I used to be the person my nurse practitioner coworkers would call if they wanted to give up an ER shift. While I of course preferred my days off, the allure of extra cash and the desire to stand out as a star employee always won out. A single woman just starting out my career, not to mention a new homeowner, I also secured a PRN retail health job on the side. Effectively, I could work seven days a week should I choose to do so.
Each time I contemplated working extra hours, I would dream about the purchases I could make with my unanticipated income. Three shifts=one new living room couch. Done. Two extra hours=one pair of designer jeans. I’ll take them. Slowly, exhaustion began to creep in. I was sleeping plenty, but the mental exhaustion of working at the clinic or hospital constantly began to take a toll. I was forced to decline social outings with friends, and found myself longing to be outside in the sunshine rather than under the fluorescent lights of the ER. While this is all part of holding a J-O-B, I was taking on more than was required of me to my personal detriment. Yes, my bank account was growing, but what good were my designer jeans sitting in my dresser drawer while I was at work six days a week wearing scrubs? I was getting burnt out. Quickly.
The reality is that being a nurse practitioner is hard work. Often, it calls for long, unconventional hours. Being ‘on’ all day while interacting with patients can be exhausting. Spending a 12-hour shift on your feet is enough to make your legs cramp and your lower back ache. Finding a way to make your career sustainable for the long-term is essential. How do you avoid burnout as a nurse practitioner?
Ask for What You Want
If you’ve worked for the same employer for a substantial amount of time and see signs of burnout creeping in, think about what might help make your position more sustainable. Would an hour of extra admin time each day keep you from charting all evening at home? Would a half-day off every week allow you to spend more time with your kids? If so, ask. Chances are, if your requests are well thought out and reasonable, your boss will work with you to make your position more accommodating.
At one point in my career, I found myself so utterly overwhelmed by picking up extra shifts to help the team when we were down a nurse practitioner that I was on the verge of quitting my job. Exhausted, I asked the medical director of the emergency department if there was a way out of my situation. He came up with a simple solution. The docs would pitch in to help cover some NP shifts preventing any one provider from being too burdened. The result? I happily kept my position and continue to work in the same job three years later.
Learn to Say ‘No’
Being a team player is important as a nurse practitioner. When a coworker goes on maternity leave, has a family emergency, or simply requests a few shifts off for a vacation, it’s cordial to help cover these gaps once in a while. But, don’t let yourself be too burdened by these requests. Learn to say ‘no’. You can’t be all things to all people. You can’t neglect your family so your counterparts can spend time with theirs. Settle into an appropriate give and take with your coworkers, but don’t be a doormat when it comes to helping out.
Not all nurse practitioner specialties are created equally. Some are more physically demanding than others, while some jobs take more of an emotional toll on NPs. If your job is causing you physical, emotional, or mental burnout, consider witching specialties for a time. Moving from the emergency department to an urgent care position for a few years will be less demanding allowing you to direct your energy to other aspects of life. Leaving your position in pediatric oncology for one working primarily with well children, for example, may be the emotional reprieve you need to prevent complete burnout.
I know, it sounds counterintuitive that adding exercise to your already packed schedule would serve to reduce chronic stress, it’s the best way I’ve found to blow off some steam. Go for a walk, pick up jogging, or find a workout class. Whatever your preferred activity, breaking a sweat gives you added energy for facing your day and helps lower stress levels.
Think Ahead When Signing You Employment Agreement
Treating patients is an integral part of your job as a nurse practitioner, but it’s not the only part of your job. Some employers may require you to participate in administrative tasks, marketing efforts, or other day to day clinical duties. These things require your time. What non-clinical activities will you be expected to take on? Non-clinical duties should be clearly outlined in your employment agreement so you aren’t expected to accept more responsibility without additional compensation in the future. Decide if you are up for additional administrative responsibilities or if these non-clinical aspects of the job will position you for burnout.
Get a Financial Plan in Place
Putting a budget in place and planning ahead financially for yourself and your family is key to helping prevent the burnout associated with overworking yourself. If you constantly find yourself in need of extra cash to cover unplanned expenses, the problem may be that you aren’t planning ahead. Manage your discretionary spending so you can save for unplanned expenses. This way, you won’t feel the need to overwork yourself when unanticipated expenses come your way. Keeping your finances in order will help you make the most of working less.
Choose Your Job Wisely
Assess the environment of a workplace before accepting a nurse practitioner position. What does the company culture look like? How many patients will you be expected to treat per hour? How does the on-call or weekend rotation work? If the clinic or hospital’s culture seems disorganized, stressful, or overwhelming, it likely is a position that could lead to burnout. Think twice before accepting the offer.
For me, preventing burnout meant working fewer hours. As I picked up fewer shifts, I began to enjoy my job more. I became more patient with coworkers. I had a more pleasant disposition when interacting with patients, and even had more energy to pour into continued learning. The temptation of earning an extra buck was certainly there, but I reserved scheduling myself for additional shifts to times when coworkers were in need. While my paycheck might not look quite like it used to, I have more time to spend with friends and family. My schedule is more flexible and my job more enjoyable. Foregoing a new living room couch for feeling whole and balanced rather than a slave to my work schedule was well worth the sacrifice.
How do you prevent burnout as a nurse practitioner?
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