Nursing Burnout

Industry Voices—To address the nursing shortage, nurse education needs to evolve


Amber Kool, Associate Provost, Arizona College of Nursing, shares how nursing education needs to evolve by promoting self-care as well as patient care, addressing the root causes of burnout, and work with clinical partners to ease the pressure on new nurses.

Fierce HealthcarePublished May 2, 2024
By Amber Kool

Recent conversations about nursing typically focus on shortages, burnout, and educating more nurses to support a rapidly aging population. While growing our nursing workforce is important, we’re often missing a deeper conversation about the future of nursing and how we train this new workforce in a way that sustains and advances nursing for the long run. Without confronting the realities of nursing and changes taking place in the field, we risk facing the same cycle of burnout and shortages that holds back our healthcare system today. Innovative solutions in nursing education are key to making lasting and healthy change, ultimately driving a revolution in nursing care that meets the challenges of both tomorrow and today.

I faced the challenges of nursing personally in a neonatal intensive care unit, as well as other pediatric and psychiatric settings. Following that experience, I transitioned into nurse education and eventually my current role as an Associate Provost at Arizona College of Nursing (AZCN). I know firsthand the profound impact education has on individual nurses and the whole profession. Your training affects how you think on the job, react to new scenarios, and deal with the stress of a challenging career. Solving nursing shortages and training a nursing workforce ready for the future begins with how we approach nursing education.

Preparing future nurses for the realities of the healthcare system means going beyond the traditional teaching methods previous generations of nurses experienced. A nursing degree is an intense course of study, combining everyday clinical skills with physiology, pharmacology, specialty areas, and more. We don’t need to cram in more knowledge—we need to make the most of students’ time in school and graduate nurses who are truly ready for the job: the tough decisions, emotions, stress, and more.

Amber Kool, Associate Provost, Arizona College of Nursing Technology allows us to elevate the practical training students receive and create room for students to grapple with real-life ethical decisions as they learn. Nursing graduates need to be more than competent clinicians who can set up an IV drip—they need to be adaptable and reflective practitioners. Some nursing schools, including ours, now offer advanced simulation labs in which students step into realistic work environments—from hospital rooms to home care—and hone their practical skills in ways that mimic real physiological responses. Before students ever rotate into a clinical setting, they can have the opportunity to identify heart and lung symptoms, assist with childbirth, identify a stroke, and other critical skills while leading their peers in active clinical decision-making. Expanding the availability and use of these learning opportunities is a must for nursing programs to prepare graduates more holistically.

Nursing goes far beyond practical skills, though, as anyone who has relied on a nurse to care for them or a loved one knows. Nurses are physically, mentally, and emotionally invested in patient care, raising the stakes on the job beyond what any college education can prepare you for. But, we as nurse educators have to try. Nursing programs must include a focus on mental health and resilience, including practical, proven strategies for nurses to manage pressure, loss, and work-life balance. Having lived the job myself, I know the toll hard days can take on you. Now as an educator, leaving that experience out of our curriculum would feel like leaving out a crucial practical skill. Every student should leave nursing school feeling equipped to care for themselves as well as their patients.

Finally, we also need to recognize the role of nursing school itself in contributing to burnout. It’s often said that many new nurses burn out after just one year—but these graduates are entering a demanding and high-stress workplace immediately after spending years in a challenging, high-stress nursing program and studying for a difficult licensing exam. Burning out after “one year” is a four or five-year story for most.

It is important to take a student-centric approach to learning that addresses both personal and academic needs. Our goal cannot simply be producing capable, licensed nurses, but to ensure graduates are not burned out before they even start working. We cannot control what graduates face on the job, but we do have an opportunity to break the cycle of burnout within our own programs.

Looking to the future, the need for innovation to address the nursing shortage will only grow. Healthcare will continue to be disrupted by new technologies, an aging population, and evolving patient needs. To keep pace, nursing education must go beyond simply training more nurses. We need to promote self-care as well as patient care, provide learning environments that provide opportunities to hone skills before the clinical setting, address the root causes of burnout, and work with clinical partners to ease the pressure on new nurses. Ultimately, the task for us as educators is the same charge we place on nurses: we must care, innovate, and lead as the world changes around us.

Amber Kool, DNP, RN, is Associate Provost at Arizona College of Nursing.