We are all aware that the health and wellbeing of health professionals has been in the media spotlight of late. Tragic stories of suicide and self-harm are heartbreaking and when they happen to friends and colleagues, take a toll on our own health. So, we wanted to re-publish this article from 2015, as a reminder of what to look out for in yourself but also those around you.

Burnout is often described as emotional exhaustion and a combination of a number of factors such as feeling out of control, feeling like your needs aren’t being met, and feeling like there are no boundaries between work and home.1 Fatigue is more than feeling tired and drowsy, it is a state of mental and/or physical exhaustion that reduces a person’s ability to perform work safely and effectively.2

Studies undertaken to analyse the effect of sleep deprivation on cognitive function have found that a sleep deficit has important effects on multiple functions – visual memory, cognitive performance, language and numerical skills, retention of information, concentration, complex problem solving skills, and mood resulting in decreased communication ability. Individuals exposed to 17 hours of wakefulness have been shown to have the impairment equivalent of a blood alcohol concentration of greater than 0.05%.3

Fatigue can be caused by:

  • Prolonged or intense mental or physical activity
  • Sleep loss or disruption of your internal body clock
  • Long working hours
  • Short recovery times between shifts
  • Long commuting times
  • Poor sleep
  • Family demands.

Symptoms of burnout include:

  • Withdrawal from friends and family
  • Loss of interest in activities previously enjoyed
  • Feeling blue, irritable, hopeless, and helpless
  • Changes in appetite, weight, or both
  • Changes in sleep patterns
  • Getting sick more often
  • Feelings of wanting to hurt yourself or the person for whom you are caring
  • Emotional and physical exhaustion
  • Excessive use of alcohol and/or sleep medications.4

The ANMF recommends the following risk control measures, amongst others:

  • Work scheduling and planning
  • Working time, allowing for adequate recovery time
  • Mental and physical demands of work, such as eliminating excessive mental and physical demands.

In a profession such as midwifery where round the clock care is required, it is imperative that midwives increase their awareness about fatigue and burnout so that they are better equipped to improve the situation. Being aware of the symptoms can help an individual reflect on the situation, view how they are responding and work out a way to manage better so that they don’t feel so overwhelmed.5

Nurses and midwives now have 24 hour access to confidential health support anywhere in Australia. The new service, which is a Nursing and Midwifery Board of Australia (NMBA) initiative, is run independently by Turning Point, a leading addiction treatment, research and education organisation in Australia.

The initiative will serve an important role in helping you to stay healthy. It will help to ensure that you are supported to practise safely and can continue to support the healthcare needs of clients and patients.

To access Nurse & Midwife Support, call 1800 667 877 or visit Nurse and Midwife Support Service.

Source: Nursing and Midwifery Board Website.

1 Dr Delwyn Bartlett, Woolcock Institute of Medical Research – http://www.nswnma.asn.au/managing-fatigue-and-burnout-in-the-workplace/
2 http://www.workcover.nsw.gov.au/health-and-safety/safety-topics-a-z/fatigue
3 Dawson D, Reid K, Fatigue, alcohol and performance impairment. Nature 1997; 388: 235 in Fatigue and the Obstetrician Gynaecologist – RANZCOG
4 http://www.webmd.com/women/caregiver-recognizing-burnout
5 Adapted from fn 1

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