Nurse Burnout – The #1 Hidden Cause and How to Prevent It

Over many years, nurses and nursing have been coming under ever increasing stress in doing their jobs. With the event of Covid, stress levels have gone through the roof and directed a light on what is becoming a huge problem for healthcare, burnout of nurses and other frontline care providers.

While the efforts of nurses, especially during the challenging time of Covid, are remarkable and even heroic, the stresses are taking a huge toll on them. Burnout and other stress related maladies are on the rise at a time when healthcare needs its frontline care providers more than ever. What can we do mitigate or resolve the stress on the frontlines of healthcare?

As with any problem, the first thing we want to do is understand the problem from a systems standpoint and identify the root cause of the problem. Healthcare has never done this as it relates to stress on the frontlines. If it had, it might have discovered the Nobel Prize winning Law of Dissipative Structures, which describes how systems that resist change in a changing environment become stressed. As systems become more stressed over time, quality and productivity go down and costs go up. That’s exactly what we’ve seen in healthcare. But that’s not the end of the story.

Stresses in systems are passed on to the care providers who must work in or are affected by those systems, including nurses, physicians and patients alike. It is these stressed and often broken frontline systems that are the source of the stress that is accelerating burnout in our nurses and other frontline care providers.

Whether it’s burnout or quality of care or safety or cost reduction, problems that have plagued healthcare seemingly forever, the source of the problems is in the systems. The most impactful thing we can do to right now to address these problems is to fix or even transform the frontline systems where care is actually delivered.

Ready or not, transformation is coming to healthcare,. The Law of Dissipative Structures guarantees it. However, we can be proactive in transforming the frontline systems and avoid what will likely be a meltdown of healthcare as we have known it. I believe a better option is a bottom/up, frontline driven, transformation of systems where care is actually delivered. We can do this!