When Kitty Forman, the quirky mother of Eric Forman and wife of Red Forman in That ’70s Show, wasn’t busy mediating conflicts between her husband and son, she was a nurse. When Kitty is seen in her uniform, she is often portrayed as overworked and underappreciated. In the episode Career Day, Eric accompanies Kitty to the hospital and is amazed with all she has to do on a daily basis. One of Kitty’s coworkers tells him that his mother “does the work of 5 nurses.” In many episodes, Kitty is forced to neglect her roles as a mother and wife to work long shifts at the hospital. At one point in the series, she quits her job as a nurse because she finds herself struggling with balancing her home life and work. Is this how real-life nurses typically feel about their profession? Is “nurse burnout” a problem in America?

It is well known that nurses deal with a high amount of stress due to the physical labor, human suffering, long work hours, staffing shortages, and difficult interpersonal relationships that are related to their day-to-day duties. And it has been proven that nurses working longer shifts are more likely to experience burnout and job dissatisfaction. Warning signs of a burned-out nurse include physical exhaustion, feeling underappreciated, dread going to work, cognitive detachment, and insensitivity towards patients. A study conducted by the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing found that nurses working shifts of 10 hours or longer were up to 2.5 times more likely than nurses working shorter shifts to experience job burnout. Nearly 23,000 registered nurses from California, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Florida took part in the study over a 3-year period. The percentage of nurses who reported burnout and intention to leave their job increased incrementally as shift length increased. Sixty-five percent of nurses worked shifts of 12 to 13 hours.

The study also showed that in hospitals that had higher proportions of nurses working longer shifts, higher percentages of patients reported being dissatisfied with their care. Complaints included that nurses didn’t communicate with them well, pain was only sometimes or never well controlled, and that they never received help as quickly as they wanted. Another study by the Rutgers College of Nursing even suggests that nurse burnout is linked to a higher frequency of hospital-acquired infections. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 100,000 hospitalized patients die each year from infections acquired while undergoing treatment for other conditions. “We hypothesize that the cognitive detachment associated with high levels of burnout may result in inadequate hand hygiene practices and lapses in other infection control procedures among registered nurses,” the researchers suggest. The study found that every 10% increase in burned-out nurses in an acute care hospital increases the rate of urinary tract infections by about 1 per 1000 patients, and increases the rate of surgical site infections by more than 2 per 1000 patients.

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Experts recommend restricting the number of consecutive hours nurses work and reducing overtime to combat nurse burnout. “Nursing leadership should also encourage a workplace culture that respects nurses’ days off and vacation time, promotes nurse’s prompt departure at the end of a scheduled shift, and allows nurses to refuse to work overtime without retribution,” said Amy Witkoski Stimpfel, PhD, RN, a post-doctoral fellow at the Center for Health Outcomes and Policy Research at Penn Nursing. “These types of policies that facilitate manageable work hours can contribute to the development of a healthier nursing workforce, prepared to manage the complex care needs of patients and their families.”


  1. Fink JLW. 5 signs of burnout. Nursing Link website. http://nursinglink.monster.com/benefits/articles/2481-5-signs-of-burnout.
  2. Fox Nixon F. Research links increases hospital infections to nurse burnout. Rutgers University, Newark website. September 27, 2012. https://www.newark.rutgers.edu/news/research-links-increased-hospital-infections-nurse-burnout.
  3. Long shifts lead to nurse burnout and dissatisfied patients. Penn Nursing Science website. November 5, 2012. http://www.nursing.upenn.edu/sia/Pages/Long-Shifts-Lead-to-Nurse-Burnout-and-Dissatisfied-Patients.aspx#sthash.vpGJFQMg.TS1a87ol.dpbs.