Nursing School Burnout: What It Is and How To Prevent It

three nurses taking a walk together on a lunch break

Nursing can be a personally fulfilling career path. Through nurses’ resilience, they have the opportunity to help many patients both emotionally and physically. If you are interested in going back to school but concerned about the risks of career fatigue, it can be beneficial to understand burnout.

As a nurse, if you are experiencing burnout, you should know how important stress reduction is for you and your patients to stay healthy. If you have a passion for nursing and plan to continue your nursing education, keep reading to learn how to avoid burnout in nursing school.

In This Article:

About Nursing School Burnout

There are many reasons why students need to know how to deal with nursing burnout. Earning a nursing degree requires long hours of studying complex medical science. It also involves a lot of juggling; you can expect to attend not only classes, but also hands-on labs and clinical rotations.

Furthermore, it is important to prepare for the NCLEX-RN; a passing score is a requirement for obtaining a nursing license. When you do start caring for patients during clinical rotations and when you become a nurse, you may still experience stress from long shifts and from the knowledge that you’re responsible for your patients’ health and well-being.

Although nursing school and nursing itself can be stressful, you may find that it’s helpful to remind yourself of why you decided to become a nurse — to make a positive difference in the lives of people who need help.

How To Avoid Burnout in Nursing School

Regardless of what it may look like for the individual, the good news is there are several things you can do to learn how to prevent and how to deal with burnout in college — without giving up your passion for nursing.

1. Prioritize Sleep

Sleep is vital for overall wellness. Good sleep is equally important for nurses to be at their best. And because nursing school and shift work often require long days or nights, nurses must develop different skills to get all the benefits of sleep.

According to the Sleep Foundation, good sleep habits include a consistent routine and environment for optimal sleep quality.1 Here are some suggestions on how to get a better night’s sleep:

  • Sleep and wake at the same time each day
  • Keep your bedroom temperature and environment consistent
  • Avoid napping on your days off
  • Keep electronics away from the bed

How to Deal With Nursing Burnout When Working the Night Shift

When working odd shifts, like the mid or night shift, sleep hygiene experts suggest that keeping a consistent schedule is even more essential.2 If you end up on a night shift, you can help prevent burnout in nursing by making sure you are getting at least six to eight uninterrupted hours of sleep each day, avoiding the temptation to stay up after a shift and trying to avoid oversleeping on your days off. Some shift workers stay on an opposite sleep/wake cycle, even on their days off, and do things like chores and grocery shopping late at night instead.

2. Get Physical and Mental Exercise

Sleep is important to overall well-being, both for your physical and mental health, which should be the next priority in your wellness plan.

Get Moving To Help With Stress Levels

As a nurse or nursing student, you know firsthand how chronic diseases are linked to elevated stress hormones and that prolonged elevations can be harmful.3 You also know how important regular exercise is to reducing stress hormones. According to Healthline, the sweet spot is 150 to 200 minutes of low- to moderate-intensity exercise throughout the week, which averages out to just 20 to 30 minutes a day.4

You don’t have to sign up for a full-on aerobics class after a long shift, but a few laps around the campus or neighborhood before class can have a positive impact on your physical and mental health.

Make Time for Things You Enjoy

Finding time to unwind and relax is a good habit to keep you performing at your best. But the last thing you want to think about after a long stretch of work or nursing school is making time for your hobbies. However, research finds that several minutes per week focused on a hobby, like drawing, painting or another stress-relieving activity can profoundly lower levels of cortisol, a well-known indicator of stress.5

Seek Professional Support

Mental health may well be the most important reason to have a plan in place to prevent nursing school burnout. Be aware of the many resources that may be available to you through your employer or school, such as employee assistance programs (EAPs), which often include counseling services.

You can also search online for local private therapists. Several phone-based apps now offer virtual counseling and therapy, such as TalkSpace6 and BetterHelp,7 or meditation platforms like Calm.8

Spend Time Outside of Work With Peers

Sometimes sharing the common daily challenges of being a nurse with other nursing students can be therapeutic. This type of talk therapy can lessen the stress you may feel and can help alleviate the feelings of school burnout.

