Finding ways to help nurses relax, reflect, refocus or re-energize is critical in helping them to prevent or overcome burnout, according to researchers and nurse managers.
“Nurses are particularly at risk for becoming overwhelmed and depleted,” says Cynda Hylton Rushton, a professor in the School of Nursing at Johns Hopkins University. They “provide direct, 24/7 care, and they often must confront the limits of what medicine can do for people. Nurses can begin to feel helpless or have a sense that they are not actually helping. They can begin to question what they are doing and how they are benefiting others.”
Experts say that preventing professional burnout is an essential aspect of promoting quality patient care. “When the clinician suffers, so does the patient,” Rushton says. “We don’t provide the quality care we want to offer when we ourselves are depleted.”
For patients and staffers
The arts and humanities program at Georgetown’s cancer center uses creative arts to help patients and their families and to promote staff morale.
Its activities include journal writing, dance and movement, quilting and painting. Sometimes for just five or 10 minutes at a stretch, artists — both volunteers and paid professionals — help staff members manage stress and develop coping skills. Nancy Morgan, the program’s director, holds journal-writing sessions to allow people “to say something about their experiences, to solve problems, to come to terms with what they’ve experienced.”
She notes that when dancers first appeared at an intensive care unit to lead staffers in a brief stretching exercise, it raised some eyebrows. “But people have come to see that it’s not just for fun, but because it can make you a better nurse or doctor.” Several of the artists have been patients and are eager to give back to an organization that helped them through their illness.
Nurses at Inova Mount Vernon Hospital were offered knitting classes last year by a local nonprofit, Project Knitwell, as a way to cope with workday stress and as a team-building experience. Nurse manager Freda Osei says that she was skeptical at first, thinking she wouldn’t be coordinated enough to knit. Instead, she says, “it was great just learning a new skill. It was so calming. After I learned the initial stitches, I just went home and kept going.”
Malene Davis, chief executive of Falls Church-based Capital Caring, says that her hospice and palliative care organization takes several approaches to preventing burnout.