Nurses in the US are struggling with burnout and many are considering quitting the profession, according to a survey that reveals startlingly similarities to the situation in the UK.

According to the survey of more than 900 nursing working in the US, which has also been hit by widespread nursing shortages, nearly half – 49% – have considered leaving nursing in the past two years.

The 2018 survey by nationwide nursing agency RNnetwork found the vast majority – 80% – felt their setting was understaffed while most regularly felt burned out in their jobs. The findings echo those from surveys of nurses working in the UK, which also show staffing issues have piled up the pressure on nurses and mean they are not always able to provide the best care.

The Royal College of Nursing’s employment survey for 2017 found around eight out of 10 nurses – 79% – felt that there were not enough staff at their place of work to meet patients’ needs.

In addition, 63% felt under too much pressure at work with just 41% saying they would recommend a career in nursing and more than a third – 37% – reporting they were seeking a new job.

The RNnetwork’s Portrait of a Modern Nurse survey, which was mainly completed by nurses who have been in practice for 10 years or more, reveals many parallels with nursing in the UK. It shows burnout continues to be a major problem, with 62% of nurses reporting they regularly feel burned out in their jobs and 43% saying they believed burnout had affected their performance.

Not only did burnout affect patient care, it also had an impact on job satisfaction and family life, the survey found, with 19% reporting it affected family relationships.

When asked how they coped with burnout, 19% of US nurses said they spent time with friends and family, while 17% said they took “strategic time off” work. Meanwhile, 13% turned to exercise, 13% relied on caffeine to get them through and 12% said they ate more.

According to the Bureau of Labour Statistics in the United States, the country is facing a shortage of 1.2millon nurses by 2022. The US survey, which covers nurse working in most fields of nursing and specialties, shows staffing shortages are having an impact on nurses’ workloads with 88% reporting that was the case in 2018 – up from 62% in 2016. Nearly half – 46% – said they felt more overworked than they did two years ago, while more than half – 54% – reported their workload was having a negative impact on their mental health. Of those who said they had considered leaving nursing, nearly a quarter – 24% – said feeling overworked was the main reason.

Similar surveys of UK nurses have uncovered high levels of sickness, bullying and abuse and this picture is echoed in the US findings. The vast majority – 85% – of US nurses reported going into work sick at some point, with 54% saying burnout had contributed to their illness. In the UK, just under half of nursing staff who took part in the 2017 RCN survey said they had gone to work while feeling unwell at least twice in the past year, with stress and mental health issues accounting for a significant proportion of health problems.

In the US, nearly 40% of nurses reported being verbally bullied or harassed in the workplace with 30% of incidents caused by fellow nurses. More than one in five – 21% – said they had experienced sexual harassment at work, with 43% of incidents involving patients, 29% doctors and 24% nurses.

In the UK more than a quarter – 27% – of nurses said they had experienced physical abuse from patients, service users or relatives in the past 12 months, while 68% said they had experienced verbal abuse from the same groups.

Lynne Goss, vice president at RNnetwork, said the US survey findings painted a worrying picture and urged health providers to take note. “The fact that the majority of nurses are burned out and half are considering leaving their profession should be a wake-up call for the healthcare industry,” she said.

She noted that there were steps employers could take to improve working conditions and address some of some of the issues highlighted by nurses.

“These survey findings reveal areas where providers can work with nurses to improve working hours, reduce instances of workplace bullying and harassment, and address mental health,” she added.


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