A stressful occupation?


Nursing is a demanding profession.

The critical nature of the work has the potential for serious injury to others if a nurse is careless for even a moment.

Nurses are short-handed, understaffed, and overworked.
We are only an accidental needle stick or body fluid splash injury away from exposure to deadly diseases.
We get aches and pains from lifting and tugging on people bigger than we are. We watch people die. We see families grieve.
Often we work double shifts to meet the needs when staffing is overstretched. We are tired.
Yet we love nursing – most days. But we need support and help to cope.”

(Turley, 2005b) Nursing Economics.

The physical and mental wellbeing of nurses can be significantly impacted by these repeated challenges and can lead to stress, burnout, fatigue and even panic attacks.

The stress levels involved with the work can cause nurses to reduce hours, move to a less stressful part of nursing or leave the health care industry alltogether.

What can be done to help nurses deal with stress?
What are your thoughts? How do you cope?


  1. They forgot to mention verbal abuse and physical assault from patients and families. They forgot to mention the stress of working in such a highly regulated bureaucratic system that refuses to support its staff. The only way to cope is to try to get through your shift unscathed one day at a time and devote your time off to healthful and relaxing passtimes.

  2. I have six stitches from a ‘golf-swing’ to the face by a patient in ED (unexpected, as was only opening the curtain to do his obs). I nearly broke his wrist as he tried the 2nd swing, and looked after him 20 minutes after getting the sutures in. I’m not scarred in any way, and the physical scar (made me look like ‘the Joker’ for a few weeks) disappeared after a few weeks.The ‘bad-taste in the mouth’ when the hospital presented me with the bill for the suturing (!!!), went away after a sarcastic hint about ‘suing them if they didn’t withdraw it’, made it all worthwhile.
    Stress is real, but it’s only in the mind.
    I did move fast enough to ensure the swing missed my eye, so maybe someone else may have lost an eye if it were them instead. Life is just a fleeting thing, so enjoy it, everyday. Last week I worked 104 hours over an 8-day stretch. Almost everyone around me complained about the stress of their 38 hours…. I thought that maybe I had to have been in a parallel existence.
    I cop abuse from relatives, but only when I first approach to check if they were ok etc – they were frustrated and angry at delays in treatment; lack of communication by previous staff; concern at not being able to alleviate the suffering of their ‘concerned other’, so took it out on me – but only for seconds – they all settled down easily, with assurance, explanation, apologies, and comfort measures.
    There’s always propofol and midazolam if the situation changes!

  3. I think we as nurses are often taken for granted in our workplaces. For example, a large part of my role is assist a number of doctors in various procedures. About 60 per cent of these doctors are courteous, understanding and professional to interact with……..then there’s the remaining 40 per cent who are frequently rude, arrogant, impatient and down-right unprofessional.

    Us nurses are there for the patients, to make procedures which they are frequently upset and scared about go smoothly. We do an awful lot of organising, fixing, fussing and general sorting out to obtain a situation where all the doctor has to do is walk into the room and start the case.
    It never ceases to amaze me when confronted by attitude from doctors and other staff who don’t seem to know the meaning of team work and seek to criticise, complain and belittle the nurses when something isn’t to their liking.
    Aren’t we all working towards the same goal?? Aren’t we on the same team?

    Yes, I mostly love my job, but gee it can be thankless, and I don’t mean from patients or family. I find that brings the most stress to my job as a nurse.

    Patients come and go but staff are constant. Be nice if we could all work together!

  4. I recently had a weekend from hell. One shift with a creepy sleezey man and then the next day with the most verbally abusive man I can honestly say I have ever met. And worse, the family knew of his behaviour and said it was ok, it was just him. They accused me of mistreating him when I said it wasn’t ok and wouldn’t be tolerated. I ended up having to go to the consultant level (crying) because I wasn’t getting support from the TLs or registrars. No one not even the consultant spoke to the family.

    • You’d think that was sensible wouldn’t you, but I seem to work with scores of nurses who are completely stressed out, really angry and hate their jobs. But they won’t go. In the UK, the registration board surveys nurses every year. A consistent 48% wanted to leave the profession, but only 3% ever do.

  5. Interesting topic. In the UK, surveys by the NHS and the union showed that around 48% were desperate to leave the profession, but every year only 4% of them actually did. There’s theory about the comfort of misery in workplaces, that regardless of the unhappiness, bullying and stress people will stay in a job because it affords them comfortable routine and that, curiously, involves far less stress than changing jobs or careers.

  6. It astounds me how stressful this profession is. Non-nurses have no clue, no clue at all.

    When I try to explain the stresses, they think/say “but all professions are stressful”. Really?!

    This job has sucked the life out of me. I used to love this job (the human aspect), but I am turning bitter.

    I am getting out just in time. I now have a one-on-one educator role. Thank god I am now going to have autonomy, respect and a decent income.

    I am stepping off this sinking ship to save myself. Bless those who remain behind.


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