Nurse Burnout and Patient Safety: What is at Stake?

  • The continuously growing nurse shortage is heavily impacting our healthcare system.
  • Burnout is one of the main contributors to this shortage, but what does that have to do with patient safety?
  • The direct relationship between nurse burnout and patient safety is something we must address and work to improve immediately. It is a risk to public health.

NCC News & Content Team

October 08, 2021
Simmons University

How Are Nurse Burnout and Patient Safety Associated?

Burnout is detrimental to our healthcare system and is a heavy contributor to the mass exodus of nurses currently leaving the profession.  

Nurse burnout and patient safety have a direct relationship and it is vital that we address it.  

In order to fully understand this connection, let’s elaborate further on nurse burnout and its effects.  

Within the realm of healthcare burnout, there are three domains: depersonalization, emotional exhaustion, and low professional achievement. 

Each domain is prevalent in the nursing profession, and all negatively impact patient safety. 

Following, a Public Library of Science (PLOS) One healthcare review evaluating various studies that cover burnout and patient safety determines that there is a significant association between the wellbeing of the healthcare provider and the safety of the patient.  

In short, if our nurses are feeling the effects of burnout, it puts patient safety and positive outcomes at risk.  

Using your knowledge, experiences, and voice to raise awareness is more powerful than you think.

What Factors Are at Risk?

In environments of nurse burnout, it is likely that you will find: 

  • Low-staffing rates 
  • Physically and emotionally exhausted providers 
  • Low workplace morale and respect between providers 
  • High workload demands 

Now the question is, ‘how does this impact patient safety?’ Let’s dive in! 

When burnout is present in a healthcare setting, the quality of patient care delivery significantly decreases, putting these factors at a higher risk: 

  • Mortality rates 
  • Lower patient satisfaction 
  • Likelihood of hospital-acquired infections 

nurse with covid patient: nurse burnout and patient safety

How Can We Improve Nurse Burnout and Patient Safety?

Unfortunately, this is not an easy fix. We must first understand the basis of both issues, which stems from an imbalance of stress levels and resilience.

When a nurse’s stress is too high, their ability to cope is overwhelmed and effects of burnout begin.  

In order to address patient safety (in relation to burnout) we must also address nursing burnout, as it is in the best interest of both the patient and nurse.

Although we cannot specifically pinpoint where burnout begins for every nurse, it is safe to assume that they are often exposed to environments or situations that showcase burnout (i.e. low staffing ratios) in as early as nursing school. 

The upstream solution is to begin preparing more nurses to enter the field to alleviate the continuously growing, massive shortage.  

Both healthcare and educational institutions must begin working together to equip nurses with the tools they need to handle the stress of the profession before reaching the point of burning out.  

Otherwise, the relentless cycle will continue and the quality of care for patients will decrease dramatically. 

A comprehensive solution to address the issue does not exist currently, but the Burnout Center is going to work to do so! It is still in the development stages, so check back in for updates! 

The overarching goal of the program is to collaborate with healthcare institutions, encourage them to consider and address the factors that are contributing to their nursing staff’s burnout and turnover rates, and provide them with helpful resources to allieviate frustrations.

Of course, this is not the only solution, and it will take time for any systemic change to be implemented. However, using your knowledge, experiences, and voice to raise awareness is more powerful than you think.

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