Christina Woodcock has been in nursing for over 20 years and currently works as an ICU nurse in Brandon, Manitoba. Christina says the staffing shortage is worse than she’s ever experienced before. The impacts are double-fold: nurses face constant overtime demands, and patient care is compromised.

Without sufficient staffing, overtime has become a norm for most nurses. Christina is asked to do mandatory overtime several times a week, and she says not a day goes by where she isn’t asked to pick up a shift or work additional hours.

“We feel guilty for leaving our colleagues in an unsafe situation, so we stay, and we continue to work in that unsafe situation, and then experience the guilt of then having left our families, another soccer practice without Mom in the seat,” she says. “So really the scales are tipped in a way that isn’t healthy, and it creates a lot of moral distress for our staff and our nurses.”

As nurses fight an uphill battle for sufficient staffing to appropriately care for patients, it should come as no surprise that Christina and her colleagues are grappling with symptoms of burnout. While working too much is one factor, burnout is a psychological response that stems from emotional exhaustion, feelings of cynicism and detachment, and a sense of ineffectiveness.

“You work so hard, and you stay so far over your hours, and you work the mandatory overtime and the voluntary overtime,” Christina says. “You give more of yourself than you have to give, and you do all of it – and you’re still not able to provide care to the standard that you hold yourself to.”

Christina hopes to see governments and employers work collaboratively to act on the solutions nurses have proposed to address the challenges created by the staffing shortages.

“We need strategies to get more nurses into the system, and we need strategies to mentor those nurses once they arrive,” she says. “All of those things lead to better patient care, they lead to better mental health for nurses, they lead to nurses wanting to stay in the system and feeling fulfilled in their work instead of devoured by it.”