Students Weigh in on the Burnout “Epidemic”: What We Can Do 

In 2019, the World Health Organization categorized burnout as “a syndrome. . . resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.” Burnout can manifest in a number of different ways: loss of energy or perpetual exhaustion, increased negativity and “mental distance” from an individual’s job, or “a sense of ineffectiveness and lack of accomplishment.” In recent years, the number of burned-out individuals has only increased in the United States, and this was particularly notable within the healthcare industry. Healthcare professionals work long shifts that are often filled with tedious, repetitive, and emotionally-draining tasks, leading to a feeling of ineffectivity. Even before the pandemic, the National Library of Medicine said, “Burnout has reached rampant levels among United States (US) healthcare professionals, with over one-half of physicians and one-third of nurses experiencing symptoms [. . .which] is detrimental to patient care and may exacerbate the impending physician shortage.”

Burnout During the Pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic increased awareness of the impact of burnout, as many workers and students were isolated and found themselves forced to set their own work-life boundaries. As a result, the chronic stress many already experienced, increased and felt more immediate. While the World Health Organization specifically refers to occupation-related burnout, the pandemic expanded the definition to include students as well. The repetitiveness and disconnectivity of online school caused students to feel burned out and isolated with little or no ability to interact via a face-to-face medium.  Even when students returned to in-person learning, these sentiments of isolation had the potential to continue, especially if students had already fallen into the chronic stress cycle.

Burnout in Students

Millie Brown (‘26), a nursing student at Hope, shared her personal experience with burnout. Last year, Brown participated in clinicals while working to become a CNA (certified nurse’s assistant). Before that, in the 2020 to 2021 school year, she experienced another type of burnout as a student who completed a full year of online school.  She explained: “…junior year I was online all year and so I never went to class…none of my teachers knew me…so it was very isolating and I would never want to do anything because there was no community.” This type of disconnectivity shows how burnout can present itself in an academic setting.  Brown continued by explaining her experience with burnout as she attended clinical in 2022. “By the time we got to clinical…we were paired up…with one CNA who worked at the facility, and some of them were just a year or two older than us. You can just tell how doing the same thing over and over every day is so draining, but also…it’s like you’re not really doing all that much because you’re just doing the same thing…it’s a very repetitive field to be in,” she said.  As burnout increases, mental disconnectivity, isolation, and lower satisfaction with one’s self-evaluation of their job (or academic) performance and how much they are accomplishing might as well. 

Millie Brown (‘26), a Nursing Major at Hope College, offers her perspective on student burnout.
Photo Credit: Janette Brown

How to Tackle Burnout

So, what can be done to combat burnout in one’s personal life?  Whether a student or faculty member at Hope, a healthcare professional, or someone in another profession, evidence shows that burnout is only increasing in likelihood.  Jennifer Moss of The Harvard Business Review classified today’s rise of burnout as an “epidemic” in her book The Burnout Epidemic: The Rise of Chronic Stress and How We Can Fix It. On how to fix it, Moss explains that many companies have put self-care initiatives in place such as leading yoga or meditation. However, she believes these efforts put a bandaid on the true issues of overwork and overstress. In her opinion, the most effective way to solve the chronic stress cycle in today’s world is for people to find spaces where they can disclose their feelings. From a healthcare standpoint, Brown’s personal take made her realize that  “…the personal connection with patients and healthcare providers is so important. That is the real drive for me of wanting to be a nurse… I want to be a support system for the patient. So kind of reframing my mind that I’m not [only memorizing information or repeating tasks, I am learning] how to be a good support, how to even show God’s love through the way that I can treat patients.” The Mayo Clinic offers more advice on how to combat burnout. They recommend paying attention to the current moment and what you need now, rather than looking ahead to the next moment’s demands. Additionally, it is important to take time for oneself, set boundaries with others and practice healthy habits such as sleeping, exercising, and eating enough. Finally, just as Moss explained in her book, seeking support is recommended if you are suffering from burnout. Each of these activities has the potential to combat today’s burnout epidemic, one individual at a time.

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