While burnout has been a widespread issue in the health care sphere, particularly among nurses, the authors of a recent analysis hypothesized that palliative care nurses may be at less risk and experience lower levels of burnout than other nurses. A research team conducted an analysis of the Care Management by Oncology Nurses to Address Supportive Care Needs (CONNECT) study to determine if adding palliative care along with oncology care could reduce the level of burnout that nurses experience over time.
The CONNECT study was a randomized trial of a primary palliative care (PPC) intervention process for oncology practices. The 17 practices in the study were located in Western Pennsylvania, and nurses were enrolled from July 2016 through October 2020. Out of the group of oncology practices, 9 of them selected several nurses to utilize the palliative care intervention process and 8 of the practices only provided standard care. The nurses at each practice were separated into 3 groups:
– Nurses who provided palliative care using the CONNECT intervention
– Nurses who worked at the palliative care sites but did not provide the intervention
– Nurses who worked at standard care (SC) sites without intervention
The Maslach Burnout Inventory (MBI) was used to gauge the level of burnout among the 3 nurse groups. The MBI is a 22-item survey that evaluates levels of emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and decreased personal accomplishment. For each of the three study groups, demographic information was captured that included age, gender, race, years practicing in oncology, and the amount of time that each nurse spent working in their clinic.
In total, 86 nurses from each of the 17 practices completed the MBI survey. The mean baseline score of emotional exhaustion for all nurses was 17, which indicates low to moderate levels of burnout. The PPC nurses had low baseline emotional exhaustion scores, while the non-PPC and SC nurses exhibited moderate scores. Each of the three groups of nurses did not experience high levels of burnout. When completing a one-year follow-up MBI survey, there were no significant differences between their baseline burnout scores and their follow-up scores.
Study results did not show improved patient-reported outcomes, however, there was a notable improvement in symptoms among patients who received more frequent palliative care visits, leading to the conclusion that adding primary palliative care to nurse responsibilities can help improve patient outcomes. Further research is ongoing to identify strategies for extending palliative care to more patients.
Possible limitations of the study to note are that other efforts to improve nurse burnout may have been implemented at the study sites, which would have potentially negated the effects of the CONNECT intervention. The sample size was small and included a lack of diversity, as well; nearly all nurses in the study were White and female. The study also only measured two time periods in the given year. Burnout scores could have possibly increased at the beginning of the CONNECT intervention and could have leveled out over time.