Critical Care Nursing and Burnout Syndrome

Critical care nursing is the field of nursing that focuses on the care of the seriously ill or unstable patients, who require intensive treatment and close monitoring.

Critical care nurses make use of their specialized nursing skills and in-depth knowledge to ensure all seriously ill get the best possible intensive care. They use technologically advanced medical equipment for monitoring and supporting patients’ bodily functions. Majority of the critical care nurses work in the hospitals in the critical care units (CCUs), which are also known as intensive care units (ICUs).

Critical care nursing is required under the following circumstances –

  • A life-threatening condition such as a heart attack, stroke, drug overdose, etc.
  • A serious accident such as a road accident, train accident, severe head injury, serious fall, severe burn injury, etc.
  • A serious infection such as sepsis, severe pneumonia, etc.
  • A major surgery

Duties performed by a critical care nurses include making assessments of critical conditions, giving intensive therapy, monitoring the progress of patient, operating life support system and advanced medical equipment, acting as an advocate for patient and his/her family, and supporting the patient and his/her family by providing education and emotional support.

Critical care nurses work in a variety of critical care settings such as –

  • Medical intensive care unit (MICU) – A hospital unit that provides care to patients with a variety of serious medical conditions.
  • Surgical intensive care unit (SICU) – This unit provides medical care to the critically ill surgical patients.
  • Neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) –  It provides care to premature and seriously ill newborns. 
  • Paediatric intensive care unit (PICU) –  This unit provides care to critically ill children.
  • Trauma intensive care unit (TICU) – It provides critical care to emergency/trauma patients.
  • Coronary care unit (CCU) – It is also known as Cardiac Intensive Care Unit (CICU) or Cardiovascular Intensive Care Unit (CVICU). It provides care to patients with critical cardiac conditions such as acute myocardial infarction, heart failure, cardiomyopathy, severe dysrhythmias, cardiac arrest, cardiogenic shock, etc.
  • Neurological intensive care unit – It provides specialised intensive care to patients who have a severe illness or injury affecting their brain, spinal cord or peripheral nerves.
  • Post-anaesthesia care unit (PACU) – It is also known as post-anaesthesia recovery (PAR) unit. In this unit, the signs and symptoms of patients recovering from surgery and anaesthesia are monitored.
  • Burn unit – This hospital unit is meant for treating patients with significant burns.
  • High dependency unit (HDU) – This unit is also known as step down unit or progressive care unit. It caters to the need of those patients who require close observation, treatment and nursing care that cannot be provided in a general ward, but whose care is not critical enough to warrant an ICU bed.

The profession of critical care nursing involves a lot of hard work, patience, and dedication. Due to the demanding nature of the work that a critical care nurse performs, he/she may become a victim of chronic stress. Chronic stress can lead to burnout syndrome, which is a state of emotional, mental and physical exhaustion.

A nurse affected with burnout feels drained and emotionally exhausted, unable to cope, tired and without energy. He/she may have physical symptoms such as pain and stomach or bowel problems. He/she may find his/her job increasingly stressful and frustrating. He/she may start being cynical about his/her working conditions and colleagues, distance himself/herself emotionally, and start feeling numb about work.

Burnout affects everyday tasks at work and home. A nurse with burnout may become very negative about his/her tasks and find it hard to concentrate. He/she may become listless and lack creativity.

If you are a critical care nurse, you can make use of the following tips to help prevent a burnout –

Choose the critical care work setting that best suits you

Choosing the right work setting according to your interest and ability lessens the chances of having a burnout later. Decide carefully whether you want to work in a neonatal intensive care unit, trauma intensive care unit, coronary care unit, surgical intensive care unit, neurological intensive care unit, burn unit, or any other unit. You may want to work in a critical care ambulance/mobile intensive care unit.     

Go for high nurse-to-patient ratio

When searching for a workplace, look out for those hospitals that have high nurse-to-patient ratio in the intensive care units. Caring for a lesser number of patients reduces the workload and stress, and decreases mortality rate of patients. According to a study involving more than a thousand ICUs in 75 countries, a nurse to patient ratio of more than 1:1.5 in ICU was associated with lower in-hospital death compared with a 1:2 ratio.  

Share your thoughts and issues with other nurses

Not disclosing your problems to your friendly colleagues only does one thing that it increases your problems. Discussing your experiences and issues with other nurses makes your life much easier. You may consider joining a virtual/online or real nurse community or support group.

Don’t overwork regularly

Avoid working in extra shifts at the expense of your health. Give time to yourself and engage in leisure activities. 

Don’t ignore your health

In caring for your patients, don’t forget to care about your own health. Eat a healthy diet, make exercise a routine, and sleep enough to fully refresh yourself. Exercising regularly increases well-being and decreases stress. If you are ill, get yourself checked by your doctor and strictly follow the prescribed treatment.  

Enjoy with your family, friends, and pets

Taking time out of your busy schedule to have fun with your loved ones is a great way to decrease stress and prevent burnout. Spending time with your pet can also help in relieving stress. 

Engage yourself in leisure activities

Spare some time for yourself. In your spare time, engage in leisure activities such as your favourite hobby, sports, etc. Engaging in an activity that makes you happy boosts your energy level for carrying out your nursing job. 

Try relaxation techniques

Relaxation techniques activate the body’s natural relaxation response to stress. The relaxation response calms your body and mind, boosts energy and mood, increases concentration, relieves aches, enhances problem-solving abilities, increases motivation, and boosts productivity. Some of the relaxation techniques are deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, mindfulness meditation, body scan meditation, rhythmic and mindful exercise, visualization, yoga, tai chi, self-massage, etc.

Unplug and go on a vacation

Disconnect from your work completely for some time and go on a vacation with your loved ones.

These tips help in refreshing your brain and body so that you can carry out your critical care nursing job with your full potential and enthusiasm without a burnout.   

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