Burnout and secondary traumatic stress in medical-surgical nursing

Cheryl Sheffield


Day to day care of patients throughout the continuum of life puts nurses at risk for burnout and secondary traumatic stress (STS). This mixed-methods study explores Medical-Surgical (MS) nursing burnout, STS, and support from professional nursing organization leadership and membership perspectives. Seventy-two nurses were recruited from a nursing organization website and surveyed to provide demographic and Professional Quality of Life Scale Version 5 (ProQOLv5) data. After quantitative data collection, nurse respondents were asked if they would like to participate in a Zoom interview. Qualitative data was derived from in-depth interviews of six medical-surgical nurses and free-text responses from three other participants. The nurses interviewed provided detailed personal definitions of burnout, which led to the identification of themes of “awareness” and “triggers: fueling the fire of burnout,” and also exposed the fluctuating nature of burnout. Participants defined STS as “invasiveness into one’s life” and reflected on the impact that it can have both personally and professionally. Despite the fluctuating nature of burnout and the invasiveness of STS, the nurses interviewed revealed a passion for nursing that served as a driving force for the day-to-day struggle, affirming, “I am a med-surg nurse.” Overcoming burnout and STS lead nurses to “lessons learned: I did not know what I did not know,” which focused on personal and professional growth and development. An overarching theme of “dream vs. reality” captures these stabilizing and destabilizing forces at play in bedside MS nursing.

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.5430/jnep.v13n6p63

Journal of Nursing Education and Practice

ISSN 1925-4040 (Print)   ISSN 1925-4059 (Online)

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