Nurse Burnout Webinar Will Focus on Aftermath of Vaccine Mandates
Dr. Margaret Below, nursing director, and mind-body medicine practitioner is developing a webinar on nurse burnout. Sadly, the phenomenon is nothing new. But Below noticed a new factor impacting fatigue among healthcare workers lately: looming vaccine mandate deadlines.
Or, more precisely, what will happen after these deadlines come and go?
“This is very different from last spring,” Below says. “The unique variable now is the pressure from vaccine mandates. I’m seeing resistance not only from nurses but from both professional staff and support staff, such as environmental services and transportation.”
Another change is that the camaraderie among staff at the beginning of the pandemic has waned. Below says that much like the wider public, healthcare staff are more polarized when it comes to vaccine mandates.
“There was this sense that, despite working long, hard hours, we were all in this together and we would get through it together,” Below says. “In fact, all the hope was put on the [anticipated] vaccines.”
The challenge before administrators and managers is this: if they must terminate people who do not meet the vaccine mandate deadline, how can they take care of all the patients coming into the hospitals? COVID patients are trending younger and staying hospitalized longer, which ties up ICU beds and med-surg beds for other admissions and surgical cases. High volumes in emergency departments eventually impact the capacity to perform elective surgeries, which further impacts the financial strain on the organization.
But alongside that fear is the fact that the anticipated staff loss in response to the mandate at healthcare organizations is expected to be about 5%. Combine this with early retirements, career choice changes, and backfilling with travel staff, the complexity of meeting healthcare demands increases. For instance, Below says recruitment is increasing for travel nurses, but supply is getting low because so many organizations are going the traveler route.
“It’s that confluence of factors that inspired me to do this webinar,” Below says. “People are having a harder time creating boundaries for themselves, what used to work doesn’t anymore, and resilience is down. So, the first step is awareness and understanding where we are. If you want to see any kind of shift, we must understand what is happening, what factors are at play, and have resources available for employees that support a variety of cross-cultural needs.”
How are other nurse leaders feeling about burnout in the thick of the pandemic? The following are what a few had to say:
Current Assignment: OR Educator at Mercy Medical Center, Merced, CA
Katie Roy counts herself lucky that she has not faced burnout during her career. For her, mentoring new nurses and seizing new professional opportunities helped prevent the tedium she believes can contribute to burnout.
“I believe that some people stay at one facility or in one position for too long. I latched onto anything that I thought would give me a challenge. You have to be willing to take a leap of faith and embrace change. Perioperative directors and CNOs need to embrace each other’s positions. One of the things that burn out OR directors is when there is a lack of collaboration with the CNO or the surgeon/physician. Another thing that helps nurses not get pigeon-holed into one thing is support from their leaders.”
Current Assignment: Interim Manager, Pennsylvania Hospital, Philadelphia, PA
Over 20 years ago, Lisa Myers received a glaring red flag that she was nearing burnout. On her way home one evening, after working too many hours for too many days to count, in a haze of fatigue, she drove off the road. Fortunately, she was not seriously injured but it opened her eyes wide. She immediately put in her notice. The assumption from on high was that staff should be grateful for the overtime. But exchanging more money for her mental health, and possibly her life, was not a fair trade.
“One of the things that accelerate burnout is not having anything to keep you at the facility. It feels so much better to give 150% when everyone is friendly and there is a connection. We used to have staff dinners, parties, you would meet everyone’s family. I think that’s missing at a lot of places now. People come in, do their job, and go home. When you feel disconnected from the people you work with, it starts to affect how you feel about your job, and then how well you do your job. It’s true that COVID has made a lot of things worse, but these trends were happening before. Managers and Directors must check in with staff, make those rounds. Maybe they’re doing large cases every day, or not getting breaks when they need them. Arrange to change shifts, or to take a long weekend off.”
Sue Silcox: Interim Director of Surgical Services
Sue Silcox also believes changing roles, places, and responsibilities can help curb burnout.
“I have found that challenging staff gives them a unique perspective on their role. You can almost see the light come into their eyes. To do that successfully, managers and directors have to know their staff individually and bring experiences from other facilities to incorporate at their current one.”
Theresa Cowger: Interim Director of Surgical Services
Theresa Cowger calls out the tension that adds to burnout: working in a money-making business with guidelines and benchmarks, while also managing days where you barely have time to go to the bathroom or drink water, struggling to fight back tears.
“I have given myself permission to not feel guilty about taking a day off. It’s a mental health day and I’m not going to feel bad about it. OR nurses are expected to know everything about many, many procedures and it’s overwhelming having to expect the unexpected every single day. Not having enough support to help make the transitions between cases—setting up the bed, moving the equipment, etc.—is wear and tear on your body. Your relationship with the people you work with can make or break your day. Leadership needs to recognize the people in the OR and sterile processing. They are taken for granted.”