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  • Nursing burnout at concerning levels, says theatre nurse

    Author: Nicole Madigan

 Burnout is at increasingly high levels within the nursing profession, according to theatre nurse and founder of The Happy Nurse, Elaina Mullery, who says around 40 per cent of nurses are suffering.

“These figures are pre-pandemic,” says Ms Mullery.

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“I can only imagine they will rise in coming years if the added pressure Covid has added to our workload is not addressed.”

There are many contributing factors to burnout, including:
  • Staff shortages/skill shortages
  • Lack of education/supervision/mentoring
  • Going without breaks
  • Working past rostered finish time
  • High staff turnover
  • Lack of personal boundaries

And while burnout is common among all areas of nursing, it is particularly prevalent within the field of theatre nursing.


Psychiatry Consultant
Omega Medical Pty Ltd
Psychiatry Consultant
Omega Medical Pty Ltd
Anaesthetics Consultant
Omega Medical Pty Ltd

“It can be fast paced, physically demanding, and emergency situations can arise quickly.

“It’s a very dynamic environment with many key team members.”

Theatre Nursing or Peri-Operative Nursing is the field of Nursing that focusses on caring for the patient during their peri operative journey.

There are many different roles within the Theatre Nursing environment, including Anaesthetic Nurse, Scrub/Scout Nurse and Recovery (PACU) Nurse. 

“The whole team is dedicated to looking after the one patient in theatre at a time.

“The day starts with familiarising yourself with the list for the day, checking you have all the necessary equipment and instruments on hand.

“The Theatre is prepped and ready to start operating when the anaesthetic and surgical teams arrive.

“The list begins at 8am typically and will go through until 6pm.

“Depending on the type of surgery that is being performed, there could be just a few cases or over 10.”

The nature of the job means burnout can sneak up on you, so it’s important to monitor yourself for symptoms before they get out of control.

Symptoms of burnout include:
  • Exhaustion
  • Lack of energy
  • Constant fatigue
  • Sleep disorders
  • Reduced performance
  • Concentration and memory problems
  • Inability to make decisions
  • Reduced initiative and imagination

“Burnout affects our professional and personal relationships,” says Ms Mullery.

“It can make us feel disengaged from our jobs.”

Compassion fatigue is a new phenomenon that is associated with burnout, specifically within the nursing profession.

“Compassion Fatigue is the physical, emotional and spiritual result of chronic self-sacrifice and/or exposure to difficult situations, that renders a person unable to love, nurture, care for or empathise with another’s

Having experienced burnout twice, Ms Mullery says it’s crucial to seek help, before things get out of hand.

“I have personally experienced burnout twice.

“The first time I didn’t fully address it so it wasn’t surprising that it happened again not long after.

“This was when I discovered Cognitive Behavioural therapy and realised the power our thoughts have over us.

“This led me on a path of personal development and many years of study.

“Happy Nurse is the result of 20 years of nursing experience along with many years of study in mindfulness, meditation, hypnotherapy and neuro-linguistic programming, and the love and support of my many wonderful colleagues over the years.”

Burnout is not something you can ride out, says Ms Mullery, who suggests seeking help as soon as you recognise the symptoms.

“Things are not going to change until you do seek help.

“When you are burnt out, life feels chaotic, your self-worth is low, you become emotionally exhausted, you dread going to work, you live with a lot of shame, guilt and fear. You start to disengage.”

When nurses suspect burnout, Ms Mullery recommends seeking professional advice from their GP, along with considering accessing a mental health care plan.

They could also seek help from any in-house counselling services that may be available.

“Nurses can seek help from Employee Assistance programmes and by chatting with their team leader to make some changes to help alleviate the stress.

“Nurses tend to soldier on until they hit crisis point. I speak from personal experience.

“If they are the overwhelm point, I suggest they look at where they may be allowing their personal boundaries to be pushed and making some changes.

“This can feel selfish if it’s a new concept, but you can’t be the best version of yourself when you are putting everyone else first.

“If any nurses find they are really struggling to cope and don’t know who or where to turn to, Beyond Blue and Headspace have 24-hour helplines who can help."


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Nicole Madigan

Nicole Madigan is a widely published journalist with more than 15 years experience in the media and communications industries.

Specialising in health, business, property and finance, Nicole writes regularly for numerous high-profile newspapers, magazines and online publications.

Before moving into freelance writing almost a decade ago, Nicole was an on-air reporter with Channel Nine and a newspaper journalist with News Limited.

Nicole is also the Director of content and communications agency Stella Communications ( and a children's author.