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Updated: May 13, 2019

You put your foot on the brake and the accelerator at the same time, and investigate the physics of friction. You get a hell of a lot of smoke and leave most of the tire on the road. You paid the cash to fill the tank, but now the fuel’s all burnt. You are left with bald tires and an empty tank. And before you can scratch your head, someone’s going to smell the stink of burnt rubber and dob you in. So your better get off the road or you’ll end up with a hefty fine for being a hoon, and a canary for being unroadworthy.

And that is a perfect metaphor of being a burnt out nurse.

You go to work. You put your foot down and do everything like a seasoned pro. You get your meds dosed on time, do the basic nursing care. You deal with challenging behaviours, aggression & demands. You automatically resolve conflict without thinking about it. You nip the medical emergencies in the bud before they can start. You help your colleagues, give moral support and advice, you rely on the camaraderie and go through the motions. But it’s getting harder and harder to sustain.

Or you don’t do it quite so well. You only put in the minimal effort. You let the ball drop a bit. You work a bit slower, have less of an eye for detail and less patience and empathy because you’re sick of it.

Either way, it’s taking a lot more fuel to do your job than it used to, because something’s put the brakes on you.

It’s takes a lot more fuel to do your job because something’s put the brakes on you.

And the resulting friction is the realisation that the last of the idealist that you used to be has truly been burnt away. And you are struggling to admit that you are over it, because once you do, where do you go from there?

The friction comes out as irritation, impatience and exhaustion. You are sick of having to run marathons to make change happen. The hurdles just became too high. You can’t excuse laziness, aggression or incompetence any more. You are sick of a disrupted circadian rhythm, being coughed on and spluttered on. You are sick of carrying junior staff and seeing bullshit artists promoted over merit. You are sick of drink and drugged drivers causing accidents, unreasonable families and missing breaks. You’re trying not to explode.

But too bad, that’s the job, so you get on with it. You complete your documentation at the end, like tires marking the road to say you were there. But the effort you put into the shift feels like you were just blowing smoke. Because if no one saw it, who can appreciate it.

Once you wouldn’t have cared about that, because you would have been content knowing you had done a good job—that you helped the patient and made a difference. But now you only have fumes left in the tank.The thrill of the smoke isn’t worth the cost of the tires. The stink of burnt rubber is around you. You don’t want people to smell it because they’ll think you aren’t coping, like a failed nurse who needs to be canaried. Or they’ll ask you to fix your symptoms of burnout like it’s as simple as replacing bald tires. They’ll tell you to cheer up or change your attitude, which does nothing to refill the tank.

The thrill of the smoke isn’t worth the cost of the tires.

But you have to refill it somehow. You just don’t know how to do that yet. You can’t quit, because you need money to live, and you worked too hard at uni and your career to just throw it away.

But to carry on is to push the car on empty, with flat tires. So you’re at a dead end, looking for a tow.

Maybe it’s time to change pace instead, and start walking.

For a more academic explanation for burnout, watch this video.

For help with burnout:



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