In the field of healthcare, reports of burnout from nurses and doctors have reached all-time highs. Long hours and demanding, fast-paced work environments are the main causes of burnout. More than just stress, burnout is physical, mental, and emotional exhaustion.
Some nurses and doctors end up leaving the healthcare field because of burnout. Others have found ways to cope with and overcome burnout. In this article, we’ll look at ten encouraging stories from real nurses and doctors who have recovered from burnout.
For one nurse, the effects of burnout – sleeplessness, depression – had become a constant struggle. Eventually, they led her to a breaking point. Feeling hopeless, she finally decided to leave her job. The burnout, it seemed, had gotten the better of her.
Nursing had been her lifelong dream, and she enjoyed her work. However, as her career progressed, she found she was not prepared for the physical, emotional, and mental demands of the job. She felt like she had no way to cope, so she decided to try yoga.
After her first class, she was exhausted. When she woke up the next day, though, she felt light, at peace. From then on, yoga became a part of her daily life. She would practice breathing exercises at work, learning to be more mindful of her needs, and live healthier with yoga.
Burnout led her to leave bedside nursing, but she has since gone back to school to pursue a Bachelor of Science in Nursing. Through yoga, she found a way to gain a sense of control over her life again. It helped give her the determination and energy to follow her passion and continue her career.
For one physician, the symptoms of burnout appeared gradually. It started with cynicism. On the outside, everything seemed great: his career was successful, he was trusted and respected in his profession. He was doing his best, but it didn’t seem good enough to him. Eventually, it got to the point where he dreaded going to work.
The turning point came after a regular procedure resulted in a devastating outcome. When his wife woke one night and found him looking through his life insurance policy, he knew he had to do something. Burnout had taken him to a dark place, and he seriously considered leaving his practice. Instead, he sought help.
He began meeting with a physician career transition coach and a social worker regularly. Reconnecting with a friend who is also a physician was helpful in getting on a good path, as well. Being able to talk about his struggle with someone who has experienced it helped him feel less alone in his journey.
Over time, he was able to remove the aspects of his professional life that caused the most stress. By changing his work circumstances and seeking advice and counsel from others, he found that burnout no longer controlled his life.
Four years into her career, burnout wasn’t a concern for one ICU nurse. She knew it could happen, but she didn’t recognise the symptoms in herself right away. It was her friends, family, and coworkers that first noticed the signs of burnout in her. Her workload hadn’t changed, but she had.
Like many who experience burnout, she started to become cynical. She assumed the worst about everything, and she stopped showing compassion for others. Empathy became foreign to her as her outlook on nursing turned negative. Before, she looked forward to her shifts. Now, she dreaded going to work.
A coworker, after hearing about the situation, suggested she do something different for a while. So, she saved some money, quit her job, and left the country for six months. When she returned home, she went back to nursing. To her surprise and relief, she felt back to normal – like the nurse she was before the burnout.
All she really needed was a break from the demands of her work. By getting away from the situations that were causing burnout, she gained perspective and took back control of her life. She was able to recognise the causes of her burnout, and now, she has the tools to stop the downward spiral of burnout before it starts.
In 1999, a family practice doctor was over a decade into his career. A husband and father, he had moved across the country and worked in multiple hospitals. He was successful, ambitious, and had a true passion for his job. Then, something changed. The enthusiasm he once had for his work was gone. It was like he hit a wall.
Unsure of what was going on or what to do, he walked away from his full-time practice. He worked part-time in urgent care to support his family and explored various other career paths. He also learned meditation and yoga. Twelve years after leaving his practice, he decided to use his experience with burnout to help others.
After doing some research online, he started his website. There was information about burnout available, but no resources to help those with burnout. He started posting articles on burnout and ways to lower stress. Since then, he has worked with hundreds of healthcare professionals dealing with burnout and stress.
Even though burnout led him to leave his practice at one point, he never gave up on his dream of working in medicine. Helping others in the medical field to cope with and overcome their own burnout has given him a new sense of purpose. He is using his own experiences to help prevent others from leaving the field or losing hope.
The first real instance of burnout for one nurse happened during her senior year of medical school. She agreed to take 12-hour night shifts, knowing that it would be a challenging schedule as she completed her degree. She hoped that the role would help in her future career, and it did. Then the symptoms of burnout started.
At the time, she didn’t know what burnout was. It took a while to realize the cause of the changes she was experiencing. Work had become physically and mentally exhausting. She was losing sleep. Still, she kept trying to carry on as if nothing was wrong. When one of her long-term patients passed, though, she finally broke down.
As it turned out, her personal connection to the oncology patients she cared for was the root of the problem. Having lost her mother to cancer, she thought caring for cancer patients would be healing. Instead, it was the opposite. Her burnout revealed that she was meant to care for a different patient population.
She left the Midwest hospital where she had worked, moving to the West Coast as a travel nurse. There, she experienced a working environment different from the one she left. There were almost twice as many staff per shift, reducing the work and stress load for all employees.
By increasing her self-awareness, recognising her personal and professional needs, and learning to identify warning signs, she was able to recover from burnout and continue her career.
