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Nurses Driven By Desire to Help Others More Apt to Burn Out

Nurses Driven By Desire to Help Others More Apt to Burn Out

Nurses who are primarily motivated by a desire to help others, rather than by enjoyment of the work itself or the lifestyle it makes possible, are more likely to burn out on the job, according to a new study.

According to researchers at the University of Akron, nursing is still a female-dominated occupation, and being female is associated with being caring, nurturing, and altruistic. That means many assume the desire to help others is the “right” motivation for choosing a career in nursing, the researchers noted.

However, their study found that nurses who pursue their career for reasons other than — or in addition to — the desire to help others find the job to be less stressful. That results in less burnout, better personal health, and high job commitment, the researchers report.

The researchers — Drs. Janette Dill, an assistant professor of sociology, Rebecca Erickson, a professor of sociology, and James Diefendorff, an associate professor of psychology — based their findings on data collected from surveys of more than 700 registered nurses in Northeast Ohio. About 90 percent were white females.

According to Dill, most people don’t care about a worker’s motivation for choosing a career. For instance, she notes that as long as your car gets fixed properly, it doesn’t matter whether the mechanic loves cars, only cares about making money, or just enjoys using power tools.

“But health care is different,” she said.

“We expect women to go into these jobs because they love the people that they’re caring for, and this is their primary motivator,” she said.

If that assumption can be changed, more men might be attracted to nursing and “might not necessarily feel that their whole self has to be devoted to their patients — that they can value their job for other reasons as well,” she said.

The researchers also found that nurses who are highly motivated by both the lifestyle the job provides and the ability to interact personally with patients are more satisfied with their employer and less inclined to leave their current job.

The study, which was presented at the 109th Annual Meeting of the American Sociological Association, did not attempt to measure how well nurses with different motivations and care approaches performed their jobs. The researchers said those relationships will be explored in a future study of a larger sample of nurses.

Source: The American Sociological Association


Nurse struggling with burnout photo by shutterstock.

Nurses Driven By Desire to Help Others More Apt to Burn Out

Janice Wood

Janice Wood is a long-time writer and editor who began working at a daily newspaper before graduating from college. She has worked at a variety of newspapers, magazines and websites, covering everything from aviation to finance to healthcare.

APA Reference
Wood, J. (2018). Nurses Driven By Desire to Help Others More Apt to Burn Out. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 3, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Aug 2018 (Originally: 20 Aug 2014)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.