Is There a Difference Between Nurse Burnout and Boredom? This Month’s Post for Off the Charts

This month, in my post for Off the Charts, the blog of the American Journal of Nursing, I consider the differences between nursing burnout and boredom. There’s a great discussion going on in the comments.

Here’s the back-story to Differentiating Nurse Burnout from Boredom:

Nurse Niki received an email from a nursing student asking Niki her thoughts on various subspecialties of pediatric nursing (I am charmed that Nurse Niki gets emails). The student was concerned with the possibility of some subspecialties being more boring than others. Her comment coincided with my current change of employers, which I’d previously written about, also for Off the Charts. Surprisingly, or maybe not, I find myself recharged by the change, even though I hadn’t initiated it.

Read the post at Off the Charts and leave a comment. We’d love to know your opinion!

Mental Clutter

Perhaps I have no business writing about clutter, because I am a clutterer. I’m clean. You won’t stick to any surface in our home, but you may have to move some magazines to find a spot for your glass on the coffee table.

Sometimes My Surgical Mask Feels Like a Gag by jparadisi

Sometimes My Surgical Mask Feels Like a Gag by jparadisi

The topic of clutter is larger than that unwieldy pile of unopened mail on the dining room table. In the words of Newman, the mentally unbalanced postal worker on Seinfeld, “The mail never stops. It just keeps coming.”

The relentless flood of mail is not unlike the emotional barrage facing nurses during a typical shift. The tragic diagnosis of a new patient, recurring cancer in a well-known patient, too many patients, not enough nurses, phones constantly ringing, and unfamiliar chemotherapy regimens are just part of it. Then there’s the work environment: difficult coworkers, budget cuts, and, oh, no time for lunch today. At times, it’s overwhelming.

These things create a work day mental clutter difficult to shed at the end of a shift. Mental clutter paralyzes creativity, interferes with relationships, and impedes sleep. Managing stress is essential to happiness.

Having a mental clutter shut-off switch between work and home is effective. A mental clutter shut-off switch is a ritual activity, which when performed, tells your brain that:

  1.  The shift is over.
  2. You are going home.
  3.  You are leaving the workday craziness at work.

Easier said than done, but it can be done. Don’t we teach patients methods for managing stress?

Here are ideas for creating a mental clutter shut-off switch between work and home:

  • Join a gym or yoga class near work, and avoid rush-hour traffic by exercising before driving home.
  • When driving home, turn off the car radio. Listen to soothing CDs or a book on CD, such as God On A Harley by Joan Brady. It’s the story of a nurse learning to simplify her life.
  • As soon as you get home, take a 20-minute walk. Put your walking clothes and shoes on your bed before you leave for work, so they’re ready and waiting for you.
  • Create a personal sanctuary in your home. Mine is a comfortable chair with an ottoman. Next to it are my laptop, paper, pens, a sketchpad, knitting supplies, reading glasses, and several books. A small table holds a cup of coffee or tea.
  • Limit discussions at home about work to 30 minutes. Set a timer if you have to, and then stop when time is up.
  • Limit your time watching the evening news. Avoid it before bedtime. Be informed, but remember that you can’t fix the world.

That brings me to my last point: You deliver the best care reasonably possible to your patients, but you are not responsible for their outcome. You are a nurse, not a superhero.

What would you add to this list?

Welcome Back

Welcome Back photo: jparadisi

Reluctantly, I sit at my computer writing this post. Tomorrow I will spend eight hours at a training computer learning the electronic medical record system, Epic. The following day, I will spend another eight hours doing the same thing. I previously posted that our hospital converted from paper charts to EMR last week while I was on medical leave. I am making up the classes that my colleagues took last month. Although I’m not thrilled about spending so much time at a computer, I am looking forward to participating in patient care again.

I provided precious little help to my coworkers during the two shifts I worked last week, since besides having limits on lifting, I won’t have a computer sign on until I complete the two classes mentioned above. Instead, I spent much of my time following coworkers who kindly taught me as much as they could about Epic in a live patient care setting.

The hardest thing about those two shifts was my feeling of incompetence, because nothing in our unit operates the way it did before EMR. I can’t even open a patient’s chart, look up the name of their doctor, or find an order without a sign on. I’m used to being nursing muscle, not a helpless bystander. I felt uncomfortable, and I have to admit, mildly anxious.

The funny thing was, because Epic is still so new, my coworkers are struggling too. In that way, we remain on level ground, although at least they can access charts, and record the care they gave. However, I could see how learning to navigate the new system slows them down. One way that I helped was to listen thoughtfully as they described the frustrations of providing patient care while simultaneously learning a new system. I let them vent, and I learned from their experiences.

Week by week, things will improve. I hope so, because EMR isn’t going away.

Did I mention that despite all of the controlled chaos at work, I brought a cake to work for my coworkers on my first day back? And that one of them found time to bring in flowers for me?

Remember: be nice to one another.