Everything seemed to be going well for one cancer doctor: he had a successful clinical research program and a true passion for his work. Medicine, he felt, was his calling. He felt a real sense of fulfillment caring for cancer patients and teaching young doctors. Also being a husband and father of four, he was stressed, but life felt good.
Over time, his responsibilities grew, and the stress started to build. The demands of professional and family life started to take their toll, and signs of burnout began to appear. He was sleepless and short-tempered, and eventually, he just felt trapped.
The sense of hopelessness he felt got worse, and, like many who experience burnout, he started to have thoughts of suicide. When a lifelong friend passed away, it was a turning point. In talking with a group of college friends after the funeral, he finally admitted how bad things had gotten for him.
With the support of his wife and friends, he decided to seek help. He contacted a friend in psychiatry who agreed to meet with him. He was prescribed antidepressants, and within a couple of weeks, he started to feel back to normal.
Through medication and continued personal care, he was able to truly enjoy life again. He has since shared his story in the hopes that it might help others experiencing burnout and depression.
The tendency to take on more work and responsibility than they can handle is common among medical professionals. This was the case for one nurse. She tried to find a balance, but the more commitments she agreed to, the less time and energy she had to take care of herself. Eventually, she started to experience burnout.
Luckily, she was able to find ways to cope with and overcome burnout before it could lead her to leave nursing. Breathing exercises became a daily practice for her, helping to slow her mind, letting her think clearly and de-stress. What really helped, though, was taking a break for a while.
Keeping a gratitude journal also helped her work through and move past the negative thoughts and feelings caused by burnout. Every day, she writes down five or more things that she is grateful for, either in the morning or before bed. Finding ways to focus on the good in her life helped overcome burnout and prevent it from happening again.
It wasn’t easy to go back to nursing after taking a break. She worried that burnout would take hold again. Having experienced it, though, she knew how to recognize the warning signs. Taking better care of herself has not only helped change her perspective, but it has also helped her take better care of her patients, too.
For one family physician, the effects of burnout on her work led to taking some time off. She had become irritable and had difficulty concentrating. Her employer told her that if she couldn’t figure out how to get focused and work better with her colleagues, she might not be able to return to her job.
It was then that she decided to give meditation a try. She made it an almost-daily practice, becoming more mindful and articulate with her patients and colleagues in the process. Combined with journaling and strengthening her network of friends outside of work, she was no longer under the control of burnout.
One of the most common symptoms of burnout is pervasive negative thoughts. Meditation has helped to keep those at bay. With a clear mind, it is easier to deal with stress without becoming overwhelmed or discouraged.
At one point, burnout threatened her career. Being able to recognize the signs of burnout and learning how to cope with them allowed her to return to her practice. By taking care of herself and her needs and meditating, she found that she was not only in a better place personally – she was a better doctor.
After about two years into her career, a nurse practitioner started to feel the physical and mental toll her work was taking. She wasn’t happy at work, and the demands of her job, combined with the frequency of dealing with death, were starting to have serious negative impacts.
She applied for a job outside the area of ICU, and after a few years, she was able to return to ICU nursing. She still experiences difficulties and stress, but she has found effective ways to prevent burnout before it starts. Because of this, she has continued her nursing career while also taking care of herself and her needs.
For her, connecting with friends outside of work, trying new things, traveling when she can, and exercising on her days off have helped to avoid burnout. Talking with other medical professionals who have experienced similar struggles has also been beneficial.
Throughout her career, she has worked in various areas of nursing. Each transition has posed different challenges, but they led her to a role that she feels is exactly where she needs to be.
During her neurosurgery residency, one doctor was working 80 hours per week while also being on-call for 32 hours every four nights. It was impossible to find a balance between work and life. On her days off, she was only able to take care of her basic needs, like eating and sleeping.
When she started having trouble concentrating, she knew something was wrong. It became more difficult to get her work done, and others began to notice the changes in her. She didn’t feel like herself, and the depression she did feel got worse.
Like many who experience burnout, she was hesitant to talk about the problems she was facing. She didn’t want to burden friends in her residency, who had their own work and lives to deal with. Friends outside the field of medicine couldn’t relate. She felt like she had nowhere to turn.
In need of a break, she reduced her schedule where she could. She took some time off to recharge and escape from the constant pressure to do more, work more. She started exercising, eating and sleeping better, and paying attention to her needs. She also reminded herself that she wasn’t the only one who had felt the way she did.
For the majority of those in the medical field, burnout is something they will experience at least once in their career. The stigma around it has started to decrease in recent years, and it is now a widely recognized condition in the medical community. More studies on burnout and resources for preventing it are now available.
Instead of suffering in silence or leaving the medical field, more doctors and nurses are opening up about their experience with burnout. New programs are becoming available, and changes in how healthcare systems operate are addressing the issue of burnout.
For doctors and nurses struggling with burnout, the most important thing to do is reach out. Let others know what you are going through. Burnout is a serious, difficult thing to experience, but it doesn’t have to mean the end of a career. It is something that many have overcome and learned to prevent. Remember, you are not alone – there is hope.
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