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Caroline Shuldham: Nurses must remain emotionally engaged but protected from burnout 

Emotional engagement with patients is an important part of the nursing role, but the well-being of staff also needs to be high on the agenda, with managers ensuring measures are in place to support staff and protect them from burnout, says Caroline Shuldham

Emotional engagement with patients is an important part of the nursing role, but the well-being of staff also needs to be high on the agenda, with managers ensuring measures are in place to support staff and protect them from burnout, says Caroline Shuldham

At the end of 2017 an exhibition and book of photographs of nurses and patients on London’s first specialist ward for men with AIDS-related illnesses went on public display at London’s Fitzrovia Chapel.

Taken at the Middlesex Hospital in 1993, one of the most moving photos is of a nurse giving a patient a goodbye kiss before he left the ward.


A nurse giving a goodbye kiss to a patient on London's first specialist ward
for men with AIDS-related illnesses in 1993. Picture: Gideon Mendel

Developing emotional bonds with patients is part of having open and honest relationships and providing compassionate care. But a recent study by researchers in Italy showed that emotional involvement with patients can also contribute to burnout among nurses.

The researchers studied the experiences of 315 nurses who worked rotational shifts, and the relationship between sleep disorders, burnout and job performance. They found that patient-related burnout, which is associated with being emotionally involved with patients’ problems, was related to poor sleep quality and affected performance.

Developing resilience

Burnout in nursing – what it is, how to avoid it and how to manage it – has been a recurrent theme throughout my working life. It can include emotional exhaustion, depersonalisation, sickness and absenteeism, which can jeopardise nurses’ engagement and the quality of relationships with patients.

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Factors that lead to burnout include work and life stressors, management styles, poor team relationships, working patterns and workload, and threats of violence. Added to this are the current demands of winter pressures, finance and pay issues, and staff shortages.

The well-being of staff needs to be high on the agenda. Treating each other with respect and dignity, balancing work and life commitments, and developing individual resilience can be done by everyone.

Need to empower nurses

Support from managers is vital in reducing stress and increasing well-being, and managers need to do all they can to ensure adequate resources are available for nurses to do their jobs.

They also need to empower nurses to take control, facilitate their work-life balance with good rotas, breaks and time off, and provide professional development. Nurses can also support senior colleagues by being professional, open and honest, and sharing information.

It is essential that nurses remain emotionally engaged but protected from burnout. Achieving this is the responsibility of all concerned.


Caroline Shuldham is chair of the RCNi editorial advisory board. A former nursing director, she is an independent adviser on research, teaching and mentoring 

 

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