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The importance of understanding burnout: an oncology nurse perspective

27 May 2021
Volume 30 · Issue 10


The challenges presented by the global COVID-19 pandemic have intensified the stressors placed on nurses, leading to burnout. Oncology nurse burnout is likely to be an increasingly significant issue for cancer services as the true cost of the pandemic is revealed. Delays in diagnosis and treatment of cancers are reported widely, inevitably leading to poor prognosis and more aggressive treatments for patients. Gaining a better understanding of oncology nurse burnout, its prevalence and causes as well as strategies to reduce or prevent it will help to improve patient care and support staff wellbeing during and after the pandemic. Methodology: A search of the literature related to oncology nurse burnout, covering North America and Europe over 5 years (August 2014-January 2020), resulted in 31 articles for review. None of the studies were carried out in the UK, suggesting a need for robust investigations into oncology nurse burnout in the British health service. Summary: The prevalence of burnout among oncology nurses before the COVID-19 outbreak appeared to be high and is likely to have increased as a result of the pandemic. However, the studies investigating oncology nurse burnout are small and cross-sectional, with low-quality methods. The literature suggests the major causes of burnout arise in the workplace, particularly aspects of the environment that prevent nurses from working according to their values. Although burnout is frequently attributed to workplace factors, interventions remain focused on individuals' coping mechanisms and rarely on the workplace factors that are known to cause it.

Burnout is an important and pertinent topic for nursing in 2021. The challenges presented by the global COVID-19 pandemic have intensified the stressors placed on nurses, leading to burnout and compassion fatigue (Chen et al, 2021). Many nurses have been redeployed into roles created as a response to the COVID-19 crisis and are required to manage complex diagnosis and treatment regimens outside their normal area of work.

Burnout is thought to contribute to poorer patient outcomes and lower care standards (Cañadas-De la Fuente et al, 2018). Staff absenteeism increases and care standards fall, negatively impacting nurse wellbeing, healthcare institutions' performance and patient outcomes (Russell, 2016). Burnt-out nurses are emotionally and physically drained, lack enthusiasm and concentration, and are more likely to make errors (Gómez-Urquiza et al, 2016). Gaining a better understanding of the causes of burnout and effective strategies to reduce or prevent it will help to improve patient care and support staff wellbeing during and after the global COVID-19 pandemic.

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