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Nursing Informatics: A Refuge for Nurses in the Throes of Burnout

September 4, 2014
by Ron Vatalaro
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Ron Vatalaro

Nurses perform an essential job function that can be very draining. Unfortunately, many nurses in the United States are beginning to experience the impact of long, demanding hours of work. Professional nurse burnout comes from a combination of long hours, reduced staffing and complex working environments.

The following are some of the main issues leading this high rate of burnout:

  • Inadequate Staffing, Scheduling, and Pay: As hospitals have begun to lower their overall costs, they sometimes reduce their staff to save money. Nurses may be required to work additional and irregular shifts, longer hours and mandatory overtime, all while attending to more patients during their shifts.
  • Stress: Ethical, moral, emotional, mental, and physical stressors are in this profession. This sometimes leads to a state of exhaustion and a much higher susceptibility to burnout over time. Due to extended working hours and high level of interaction with patients who may be emotional, nurses are often so fatigued that they don’t have the energy to properly cope with their stress.
  • Illnesses and Injuries: A large percentage of nurses also suffer from job related illnesses and injuries, sometimes requiring them to miss a significant amount of work days. In 2011, about 171,530 health-related incidents occurred that led to nurses spending days away from work, according to a fact sheet from the Department for Professional Employees. The most common issues reported are back pain, headaches, muscle pain, decreased cardiovascular health, as well as negative changes in appetite, immunity level and sleep habits.   

The overall burnout rate for nurses is often higher than others within the healthcare field, with a 2001 study showing that 40% of nurses at hospitals experience burnout more frequently than other healthcare professionals. This statistic is most indicative of nurses that specialize in high stress environments such as emergency medicine, mental health, oncology and intensive care.

According to the 2008 National Sample Survey of Registered Nurses, it has been estimated that approximately 465,000 nurses are currently not practicing as a result of this burnout. The same study showed that the overall job satisfaction rate was lowest for nursing managers and administrators, general staff nurses, and patient coordinators.   

Nurses enduring this occupational burnout or those on the verge of this burnout stage can feel confident in knowing that a new refuge exists that could help them revive their careers. They are prime candidates to begin studying and practicing healthcare informatics with a focus in nursing.

Through the study and practice of nursing informatics, nurses are able to shift their professional motivation to achieving the highest levels of patient focused care by supporting the overall processes and informed decision-making tactics within their working environments.

Nurses that become specialists in the field of informatics are established experts in the realm of nursing processes, structures and workflows and provide a unique skill set of critical and analytical thinking to ensure that all processes are accurately documented and utilized through the use of information technology.

Informatics provides valuable insight into actively improving patient care. This role helps provide the data to support all health related assessments and decision making. Informatics professionals play an essential role to all areas of the healthcare field.

Nurses can take comfort in knowing the transition into informatics is not as daunting as it may seem. Having clinical experience can help make the transition easier. The roles of nurses and informatics nurses each have an interest in helping patients and the overall effectiveness of healthcare facilities.

By moving into this new role, nurses can easily alleviate the major causes of burnout. With the focus mostly within the realm of IT, the stressors associated with direct clinical patient care can be eliminated.

About the author: Ron Vatalaro

Ron Vatalaro works at Bisk Education with the University of South Florida Morsani College of Medicine and writes about health informatics. Ron holds an advanced degree in Business Administration with a concentration in technology.