Nurse Burnout Is Another Epidemic

So, what are we doing about it?

Wendy Cohan
5 min readApr 18, 2022

Photo by Vladimir Fedotov on Unsplash

We need to take nurses seriously, before no one wants to take care of us. Nurses, mostly female, are normal human beings. We’re not superhuman, and we’re not robots. We are vulnerable. We feel things. We experience trauma. Sometimes, we need help to deal with it — but we almost never get it. Even if employee assistance programs offer to cover mental health counseling, we’re usually too busy to seek it out — because nurses are overwhelmingly women of childbearing age, and many of us have families to take care of, too. We hold it together for them, but it comes at a huge personal cost.

If you don’t think an ICU nurse caring for Covid-19 patients fourteen hours a day and zipping up the majority of her patients in body bags, while self-isolating from her children for weeks on end, hasn’t experienced trauma — you have a heart of stone, or you’re just not paying attention. Many of our nurses are troubled, and some of them just aren’t going to take it anymore.

Right now, as we speak, the burnout rate in the nursing profession is at an all-time high. Articles like this one from My American Nurse abound, covering the very real crisis happening in nursing, and the huge wave of retirements to come, that will soon build to a tsunami. Burnout is real, and we, as a nation, are completely unprepared for what’s coming.

My own decades in nursing fell immediately prior to Covid-19 — but I know enough to know what else might a nurse have difficulty with. For instance, taking care of the victims of domestic violence and sexual assault ranks near the top of my personal list. (Not because of it’s hard to care for the victims, but because I want to take a baseball bat to the perpetrators.) How about cleaning and dressing an infected open wound teeming with maggots? (It happens.) Or, how about caring for a silent toddler during his fourteenth visit to the Emergency Room, for “an accident,” all before his second birthday? A toddler who gets to go home with his parents — why? I could go on — because every nurse has similar stories to tell. (Although this last example happened early in my nursing career and I hope things have gotten better — it was still allowed to happen and I’m still pissed about it.)

Wendy Cohan

Author of character-driven women's fiction, short stories, and essays. Her contemporary romance, The Renaissance Sisters, debuted May 23, 2023.