Keeping the Faith: A Healthcare Worker’s Story of Burnout
An ER nurse shares how her faith in God and support from her church community helps her get through burnout.
I am a registered nurse who works in the emergency department. I love nursing, and I believe it is my God-given purpose and calling.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, I started working as a travel nurse, and still do. Travel nursing gained popularity during the start of the Covid-19 pandemic when hospitals were in dire need of staff. During that time, travel nurse compensation was very competitive, enticing many to uproot and relocate, including myself. While the pandemic has mostly lifted, staff shortages and other obstacles remain for healthcare workers, driving many to experience burnout or leave the profession entirely.
I have experienced a fair share of burnout in my line of work, which was exacerbated during the recent pandemic. It is the most significant challenge I have faced as a nurse. Unfortunately, many nurses have left healthcare all together due to this. Thankfully, I have found ways to manage and even overcome it at times, thanks to my faith in God and Christian community.
Burnout can be defined as the “exhaustion of physical or emotional strength or motivation, usually as a result of prolonged stress or frustration.” According to the Department of Health and Human Services, some of the causes of burnout in healthcare workers are excessive workloads, administrative burdens, limited say in scheduling, and lack of organizational support. For a healthcare worker, this may feel like being expected to be in more than one place at once, or look like not sitting down or eating a meal for 10+ hours during a shift. It may manifest itself as feelings of defeat, anxiety or dread when approaching or thinking about work.
It not only negatively impacts a healthcare worker’s wellbeing, but their patients may suffer as well, by not receiving the quality of care they need. If left untreated or unaddressed, burnout can lead to depression, exhaustion unrelieved by rest, broken relationships (personal and professional) or in severe cases even suicide in healthcare workers.
[burnout] not only negatively impacts a healthcare worker’s wellbeing, but their patients may suffer as well, by not receiving the quality of care they need.
On a typical day, I begin my shift with nervous anticipation, as I do not know what the day will hold. I may have up to four patients that I care for at a given time. It is not uncommon for at least two of my patients to be critically unstable and in need of several interventions, which requires extensive documentation that would call for me to be in their room the majority of my shift.
God is the source of comfort for me whenever I experience burnout. When I am at the end of myself, I find him. I do not have to look far because he is already there, all around, waiting for me to ask for help.
A particularly challenging day may go something like this: The doctor puts in orders which I complete. But, just when I feel on top of things, new orders are placed, a critical patient starts to decline, a new patient gets admitted and another discharged at the same time. Later, I get a call from room one asking for food and help to the bathroom, room two’s visitor is angry and wants an explanation as to why the patient has not yet received a bed for admission, and room three just pulled out his IV. Days like this can lead to burnout, especially when they are back to back, or when I’m not intentional about seeking out support from my friends, family and my faith community.
For a travel nurse, there are additional sources of burnout that come with the nature of the job. The knowledge that your travel contract can be terminated at any time without pay can cause immense pressure and the feeling of job insecurity can leave you feeling anxious. Traveling means leaving friends and family behind, incurring extra expenses like paying for housing back home and where your travel contract assignment is, and sometimes even sleeping on an air mattress. Not to mention the stress of adjusting to a new environment and hospital setting, with minimal orientation and time to acclimate.
You really have to find a way to cope when dealing with any hardship in life, including burnout, or it will get the best of you. God is the source of comfort for me whenever I experience burnout. When I am at the end of myself, I find him. I do not have to look far because he is already there, all around, waiting for me to ask for help.
I try to begin every prayer with praise and thanks regardless of what I am going through because I know that God is still good. Honestly, this is not always easy. I’ve realized though that I do not have to wait until I am in a good place to come to God. I can come to Him with my pain, my wondering, my frustrations, even if some of it is directed at him. God can handle my biggest emotions, and he honors the fact that I made the choice to trust in Him despite what I am feeling. Choice is so important. So I praise, I thank, and then I tell God all that is not right in my world. Of course, he is already aware of all of it, but it gives Him permission to go to work in my life.
…for me the atmosphere at church created by praise and worship is unlike any other…When I praise God, I feel like his presence is magnified in my life. He becomes larger than my circumstances, larger than my problems, larger than myself.
Sometimes I cannot even muster the energy to pray, and so I just trust God to hear my heart. A patient once told me to look around me, externally, for God’s answer after I pray because he is always speaking and will provide. And he does, as he did through that patient.
Having a church community has been beneficial to me as well. The church provides me with an opportunity to connect with like minded believers. I might not always have time to hang out at a church barbecue or meet up for coffee, but I can count on my church praying for me, and this means everything to me. Also, for me the atmosphere at church created by praise and worship is unlike any other; there is no place I’d rather be. When I praise God, I feel like his presence is magnified in my life. He becomes larger than my circumstances, larger than my problems, larger than myself.
It is only by God’s grace and through prayer, that I am able to keep showing up to work, day after day, especially when I feel like I’ve given my all the day before, and return knowing still more will be asked of me. Burnout is real, but thankfully, so is my God who continues to work all things for my good and to give me joy, peace, and strength when I need it. I know I can trust him to provide and sustain me when I am depleted and burnt out, because his track record is impeccable.
Burnout is real, but thankfully, so is my God who continues to work all things for my good and to give me joy, peace, and strength when I need it.
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About the author
Charles Foster | Inhabit the World