5 Things That Can Lead To Nurse Burnout … And How To Cope With Them

This article was republished with permission from SCRUBS Magazine.

It’s no secret. Nurses burn out, and burn out often. I’ve known quite a number of nurses during my travels who just fizzled out like a firework.

It’s the classic too hot, too fast scenario.

All of us enter the profession with the “save the world” attitude. We adopt the “I’m going to be different” mentality. We tell ourselves “I’m not going to be like that ratchety, bitty ole’ burned-out harpie of a nurse.” You convince yourself you’ll be the exception to the rule, and these “seasoned nurses” don’t know what they’re talking about. This is a great profession, and you can’t imagine your job or your career getting so bad that you’d “burn out.”

We enter the world of nursing with fervor, zeal and that “can-do” attitude.

Then reality sets in.

The problem with nurses? None of us knows how to ease into things. We want to fix it all, quick-fast-and-in-a-hurry. So we give the full court press until something gives. Until sadly, we all learn that we can’t fix it all. Heck, sometimes we can’t seem to fix anything. Over time we keep grinding away with no relief.

Over the years I’ve discovered five things that tend to “light the match.” You can get away with one or two of these things happening in your career, but three or more and you’ve started the slow burn.


You get angry at someone or something. The source of the anger really doesn’t matter. What matters is you let it consume you. You get angry and stay angry. Soon, whatever set you off in the first place doesn’t even matter anymore. You’re only angry because that’s all you know how to be. Angry becomes a personality trait. It’s the only way you know how to be in order to survive.


This goes without saying. Everyone has staffing issues where they work. Everyone has to work in unfavorable conditions. But you get the feeling things might be bordering on unsafe. And just when thing are getting bad, someone mentions “mandatory overtime.” I can’t remember the last time anyone said thank you. Sigh.

Beaten down

You have no support. Whether from your coworkers, your managers or the “suits.” No one seems to have your back. Not only are you fighting the good fight on your own, but you feel as if you’re being ignored. When did people get so passive-aggressive?


Physically and mentally. You work too many hours and don’t enjoy your current job position. You also are just “spent.” Your emotional bank is empty and you’re just drained. There is way more bad than good.

Questioning your decision

What did you get yourself into? Nursing school wasn’t like this. Heck, why didn’t one of your preceptors give you a heads-up during clinicals?!? This crap is hard. Why are people so mean and unappreciative?

I could go on. It’s a vicious cycle. A real-life groundhog day. You feel Bill Murray’s pain.

So what do you do? How do you avoid it? Is every nurse doomed to become a firework?

I tend to believe that answer is no. Not every nurse is destined to go down in flames. I’m living proof. I WILL tell you every nurse will have to cross that bridge, though.

Every nurse will need to decide. Every nurse will feel consumed. Every nurse will battle with the bad. The difference between those who burn out and those who do not is the attitude. Your attitude and your reason for choosing this profession.

Remember: You always have a choice. You can choose to let the crap out there consume you, or you can choose to rise above it and find a better path. A path that meets your needs. A path that squashes those five things I listed.

I’m here to tell you that world does exist, but it doesn’t come without hard work and an unwillingness to settle or back down.

Let’s revisit my five things:


Stop placing blame and looking for answers. Forgive and forget. Life is too short to waste your energy on anything negative. Don’t let anyone walk on you, but don’t let anyone control you. Find solutions, not blame. If you can’t find solutions, ask for help. If no one is willing to help, than you might need to move on to someplace that does.


Don’t mistake being overworked with over-stressed. Find a balance. We all want to make more money. Overtime is a great thing, just don’t make work your only thing. Step away from work as often as you can.

Beaten down

Stand your ground. Don’t accept and don’t tolerate passive-aggressive behavior. Resolve conflict in a professional manner with facts, not opinions. Maintain your integrity, but don’t let anyone push you around. Be sure you have your ducks in a row before you raise your voice.


Take care of yourself. Be mindful of your own needs. Your entire life is not just about being a nurse. Pay attention to your physical health. Your job will be much more fun if you have your health on your side.

Questioning your decision

This is probably the most important. Spend some time being honest with yourself. Why did you become a nurse? Was it the pay? The hours? The benefits? The travel? The career options? The longer you avoid this, the harder it will be. Once you can honestly answer this question, find a place in our profession that meets that need.

Ultimately, nursing is not for everyone. Swallowing that jagged pill can make or break some of us.

