Nurse practitioner (NP) burnout is at an all-time high. Many nurse practitioners (and health care providers in general) are struggling right now, feeling mentally, physically, and emotionally exhausted. Many are contemplating leaving health care altogether. The factors contributing to nurse practitioner burnout are multifactorial, stemming from various personal and work-related causes. However, for APRNs, there is a leading cause of burnout.
Signs and symptoms of nurse practitioner burnout:
Before we delve into the top cause of nurse practitioner burnout, let’s explore how burnout can present, focusing on its signs and symptoms.
The main difference between stress and burnout for nurse practitioners is reaching the level of depletion. Many burned-out nurse practitioners begin to feel detached from their work and personal lives. They no longer find passion or purpose in caring for patients and feel completely empty, like they have nothing else to give.
Here are some common signs and symptoms of nurse practitioner burnout. What would you add to the list?
- Mental, physical, and emotional exhaustion
- Mental: poor clinical judgment, brain fog affecting productivity
- Physical factors: poor sleep, chronic fatigue, headaches
- Emotional: chronic stress, anxiety, depression
- Detachment from work
- Feeling detached from loved ones or your own life
- Feeling numb, loss of passion
- Lack of purpose
- Lack of empathy and understanding
- Negative thoughts
- Imposter syndrome or limiting beliefs
- Difficulty processing trauma or challenging work experiences
The #1 cause of nurse practitioner burnout
Let me provide some background on how I discovered the #1 cause of nurse practitioner burnout. After conquering health care burnout myself, I help overwhelmed APRNs create a better work-life balance and overcome burnout. While coaching and talking with nurse practitioners, I discovered the leading contributor to nurse practitioner burnout.
Surprisingly, it’s not what I expected. I figured the recent pandemic and added stress were the primary causes of burnout. I thought the modern health care system played a significant role in nurse practitioner burnout. I would have guessed that the lack of boundaries or a toxic work environment contributed to it.
However, after working with nurse practitioners, I discovered that the #1 cause of burnout is a lack of work-life balance.
And the #1 cause of work-life imbalance is charting.
So many nurse practitioners are staying late at the office and bringing their charts home. This increase in time, energy, and stress disrupts their work-life balance.
Instead of having the energy to cook a healthy meal and eat with their families, nurse practitioners are depleted from a busy workday. Instead of having the time to enjoy the company of their children, nurse practitioners are thinking about how many open charts they need to finish. Rather than relaxing and engaging in self-care activities, nurse practitioners have a pile of charts to sign (not to mention reviewing medical documentation, analyzing diagnostic data, responding to patient messages, etc.).
The amount of charting and tasks nurse practitioners need to catch up on is insurmountable. Many nurse practitioners spend an extra 10-15 hours of unpaid time just trying to stay caught up with charting. After a long workday, the only time to finish their tasks is at home. Talk about a work-life imbalance!
Yes, charting at home is the #1 culprit of work-life imbalance and is a strong indicator of developing nurse practitioner burnout. The good news is that nurse practitioners can improve their time management and documentation in many ways so they can stop charting at home.
Resources for nurse practitioner burnout
While there is no easy solution to overcome the #1 cause of nurse practitioner burnout (after all, we still have to chart), there are many things we can do. For example, improving our charting and time management skills, setting boundaries with patients, ensuring we learn and utilize the electronic health record, and so much more!
But before implementing any of these charting and time management tips, we need to step back. We should focus on the personal and work-related factors contributing to our burnout and be honest with ourselves. It will be different for each nurse practitioner, but we must focus on our challenges and struggles.
The next tip I want to share is to find support. So many nurse practitioners and health care providers are struggling with burnout. We should be open and honest about our struggles, have hard conversations, bring awareness to the topic, and rally together during our burnout journey.
Acknowledging and addressing nurse practitioner burnout is so important. If you realize you struggle with the #1 cause of nurse practitioner burnout, work on improving charting. If you realize that your burnout is caused by toxic personal relationships, then focus on improving those. If you have completely lost your passion for health care, take a break to give you the opportunity to catch your breath. Going through nurse practitioner burnout is not easy.
Erica Dorn is a nurse practitioner.