Avoiding Burnout in Healthcare


Published: 29 April 2020

The word 'burnout' can mean many things.

Stress, fatigue, irritation with yourself or others, hunger, a loss of inspiration or a combination of these can all be symptoms of burnout.

Burnout often occurs in those who have high-stress jobs or tend to view their career as a priority, though anybody can experience it.

Healthcare workers fall into this high-stress category, and burnout is an all-too-common term in our field.

What is Burnout?

Understanding burnout can be key to preventing it.

Burnout can best be defined as an emotionally, physically, and/or mentally exhausted and drained state of mind. This is caused by overextending oneself or an overload of stress.

It can come from a variety of sources - from a traumatic event with a patient to seemingly endless 12-hour shifts, it may not be as easily avoided as you’d think. It can also come from external sources.

Many people who face burnout have pressure coming from their personal life as well. This could be due to illness in the family, strained relationships or even moving house.

It’s important to note that burnout isn’t a sign of weakness; it’s something even the most passionate, selfless people can experience.

So, how can you avoid or prevent it? Here are some tips to help.

stressed nurse burnout

Tips to Avoid Burnout

A good start is knowing your personal limits and levels of stress. Does a long overnight shift tend to leave you physically and mentally exhausted? Or is it a particularly challenging patient?

On an even more basic level: do you prefer working alone or with others, and do staff meetings aggravate you?

It all comes down to personal preference. Think of the thing you dread doing the most; that’s probably the most likely thing to cause burnout. When you identify this particular task or set of tasks, it’s important to start your burnout prevention.

Another large contributor to burnout is loss of purpose. Healthcare professionals each have their own reasons for choosing their profession, but many share the common desire to help people.

Even then, losing purpose is possible. For example, there will be cases where a patient will die, regardless of what you do. This can make some nurses or carers feel like they have no control or power to help, which might make them feel like their job has no purpose.

This could also occur with a patient who is chronically ill and is seeing no relief. If you start to feel this loss of purpose, make sure you take a step back and remember why you chose this job. It might even help to write it down so that you have it easily accessible.

Sometimes it’s hard to pull yourself out of the situations that wear you down the most, but doing so will help you identify and solve them more quickly.

A third contributor to burnout can be your lifestyle. Are you taking work home with you, literally or mentally? Have you taken a vacation recently? Do you constantly feel exhausted?

What about your diet and exercise habits? If it seems like you’re more focused on work and less on your personal life, this might be actively contributing to your burnout.

The best thing to do is to find hobbies and activities that help you decompress and relax. For some, it might be reading a book; for others, it could be going to the gym - it just depends on your personal preference. Doing so will bring you more peace of mind at work and will help you leave the stress at the workplace.

Burnout For Employers

Burnt-out staff is never a good sign. It shows itself negatively to patients, and it can drag your whole team down.

To avoid team burnout, a quality employer invests time and effort into their employees’ mental and physical states of being. Here are some things to look for:

  1. Does someone look tired? Ask them how they’re doing. Let them vent if they want to, but if they instead need to quietly slip away, let them do that as well. Sometimes, just having someone listen to their complaints and worries can help them deal with the situation. Even if they don’t end up venting to you, checking in on them will definitely make them feel better.
  2. Is the workplace a happy place? What can be done to make it better? While it might be difficult to change the environment in a hospital setting, there are still small things you can do to make a difference. For example, start with the break room. Make it a relaxing environment for your staff by offering magazines, books, refreshments and a cheerful atmosphere. Your team will appreciate the chance to take a breather!
  3. Finally, is the workplace functioning properly? Is all of the equipment well maintained and running? Are your staff working in fair, reasonable conditions? Is anyone being compensated unfairly? Make sure you communicate with your employees and let them have a voice. Doing so will ease their stress and make them feel like their needs are being met.


Burnout is a difficult condition to deal with. However, if you spot it early and take all of the necessary steps to prevent it, you can avoid running into it and its negative effects.

Healthcare workers need to make sure they take care of themselves so that they can properly care for their patients, and their employers need to do the same to ensure a healthy work environment for their employees. Doing so will make everyone happier, more sure of the career path they chose, and ready to rise to any challenges that can come up along the way.


Rachel Stires View profile
Rachel Stires is a media relations specialist for the Management Training Institute. She enjoys talking about trends in management and how industry leaders can make the most of the opportunities available to them.