Altruistic nurses more likely to burn out on the job

No good deed goes unpunished--at least for nurses who enter the healthcare profession primarily to help others.

Although in theory it seems that helping others would be the right motivator to enter the nursing profession, a new study by University of Akron researchers finds that caring, nurturing and altruistic nurses actually experience more stress and burnout. The findings were presented Tuesday at the American Sociological Association's annual meeting in San Francisco.

Nurses who pursue their career for other reasons, such as the lifestyle the job offers and the ability to interact with patients, report they are more satisfied and less likely to leave their jobs, according to the paper, "Motivation and Care Dimensions in Caring Labor: Implications for Nurses' Well-Being and Employment Outcomes."

The study is based on survey data from 730 registered nurses in Northeast Ohio. Nearly 90 percent of the respondents were white females.

"We expect women to go into these jobs because they love the people that they're caring for, and this is their primary motivator," said lead study author Janette Dill, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Akron, in the study announcement.

If society can change its cultural assumption, Dill believes that more men may enter the nursing profession and "might not necessarily feel that their whole self has to be devoted to their patients--that they can value their job for other reasons as well."

The findings echo similar research from the United Kingdom earlier this year that shows compassionate and caring nurses who can't turn off their emotions at the end of their shifts often become emotionally exhausted.

"It's important because these nurses are already showing signs of emotional exhaustion very early on in their careers," researcher Sandra Leggetter of the University of Bedfordshire said about the previous research. "In order to retain your own health as a nurse you have to be able to switch off. What we need to do now is develop ways for nurses to find emotional boundaries between themselves and their patients."

The United Kingdom research team recommended that hospitals provide better support to nurses through peer coaches and reflective supervision, where they are encouraged to share problems with each other and senior members of staff. They also suggested nurses write down their thoughts and feelings.

But the profession itself causes a certain amount of stress that impacts all nurses, according to a Nursing Times survey of 2,200 nurses conducted last year. Eight out of 10 nurses reported they were under more pressure than the previous year and suffer physical ailments as a result, FierceHealthcare previously reported.

To learn more:
- here's the study announcement

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