I want everyone to enjoy this profession as much as I have. You get out of nursing what you put into it. Light the flame of your career to help lighten the darkness of others. Don’t let that flame burn you out.

Talk it out with other nurses. You are not alone. You’d be absolutely amazed at how many nurses out there are just like you!

What do you think? Share your thoughts on this important topic in the comments section below.

This article was republished with permission from SCRUBS Magazine.


  1. I never regretted becoming a nurse. What I regret is not being educated in “The business of Nursing.’
    Everything is about money. After working in Emergency Departments for 32 years, I was almost killed driving home from work one evening. Overworked, understaffed, and the inability of the night charge nurse to decide which one of the oncoming nurses would take over my intubated post-code patient,
    made me stay an extra hour. That hour almost killed me , since I fell asleep at the wheel driving home.
    I woke up just befor I would have hit a cement median. When I got home I wrote out my resignation and gave 2 weeks notice. After taking a few months off, I found a position as a clinical instructor in a nursing program. I love it. No job is worth getting killed for. Look out for yourself.

  2. 30 years and I am in tears everyday. Started on the floor – did case management- hospice – psych – became a Director or CM, went back to floor – now back to field case managing Medicaid homeless – substance abuse. Each with its own set of problems. For me, being worked to the bone with no loyalty and no one to trust, along with all the mistakes I’ve seen, needless deaths, inept Dr’s, administrators who are no where to be seen … I could go on and on… is what renders me almost catatonic when I face my work day. Topped off with racking guilt because my daughter became an RN – and after 6 months is being pressure to do Charge on a tough med/surg unit that has six psych beds (no lie – hard to believe but true) makes me want to work somewhere that I never encounter one person. I’m angry – very angry – and those coping mechanisms are not for those of us who know the truth. We are fighting a health care losing battle.

    • I’ve been an RN 24 years now, and I’ve seen the changes. This article is helpful, but, I’ve come to a conclusion about nursing years ago. Nursing is no longer a lifetime career. It’s too demanding and consuming of your life. I meet more and more young nurses who are married and don’t have children, I think nursing takes so much, and is a thankless job. While it has kept me humble and I’ve learned a lot from my patients, I too am looking for that exit. It sucks the life out of you. That’s what I tell new nurses. You can’t be a nurse forever, without paying the price.

  3. This is article was great for me!!
    For me, it’s not necessarily the patients but dealing with the staff, assignments not being done, not taking the initiative to assist, nurse manage always on leave. It gets very frustrating after awhile.

  4. I was a Home Health RN from 1984 to 2015. I loved the patients, but the documentation was neverending. If you called a doctor, you had to write 3 additional forms. I moved to Philadelphia to help take care of my mom, in 2015. I swore I would not do Home Health again. I finally found employment in private duty care. I work 6 days a week, with 2 clients. The documentation is manageable. My time off is my own. I am much more relaxed.

  5. I also became a nurse in the late 60’s and I think I have seen it all; I see the culture that tolerates violence toward healthcare workers as a major issue for recruiting and retaining nurses. I hear horror stories of physical and verbal assault, harassment and even stalking of nurses who care for clients. Managers are useless and “ineffective” because they are so afraid of the patient “satisfaction” scores that the administration lives by in order to justify their big “bonuses” for achieving their goals. Meanwhile quality of care deteriorates as does morale and retention. JACHO published a significant article about workplace violence in which they noted these issues and recommended a significant increase in reporting these incidents and holding patients accountable for their threatening/aggressive behaviors. Staff members tell me as an educator what they are expected to “accept” as part of the job and it is appalling. When I started nursing, I never dreamed that I would be assaulted (either verbally or physically) as part of my role. It should not be that way today. I am promoting at all venues that nurses should stand up and not tolerate this treatment but management/administration really don’t seem to get it or respond to it. I can’t tell you how glad I am to be “retired” so I don’t have to live and work under this stress. However, I truly feel for those new nurses who are just beginning this career which should be a joy and not a punishment.

  6. I agree with #6 and 7 completely. I have been a nurse since 1973. First as an LPN and since 1985 an RN. I wouldn’t trade jobs with anyone. Even on holidays and weekends and during 12 hour shifts. Even when teachers get honored for their difficult jobs all the time (I’m not saying their jobs are EASY, or that they don’t make as much money as nurses,) but they DO get holidays and weekends and all summer off. They are also not as responsible for lives as nurses. But I digress. I have stayed in nursing because I love it every time I know I made a difference in someone’s life through my knowledge, experience and compassion.

