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Preventing Burnout

The 56-Second Fix may be an antidote.

As chief nursing officer at Press Ganey Associates, Christy Dempsey, MSN, MBA, CNOR, CENP, knows plenty about satisfaction. But it isn't only the patient experience that concerns her. Just as important is the job satisfaction of healthcare employees. Without a positive attitude about the work at hand, healthcare workers can suffer burnout from careers that are all about healing and wellness.

Dempsey regularly lectures and teaches about upping the satisfaction factor. Most important to improving patient experience is the effort put forth by healthcare providers to connect with patients on a personal, human level. She says it takes just 56 seconds - and she's timed it - to introduce yourself to patients, provide up-to-date care information and then ask what they like to do when they are not in the hospital.

A Case in Point

Dempsey recalled the time a nurse in her leadership and management class in the nursing program at Missouri State University put the 56-second theory to the test. When she returned to work, she chatted with a patient about his favorite hobby (fishing) for just a minute.

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She could see the patient perk up, but more telling was that he did not use his call bell again that day, nor did he ask for more pain meds. His family was so happy about his newfound comfort that they sought the nurse out to personally thank her for lifting his spirits. And of course the benefit was not just for the patient - nurses on the floor were relieved of answering his call bell and delivering drugs to his room.

"Imagine if every patient on the floor had a similar experience. Multiply the savings in time and effort for nurses, and the importance of those 56 seconds becomes clear," said Dempsey. "It not only improves the patient experience, but the nurses' experience too."

The Emotional Stage

Dempsey went on to say that " . so much of what we do as clinicians involves 'emotional labor' - turning on emotions we might not feel and turning off emotions we do feel. We call that 'surface acting,' which is akin to pretending. And we know that surface acting, done over a long period of time, leads to burnout."

But there is another curtain to be lifted on that performance. "'Deep acting,' which is really empathy, is the antidote," Dempsey advised. "It allows us to have that human connection, that special moment that is important to us as human beings. Too often we get busy and task-driven, having to document this and that, and we haven't taken those 56 seconds that will actually improve our experience as caregivers. We need to find that human connection. Otherwise, it is 'just a job.'"

Valerie Neff Newitt is a staff writer at ADVANCE. Contact:

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