Exhausted nurse wearing face mask, scrubs, and gloves sits on hospital floor against wall
HealthJuly 27, 2020

Career choice regret among nurses: The role of burnout

The role of healthcare workers is fundamentally intensive, demanding, and stressful. The current Covid-19 pandemic has exacerbated the stress of working in the healthcare industry, making many workers susceptible to burnout.

Burnout syndrome is defined by the World Health Organization as:

  • Feelings of exhaustion or energy depletion
  • Negativity or cynicism related to job duties
  • Reduced professional efficacy

Previous research indicates that burnout increases the likelihood of subpar clinical care, negative patient outcomes, reduced safety, and patient dissatisfaction. Additionally, high levels of burnout have been associated with greater intent to leave healthcare jobs, which places additional strain on other members of the healthcare team.

Before Covid-19, burnout was a problem among nursing staff in all patient care areas, especially in so-called “hospital based” specialties like ICU, operating room, and obstetrics. Now, a study in Nature Public Health Emergency Collection finds that the ongoing pandemic places nurses at serious risk for infection themselves, and many report increased feelings of fear, anxiety, mental pressure, and even depression. These feelings contribute to burnout, making it that much more difficult to provide effective care to those suffering from Covid-19. This, in turn, makes many nurses regret their career choice.

Studying national career choice regret trends in nursing

Other studies have already evaluated burnout and career choice regret among physicians, but research involving such regret among nurses has been lacking. A study published in the American Journal of Nursing gathered information from nurses in order to more clearly evaluate the correlation between burnout and career choice regret.

The study collected data from almost 7,000 nurses in multiple specialties from healthcare organizations across the United States. Researchers used the Maslach Burnout Inventory-Human Services Survey for Medical Personnel (MBI-HSS [MP]), a 22-item survey covering three separate domains: depersonalization, decreased sense of personal accomplishment, and emotional exhaustion.

Of the respondents:

  • 92.8% were women
  • 86.9% were white, 6.5% were African American, 4.9% were Hispanic, and 3.8% were Asian
  • The median number of hours worked each week was 40
  • The average years of nursing experience was 20
  • 52% worked in an emergency department or other hospital-based setting
  • 27.8% had additional advanced certifications

A full 34.6% of survey respondents reported high emotional exhaustion, while 20.6% noted high depersonalization. Researchers found that, overall, 38.4% of participants had at least one symptom of burnout. When asked if they had career choice regret, 15% of those surveyed responded positively, answering that they would “probably not” or “definitely not” pursue a career in nursing again if given the choice.

Additionally, the study found that career choice regret rates increased among nurses working more episodes of mandatory or unplanned overtime. And those with less professional experience were more likely to report regretting their career choice. Interestingly, career choice regret was more common among nurses working in an emergency department, followed by those in other hospital-based specialties.

Preventing burnout among nurses

Healthcare organizations must develop strategies to prevent burnout among nurses to mitigate levels of career choice regret. As suggested by this study, these strategies may include giving nurses more control over their own work schedules and reducing the incidence of mandatory or unplanned overtime.

But other strategies may also help lower levels of burnout among nursing staff, thereby increasing satisfaction with team members’ career choice. Resilience training may help nurses develop the cognitive tools for dealing with stress and the unique challenges posed by Covid-19. Other strategies to boost employee health, such as exercise and nutrition programs, may also generate greater work satisfaction as general health improves, suggests a study in Clinical Practice and Epidemiology in Mental Health.

Regardless of the intervention used, staff nurses must be given opportunities to look after their own health, meet their own personal responsibilities outside of work, and, if possible, modify certain aspects of their jobs to better suit their own abilities, needs, and preferences. These strategies help to reduce levels of burnout; since burnout is directly correlated with career choice regret, addressing these issues may help make more nurses more satisfied and content with the role they have chosen.

Lippincott Solutions note: for the latest coverage on Covid-19 by the Lippincott Nursing team, please visit nursingcenter.com/coronavirus.

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