  7. The air heads in hospital and nursing management are a big part of the problem. These clip board idiots wanted me reported in Same Day Surgery for not discharging a patient with a 103 plus temp. The rational was the protocol did not ask for a discharge temp. Only a temp on admission to the unit. I kid you not. I left nursing and glad I did. No one should have to deal with these morons.

  8. I burned out and quit. It started with management posting the job of a worker who was murdered minutes after her death was verified and ended when I personally left work dead, being resuscitated in the ambulance, then spent 22 days in a coma, and the wanted my husband to sign my write-ups because I left work early.

    • I am sorry these things happened to you. I was written up for not giving a patient on discharge IV dilaudid after his IV was removed for not satisfying his pain needs. The day before he received narcan. Talk about the opiod epidemic and how Press Ganey has robbed us of sound critical thinking skills. Going to HR I was swung at by the Directer. Everyone in HR turned their backs. There was a hospital wide nonviolence policy that did not apply to him. After filing a complaint I was told I provoked him. The Studder Group came to show the hospital how to save money and said get rid of the two highest paid Nurses on every unit. I watched it happen all around me and then it was my turn. Loyalty is a thing of the past. I am highly skilled and still enjoy bedside nursing care. Patients deserve skilled Nurses. So I carry on.

      • This is sad. Unfortunately it is common. There is far too much stress for nurses and other health care caregivers. We take care of others so they can be their best, while we are jeopardizing our health, and it too frequently goes unappreciated by the administration. We, along with aides, therapists and other caregivers are constantly pushed to the limit by demotivating administration. We caregivers work hard, smart and happily with those who don’t pull their load. We care for kind patients, cranky patients…all kinds of patients with all kinds of challenges…with our skills, intelligence, wisdom and compassion, under difficult circumstances. Loads of documentation time take valuable time from our patients. And yes, when a nurse reaches high pay, they are terminated and escorted out the door. I do love being a nurse, I have had many rewards, and I have worked in wonderful facilities/areas of nursing with lovely people…but it never went without high stress, under staffing and frequent scary moments and/or mistakes, all too frequently, that could have been avoided. (this is excludes all but one MD offices that I have been employed). Most sad…the patients should be #1 and to often they are not. I feel the nurses that become the most frustrated and prone to burn out are the ones that care the most and work the hardest. My prayer is that things improve greatly and soon…for caregivers and most of all their patients.

    • Yes, Prayer and laughing a lot got me through the hard times for 45 years. Thankfulness, counting the Blessings and enjoying time with my patients and co-workers, learning, being able to change areas when desired, and paychecks were great rewards over the 45 years. Don’t be afraid to try something new when burn out is looming around the corner, or you become bored. And yes, take time off various times throughout the year.

    • Michele, This is so sad. I am sorry you had to experience what you did. Should never happen…but things like this happen far too often. For various sad, wrong reasons at work, near burn out and multiple tragedies/problems in our family, I became drained. I received no support from co-workers or administration – in fact I received extremely negative reactions. (I had an excellent record of almost 16 years in this particular field). I planned to cut back days, but then resigned. I decided to take some time off with plans to return to a nurse job elsewhere in a few months. It’s taken far longer than a few months to feel healthy and I retired.
      Nurses need to take care of themselves, try not to be everything to everyone, and rest. Easier said than done.

    • Well I hope you found out that nursing was not your forte before you passed your sour attitude along to any patients. Nursing is a job that demands a good attitude no matter how disgruntled you feel.

  9. Vacation days replenish you and remind us that our jobs aren’t all there is to life.I keep in touch with friends,have hobbies,and try to take care of myself.Nursing is a rewarding career in more ways than one and I’m glad I chose it.

  10. Take Time for Yourself at work #1 Go to bathroom.#2 eat & drink(H20,Coffee& Cola)#3 Take Time Off Mental Health Days & Time Off. Be Good & Take Good Care Yourself?

    • I’m with Kathleen!! I feel burned out anytime I hit the floor. But I laugh a lot! I pray before, during, and sometimes after a shift if I have to come back in the next night. One thing I did learn is to take time off. Schedule time even if u have no plans to go anywhere. You need the time just to be with you!


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