Do Remote Nurses Experience Burnout?

Picture this: You swipe up on another TikTok, Instagram Reel, or YouTube short.

Calming music plays as an autumn ambiance fills your screen. “Here’s a day in my life working from home”, the audio plays. From white fluffy sheets emerges a content creator, heading to the kitchen to pour a cup of coffee from their Keurig.

After doing a home workout, a 5-step skin routine, and making a balanced breakfast complete with superfoods, they settle in at their pristine desk, refreshed and ready to start the next 8 hours. 

The nursing field is no stranger to the idealized “work-from-home aesthetic”. Many of these elements are aspirational (prioritizing exercise and a balanced diet), but these perfectly curated moments don’t completely reflect the reality of working from home. 

While bedside nurses do experience high levels of burnout, remote nursing isn’t perfect either. And some personality types are more apt to work from home than others.

The Anatomy and Physiology of Burnout

Researchers claim there are 3 dimensions of burnout:

1. Emotional exhaustion. 

Emotional exhaustion is being tired from the psychological demands of work.

A few examples of emotional exhaustion nurses may experience include:

  • Delivering difficult news to patients and family members
  • Having to immediately continue work after a traumatic experience (losing a patient, performing CPR, being bullied, being assaulted, etc.)
  • Frequent assignments that require a lot of emotional effort (caring for a laboring mom, listening to a teen with suicidal ideation, teaching a patient how to adjust to a new chronic diagnosis)

2. Cynicism.

Cynicism is a form of detachment from work itself or from your patients. 

This may include:

  • Difficulty maintaining compassion and empathy
  • Deferring to negative assumptions
  • Indifference about your performance at work

3. Reduced personal achievement.

Reduced personal achievement is a decreased morale due to doubts about your job performance.

  • Developing unhealthy coping mechanisms due to work stress
  • Decreased productivity
  • Low morale

Some research suggests that emotional exhaustion is most often the first obvious symptom of burnout, and that cynicism and reduced personal achievement follow.

If that is the case, it’s easy to see why so many nurses are flocking away from the bedside and its emotionally demanding environment.

Burnout-Inducing Features of Remote Work

We all know that bedside nursing lends itself to burnout, but burnout is indeed still present in other sectors.

Tech, finance, and business professionals also complain about their struggles, remote nursing also has elements that can contribute to burnout. 

Achieving Metrics

In the hospital, administrators probably made you aware of things like HCAHPS scores or updating your whiteboard, but this was secondary to keeping your patients alive.

On the contrary, the world of remote nursing is almost entirely metric-driven. The nature of remote work involves completing cases, reviews, or triages, and administrators have to justify keeping you around and paying your salary. Especially when you are doing so in the comfort of your own home.

Lack of Personal Freedom

It might seem counterintuitive, but some nurses do feel like remote nursing jobs restrict their personal freedom.

It seems almost inappropriate to compare a 9-to-5 to not getting a lunch break during a 12-hour shift, but there are many nurses that struggle with feeling “chained” to their desks. Not having weekdays off, and a lack of physical activity at work can lead to a restless feeling that nurses have a hard time adjusting to.

Check out this Nurse Fern blog post to see which types of remote nursing jobs offer the most flexibility. 

Job-Specific Frustrations

Depending on the role, each remote nursing job has its frustrating quirks. 

  • Scope creep (expecting to do more for the same pay, training new nurses without an incentive, increased metrics, etc.)
  • Unorganized processes or poor management
  • Non-compliant patients (making it difficult to meet your metrics or feel accomplished at work)
  • Lots of time on the computer
  • Lots of time on the phone
  • A lack of understanding about nursing roles from upper management

Burnout Repelling Features of Remote Work

Because remote nursing jobs take place outside of the hospital setting, they have some refreshing job qualities that make work less conducive to burnout.

Maintaining Healthy Habits

One of the most life-changing aspects of remote work is the opportunity to establish a consistent schedule with healthy habits.

Gone are the days of random night shifts and a cold pizza slice for “lunch” at 2 am.

Many remote nursing jobs start and end at the same time every day, and the schedules are mostly the same from week to week. This makes it much easier to establish a workout routine, cook food at home for most meals, and improve sleep patterns.

Mental Health Advantages

Working in a remote nursing job removes most of the burden of saving patients’ lives.

There are some remote jobs, like patient triage, that would still hold you accountable to ensure that a patient receives the right level of care within the right amount of time, but it’s different than performing CPR or managing IV lines directly.

Having less stress and trauma at work poses a huge mental health advantage in favor of remote work.

Many remote nurses look at charts or do reviews as their remote nursing job, and can comfortably remind themselves when work gets stressful “at least no one is going to die if I am a little behind on my workload today.”

Being In Your Own Domain

During a stressful shift, it’s comforting to know that you are within feet of your couch, your kitchen, and your family. Having the advantage of being in your own domain at work is a reminder that your life outside of work is the reason for your job. 

Being at home allows you to disconnect more fully after work. Logging out of your computer and phone with no one to give report to and no commute home also helps with work-life balance. 

Expert Advice on Burnout Prevention

Lisa Dunlap, NP, a nurse burnout coach and the founder of Nurse Your Soul affirms, “remote nursing jobs can solve some issues around burnout…Yet, in order to stop burnout, there still needs to be a consideration for burnout prevention.” 

Here are some of her ideas:

  • Choose a job that aligns with your values and gives you meaning and purpose. Do you love direct patient care? You might be better suited for a remote nursing job like case management or telephone triage vs. data abstraction or utilization review. 
  • Set boundaries with work. This is an even bigger issue with remote jobs since the work takes place in your home.
  • Reconnect with your passions outside of work. This is part of “self-care” and scheduling yourself into your calendar is key.

Find the Right Job For You

The same job that burns you out might be the job that makes someone else’s life feel complete.

When applying for remote jobs, resist the temptation to apply for every position without at least contemplating which types of roles help you feel fulfilled. 

For more information on what types of jobs are available in the remote field, check out the Nurse Fern resource guide or the job board.