3. Learn How To Prioritize Time Off

If you are seeking a nursing degree (especially a second degree), or if you are pursuing a career change, you will likely want or need to continue working, which leaves little time to do things that help you rest and recharge. Most students who continue to work while in school likely continue to accrue paid time off (PTO).

Unfortunately, nearly 75% of Americans have unused PTO at the end of each year, and among those who do take time off, most deny feeling rejuvenated afterward — and nurses are no exception.9,10

Not taking your earned time off can lead to increased stress, worsening burnout and a multitude of health problems like weight gain, anxiety and depression. When possible, try to use PTO for personal time rather than catching up on homework or clinical hours.

Self-care Improves Patient Care

Your passion for nursing means you put a lot of time and energy into ensuring that your patients are well cared for, and the same effort should go into taking care of yourself. Knowing the signs of burnout, and that there are ways to prevent burnout and to manage the stress of school, can keep you performing at your best.

After all, a career in nursing can be full of rewarding opportunities, and the need for nurses remains strong.11 Caring for yourself outside of work and preventing burnout in school means that, at the bedside, you can give the high-quality compassionate care your patients also deserve.

Study Tips To Avoid Burnout

A significant aspect of nursing school burnout is the need to study for long hours to master the material. If you’re determined to learn how to deal with burnout in college, then it’s essential to adopt healthy study habits and strategies. Try the following tips to help you figure out how to deal with nursing burnout from studying.

Pencil in Downtime

Managing family, work and your education is not a simple undertaking, and you may feel inclined to fill every hour of your week with productive tasks. While planning out your to-dos is important for managing your time wisely, remember that having time for yourself is key to avoiding burnout. For this reason, consider setting aside one day a week or a specific time each day for you to relax and unwind.

Learn Study Techniques

If it has been some time since you became a registered nurse, then you may have concerns about participating in formal education again while simultaneously balancing your career and home life. If so, then you may benefit from taking some time to learn what study techniques are most effective, which can help you make the most of the time that you put toward your education.

Ask for Help

Having a support network in place while pursuing your BSN degree can be essential for protecting yourself from the symptoms of burnout. Know which friends and family members you can rely on when you need emotional, spiritual or mental support, and have a system in place so you can ask for help and delegate tasks when necessary.

If you are ready to continue your nursing degree and want to learn more about the support you will receive in our RN to BSN program at Grand Canyon University, visit GCU’s College of Nursing and Health Care Professions page or fill out the form on this page.

1 Suni, E. & Dr. Vyas, N. (2023, Oct 5). Mastering sleep hygiene: your path to quality sleep. The Sleep Foundation. Retrieved Oct. 24, 2023. 

2 Pacheco, D. & Dr. Singh, A. (2023, Oct 5). Tips for shift workers. The Sleep Foundation. Retrieved Oct. 24, 2023. 

3 Mayo Clinic. (2023, Aug 1). Stress management. Retrieved Oct. 24, 2023. 

4 Davidson, K., MScFN, RD, CPT. (2023, Jan 17). 11 natural ways to lower your cortisol level. Healthline. Retrieved Oct. 24, 2023. 

5 Kaimal, G., Ray, K., & Muniz, J. (2016, May 23). Reduction of cortisol levels and participants’ responses following art making. Journal of the American Art Therapy Association. Retrieved Oct. 24, 2023. 

6 Talkspace. (n.d.). Feel better today, stay ready for tomorrow. Retrieved Oct. 24, 2023. 

7 BetterHelp. (n.d.). You deserve to be happy. Retrieved Oct. 24, 2023. 

8 Calm. (n.d.). Find your calm. Calm. Retrieved Oct. 24, 2023. 

9 Qualtrics. (2022, March 29). Half of U.S. employees say they WFV: work from vacation. Retrieved Oct. 24, 2023. 

10 Qualtrics. (2022, March 29). Here’s why some workers don’t feel rejuvenated after taking vacation. Retrieved Oct. 24, 2023. 

11 U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2023, Sep. 6). Registered nurses. Occupational Outlook Handbook. Retrieved Oct. 24, 2023. 

Approved by the associate dean of the College of Nursing and Health Care Professions on Jan. 8, 2023.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.

Scroll back to top