Nurse Burnout Is Affecting ER Talent, and Not For The Better

Health Carousel Travel Nursing
August 10, 2015
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“In almost a decade at my current job in a busy suburban ED, I have watched countless talented and experienced ER nurses come and go.  At first, I asked them why they were leaving.  Now, I ask them why they stayed as long as they did.”

In what’s becoming a worsening trend, more E.R. nurses are leaving their specialty for familiar issues. Thomas Paine, MD, and writer at, recently wrote a detailed account of nurse exodus from the E.R. As Dr. Paine mentions in the article, the E.R. is a great place to begin a nursing career. “One can learn an incredible amount, develop competency and confidence with various types of patients, as well as become a member of the team in a busy American emergency department,” he writes.

Competency and confidence are vital attributes of any great nurse, but as Dr. Paine continues, we learn that the negatives ultimately outweigh the positives. He cites long hours, the demand from patients and administration, dwindling support and a feeling of inadequate performance as reasons for nurse burnout. “They wear down so much that they leave to work somewhere else.” Dr. Paine writes.  “All of them do: every single one.  I have seen seemingly unbreakable people with seemingly unbreakable spirits leave because their spirits were broken . . . Experienced ER nurses leave because their work environment sucks.”

This is disastrous news for patients receiving treatment in facilities where this is happening. Several studies like this one spearheaded by Dr. Linda Aiken and articles like this one by Alexandra Robbins have illustrated increased morbidity and mortality in hospitals and wards with poor nurse-to-patient ratios. But what can be done about this? Dr. Paine explores a fix,

Until we are able to shift the focus from patient satisfaction to patient safety, healthcare workers will continue to rearrange deck chairs on the Titanic. Pedicures, valet parking, and great food are boons for wealthy folks who aren’t terribly sick. Trouble is, American emergency departments care for three types of patients: the really old, the really sick, and the really poor. A really sick, really old, or really poor person will be turned away from anywhere but the ER. Not every American is really old or really poor, but there is a good chance that sooner or later, every American will get really sick. When that happens, trust me when I say that the valet parking and pedicure won’t matter.

You can read the article in its entirety here. Health Carousel Travel Nursing has been documenting this epidemic for a long time, and if you happen to be an E.R. nurse experiencing the conditions described by Dr. Paine, know that there are countless options for you, including travel nursing. Thirteen-week contract lengths are short enough to ensure you aren’t chained to a facility where you’re routinely overworked and undervalued.

The demand for travel nurses has reached a 20-year high. If you’re in the E.R. and experiencing the burn for yourself, maybe it’s time to consider a change.

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