Nursing Burnout in Hospice Staff

Hospice administrators and nursing managers are likely familiar with how difficult it is to keep after-hour hospice care nurses motivated and engaged in the important work of providing quality end-of-life care and emotional support to patients, families, and caregivers during difficult times.

Hospice Nurses and “Burnout”

The Hospice and Palliative Nurses Association eloquently captures the important role of palliative and hospice care nurses in providing comprehensive and compassionate care through the end of life: Hospice care nurses “promote quality of life for patients and families facing serious or life-threatening illness by combining…the science of expert assessment, symptom management, and critical thinking…with the art of compassion, openness, mindfulness, and skillful communication.”

The stress of this important job can lead hospice care nurses to disengage from their work, or exhibit symptoms of nursing burnout. Burnout is more than the typical need for a few days off – it’s a significant issue that impacts health care organizations, clinicians, and patients.

After-hour hospice care nurses are particularly vulnerable as they face unique challenges including:

  • Long shifts and on-call hours
  • Emotional strain of caring for dying patients
  • Personal stress of supporting distressed family members and caregivers

One study calls this a critical issue as the profession attempts to attract new staff to meet the expanding demands for hospice care. Managers who recognize and address nursing burnout can implement strategies to lessen the impact on hospice care nurses, patients, and families and prevent issues from high staff turnover rates and low morale, to increased errors and decreased profitability.

Symptoms of Nursing Burnout

The American Nursing Association characterizes nursing burnout as being fundamentally characterized by ‘emotional exhaustion,’ but after-hour hospice care nurses can exhibit many symptoms:

Physical Exhaustion and Frequent Illness

Hospice care nurses that are overly tired can experience impacts to not only their job performance but also their ability to recuperate during personal time. By the same token, these issues can decrease their ability to ward off infection, leading to an increased number of sick days.

Inability to Set Healthy Boundaries

Highly committed and passionate nurses are particularly vulnerable to worrying about patients and finding it impossible to disconnect from work during time off.

Dreading Going to Work

Hospice care workers suffering burnout often arrive late, take longer breaks, complete less work while on duty, and dread turning phones on for on-call shifts.

Feeling Underappreciated

Often, burned out nurses feel like they can’t meet expectations and some become hypercritical of managers, organizations, peers, and their own performance.

Lack of Ambition

Many nurses with burnout lack motivation and feel they are simply going through the motions. This, in time, negatively impacts job performance.

Compassion Fatigue

Some hospice care nurses become cynical or indifferent and have difficulty in empathizing with patients or caregivers. They may also be impatient or irritable with coworkers and patients.

Check out our next post for proven tips for reducing nursing burnout for palliative and hospice care nurses.