Sample Nursing Paper on Burnout in Critical Care Nurses

Burnout in Critical Care Nurses

Burnout is among the most discussed themes in the scientific community when addressing the mental health of workers. It is also recognized as an occupational hazard for various people including health service professionals. However, nursing has been identified among the fields with the highest rates of prevalence, which negatively affects an organization, individual nurses, and the patient. Burnout in the workplace has been associated with absenteeism, reduced productivity individually and at the organization level, and high staff turnover. Additionally, burnout may have adverse physical and psychological effects on the health workers. While all nurses are susceptible to these conditions, critical care nurses, like those situated in the emergency department and intensive care units, are at a higher risk of suffering from burnout. This is due to the stressful nature of their environments.Since burnout can cause adverse effects, it is important to understand the causal factors, which can be helpful in preventing and alleviating its effects. Burnout predictors among critical care nurses include age, gender, marital status, organizational factors, personality traits, ethical issues, and workload.

Herbert Freudenberger first used the term “burnout” in 1974 when exploring his status as a result of working with substance abusers (Harkin &Melby, 2014). Christina Maslach further developed the phenomenon and defined burnout as a “psychological response to chronic emotional and interpersonal stressors in one’s job.” (Harkin &Melby, 2014). The science community has listed emotional exhaustion, reduced personal accomplishment, and depersonalization as the characteristics of burnout. Emotional exhaustion involves the emotional and cognitive disconnection of oneself from work. Depersonalization is the negative confrontation of patients while reduced personal accomplishment is the diminishing of one’s feelings of satisfaction and achievement (Harkin &Melby, 2014). Burnout has also been linked to compassion fatigue, a feeling of weariness and stress experienced by nurses as they struggle to alleviate the suffering of their patients (Chuang et al., 2016). Although the two concepts are interconnected, compassion fatigue is a result of relational connections that nurses develop with their patients. Maslach& Leiter (2001), as cited by Harkin &Melby, established a theory that attributes burnout to a mismatch between an individual and the domains of his/her professional setting such as fairness, values, community, reward, and control (2014). Therefore, there is a higher possibility of burnout if the degree of the mismatch is higher. This explains why critical care nurses are more likely to experience high-level burnout compared to their counterparts. It is, therefore, important to understand the causal factors of burnout in order to gain knowledge of how to deal with the syndrome.

Predictors of Burnout


The existing body of literature states that younger nurses are at a higher risk of experiencing burnout compared to their older counterparts. This knowledgeis backed by various studies including Chen et al., as cited in Chuang et al., who indicated that younger nurses are most likely to experience burnout in forms of emotional exhaustion and depersonalization (2016). Furthermore, Harkin &Melby, while examining the prevalence of burnout among emergency and medical nursesfound out that age was a risk factor. In their research, younger, recently employed nurses reported higher burnout levels than the older experienced nurses. This has been interpreted that younger inexperienced nurses encounter initial shock when they face the stressful environment (Harkin &Melby, 2014). Older nurses have gained tolerance of the environmental factors, and therefore, experience less burnout.


Gender has also featured prominently in risk factors of burnout. Previous studies have revealed that males reported greater levels of depersonalization compared to females. This is because, socially, women are associated with empathy and gentleness, while men are considered less emotional and less caring (Harkin &Melby, 2014). However, these studies have revealed that women experience higher levels of burnout compared to men due to their caring nature. On the other hand, a Swiss study indicated that organizations with more women were more likely to experience lower levels of burnout (Chuang et al., 2016).

Marital Status

Marital status and childbearing also play a role in an individual’s experience of burnout. Various studies have indicated that being single and childless puts a nurse at a higher risk of experiencing burnout. For instance, a study by Chen & McMurray, as cited by Chuang et al., found out that married nurses reported lower levels of burnout in the domain of depersonalization compared to unmarried nurses (2016). Similarly, a study in Portugal revealed that married individuals were less likely to experience burnout compared to their single counterparts. Researchers have explained that children drive a motive to create work balance, thus, allowing individuals to develop better-coping techniques of stressors.


Night shifts and longer working hours have been attributed to higher levels of burnout. In their systematic review, Chuang et al. cite two surveys that revealed that working for over 36 hours a week put nurses at a greater risk of experiencing burnout (2016). In a similar vein, a French study cited by Chuang et al. showed that increased frequency of night shifts in a month and longer working hours increased the risk of burnout.

Ethical Issues

Chuang et al. cite studies by Embriaco et al. and Poncet et al., which reported higher burnout among nurses who had often dealt with death or been associated with decisions of foregoing life-sustaining treatment (2016). In another study, Teixeira et al. indicated that ethical issues like making decisions regarding end of life correlated to higher levels of burnout.

Personality and Traits

A Norway study, as cited by Chuang et al., revealed that “vulnerable” personalities were a risk factor for burnout. The research utilized the basic character inventory methodology that measures extroversion, neuroticism, and compulsiveness to evaluate burnout (2016). Consistently, Mealer et al. indicated that emotionally resilient individuals experienced lower posttraumatic stress disorder and burnout syndrome in nurses working in ICU.

Burnout, which is prevalent in the field of nursing, is characterized by emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and less individual satisfaction. It causes staff turnover, absenteeism, and lower productivity. It also has psychological and physical effects on nurses. While all nurses experience burnout, those offering critical care are at a higher risk of developing burnout due to the stressful conditions they work in. Other risk factors for burnout include age, experience, workload, gender, and marital status among others. Due to the negative impact of burnout on nurses, organizations, and patients, strategies should be developed to prevent burnout and alleviate its effects. These measures can include flexible working schedules like rotational shifts and reduced working hours, regular staff meetings, and stress management training. Such methods can help to create a healthy working environment, hence, quality services.




Chuang, C., Tseng, P., Lin, C., Lin, K., & Chen, Y. (2016, Dec 16). Burnout in the intensive care unit professionals: A systematic review.Medicine (Baltimore), 95(50). Retrieved from 10.1097/MD.0000000000005629

Harkin, M. &Melby, V. (2014, Jun 29).Comparing burnout in emergency nurses and medical nurses.Clinical Nursing Studies, 2(3). Retrieved from DOI: 10.5430/cns.v2n3p152