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Karen Harris is a clinical nurse educator at Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center (RHLCCC), Northwestern Medicine in Chicago. Karen transitioned to nurse educator after many years of working as an infusion nurse. Her strong desire to teach led her to her current role, educating and mentoring new nurses entering the oncology field. Karen was instrumental in the development of the first preceptorship program at RHLCCC to develop high-level oncology nurses. Karen also chairs RHLCCC’s Best Practice committee, ensuring evidence-based practice across the cancer center.

ICD 11-Code Burnout: Oncology Nurses Are at Risk

The nursing shortage will be severe, ultimately increasing the number of burnout syndrome among nurses. Nurses will have to take an active role in their own lives to minimize burnout.
PUBLISHED: 6:00 PM, FRI JULY 5, 2019
The World Health Organization (WHO) has validated burnout in the workplace by identifying it as a medical diagnosis and adding it to the 11th version of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD) if certain criteria are met. WHO lists 3 areas to diagnose burnout: feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion, increased mental distance from one’s job or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job, and reduced professional efficacy.1

Burnout is common in nursing and can be more common depending on the area or specialty the nurse works in, such as oncology.

A study published in Psycho-Oncology concluded that, “the presence and the risk of burnout among these staff members are considerable.”2 Studies have given attention to oncology nurses due the type of care provided for patients with pathologies that can cause death and/or dramatically alter their lives. Oncology nurses oftentimes have to cope with the grieving, suffering, and loss of not only their patients but within their own families.2  

Now that burnout is a medical diagnosis, how will companies address this with their employees? Many organizations have available, employee assistance programs (EAP). EAPs provides support, counseling, and resources for life issues that can take a toll on your emotional well-being or take time away from the things you value most. Other options that an organization can offer is training to help employees identify stress, normalize work-related stress, and promote self-care. Mindfulness meditation and gentle mindful movement classes are offered in the cancer center I work twice a month. However, is this enough?

Nurses work under very difficult conditions including long shifts, rotating shifts, increased patient load with high acuity, and understaffing.  Other factors contributing to nurse burnout is the combination of aging baby boomers, retirement of nurses, and a lack of facilities to train more qualified nurses.3

Considering all of this, it is projected that nursing shortage will be severe between 2020 and 2030. These factors, along with caring for patients with cancer, is enough to cause nurses to be burned out, exhausted, fatigued, and produce low productivity. In order to improve burnout syndrome, the root causes have to be addressed. What is being done today to help identify solutions today and for the future?

The American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN), is working with schools, policymakers, nursing organizations, and the media to bring attention to this healthcare concern. AACN is leveraging its resources to shape legislation, identify strategies, and form collaborations to address the shortage.3 Thankfully, work is being done by associations and employers to help minimize burnout phenomenon. However, due to the nature of the nursing career nurses are the most important ones to minimize their own burnout. Nurses have to take an active role in their own lives.

Nurses can help themselves by keeping professional life and home life separate and avoiding dwelling on work issues at home, which will allow for easier relaxation when off the clock. Take time for self-care by maintaining a well-balanced diet, exercise, and getting adequate rest. Enjoying hobbies and investing in relaxation techniques like meditation or journaling are also excellent ways to relieve stress.4 

Fellow nurses, just as we love and care for our patients we must love and care for ourselves if we are going to continue in the field of nursing healthy both physically and mentally.

  1. Prior R. CNN. Burnout is an official medical diagnosis, world health organization says, CNN website. Published May 27, 2019. Accessed June 18, 2019.   
  2. Gullermo A, Canadas-De la Fuente JL, Gomez-Urquiza EM. et al; Prevalence of burnout syndrome in oncology nursing: a meta-analytic study. Psycho-Oncology. 2018
  3. Nursing shortage. American association of colleges of nursing. AACN website. Accessed June 16, 2019.
  4. Nurse burnout. Nursing .org website. Accessed June 16,2019.


Talk about this article with nurses and others in the oncology community in the General Discussions Oncology Nursing News discussion group.
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