CHAPEL HILL (July 28, 2021) – Nurses were already in short supply two years ago. Add a global pandemic unlike anything seen in a century, with long hours and, for some, repeated patient deaths, and nurses’ stresses only mounted.
That had dramatic costs in both human and financial terms.
“Burnout is serious,” Dr. Cheryl Jones, Professor in the School of Nursing at UNC Chapel Hill, says in the accompanying video.
“The pandemic has really taken its toll on nurses,” Jones says. “However, nursing as a profession has always been prone to burnout. We are with patients at their most vulnerable times – when they come into the world, and when they leave the world, and anything in between.”
The emotions can range from complete joy and elation to utter devastation, she says. And when nurses repeatedly face such emotional lows, they’re at risk for burnout.
DR. CHERYL GISCOMBE, an Associate Dean and Professor at the School of Nursing, is dually trained in nursing and psychology. It’s common for caregivers to prioritize care for others, Giscombe says.
“And so then they don’t leave enough time for self-care – or they think self-care is self-ish,” she says.
Colleagues and counselors can help nurses see that taking time for themselves is better for their patients, Giscombe says, suggesting they focus on the original reason they went into nursing – and how long they can do it.
If nurses take care of themselves, “You can do this longer,” she says. “It’ll be truncated if you don’t take care of yourself. You can help them see self-care is not selfish – self-care is actually philanthropic. Because when you give to yourself, it gives you more wherewithal to help other people.”
Nurses have made difficult decisions through the pandemic about meeting the needs of both their families and their patients, says Jones.
“Burnout is a predictor of turnover. What we know is that burnout has increased, and because burnout affects turnover, we may likely see an increase in turnover,” she says.
In addition to the emotional costs, that turnover has a steep financial cost.
Citing a study she conducted a decade ago, Jones says it can cost $82,000 to $88,000 to hire temporary help, advertise, recruit and train another nurse.
“When a nurse leaves, it could range somewhat above $80,000 to replace them,” she says.