for a living.
In our upcoming ebook, The Extraordinary Life: How Nurses are Going from Surviving to Thriving, David Bush and I outline the steps I and several other nurses are taking to create this new norm.
So how can we collectively create this the new norm for nurses? By individually taking the following steps:
- Acknowledge that barely surviving is a problem.
- Identify what thriving means to you. Don’t decide what you want to your career to look like. Decide what you want your life to look like.
- Find those that are doing what you want to do and living the way you want to live.
- Do what they do.
Will you join me in helping reset the expectation of what is normal in Nursing?