3 Reasons For Perioperative Nurse Burnout

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3 Reasons For Perioperative Nurse Burnout


Burnout…it’s not something that a new perioperative nurse thinks will ever happen to them and you can’t even imagine a day when your job won’t be full of excitement. Yet, many nurses struggle with feeling tired, overwhelmed, and anxious at their job and it often doesn’t take long. Burnout can be a real problem in healthcare and can really bring down the attitudes of you and your coworkers, and create an environment where patient care begins to suffer. 

So what are the major potential causes for a surgery nurse to get to a place where she or he is feeling stressed, anxious or even ready to quit? In my experience, there are three things that usually contribute to this feeling: understaffing, feeling like other team members take their frustrations out on you (i.e. surgeons who are angry or other shifts not happy with your shift, for example), and not feeling heard or cared about by management. 



Staffing in the operating room can be a balancing act that is never quite right. Have too many staff members and the facility is wasting money and people are sitting around. Have too little staff and everyone is trying to keep up with a skeleton crew. You never quite know exactly how many cases you’ll do daily (especially in a hospital setting), so staffing is usually scheduled based on averages of years past and can also depend heavily on how many FTEs (full-time employees)  a department is allotted. Working in a surgery center type facility offers the ability to plan the schedule and predict caseload but things can change quickly if staff members are out on FMLA for example or need to call in sick. When you already work with a small crew, having one or two people out makes a huge impact.



Dealing with coworkers or physicians who are upset or have expectations that you can’t seem to meet, can be a difficult burden that seems to continue no matter what you try. Healthcare today seems to be changing from years past and is less focused on quality time with your patients, and more on numbers and dollars. This way of thinking and practicing, I feel, causes a cascade effect of problems. For example, there is a high priority today on “turn-over times” and speed in the operating room. This leads to team members having to very quickly get one patient out, turn the room over, and get the next patient in. All the while, you haven’t had ample time to research the next patient’s history and rarely get more than a couple of minutes of facetime with them, before it’s time to roll back into the OR. Acting this quickly leads to more mistakes in my opinion, such as supplies forgotten, trays not opened, or missing a key part of the H&P or labs. If everyone is doing this, from SPD to PreOp and so on, it affects everyone involved. People begin to blame other departments or take their frustrations out on the closest person. Another key component to this topic is the accepted culture of intimidation sometimes seen in healthcare and especially the operating room. It is not an uncommon complaint from perioperative nurses and most will tell you that they have felt it. 



Lastly, many nurses feel as though management and/or the larger healthcare system in general that they work for, don’t value the nurses and other employees. Ask any nurse, and she or he will tell you of the many shifts where they are nonstop, don’t get to eat and rarely get a bathroom break. There recently was even a class action lawsuit regarding nursing staff in many parts of the country not receiving a 30 minute, uninterrupted meal break and yet losing that 30 minutes of pay. Add to that having to stay late to chart, or having to work the holidays when others get the day off, it just adds up over time. This is a multi-faceted problem, yet many people may feel as though they aren’t supported by those above them even if this isn’t always the case. 

The nature of nursing, in general, is a demanding job that requires sacrifices, but over time it can definitely lead to feeling burned out. Identifying why you may feel this way and addressing problems before they impact you can help lead to a longer and happier career, doing the work you love!


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