Author ORCID Identifier
Doctor of Philosophy
Patricia A. Kinser
Introduction: The recently released report The Future of Nursing 2020-2030 highlights the need to promote the physical, mental, moral, and social health of nurses. However, the reality is that nurses are unwell. Burnout, the most widely studied symptom of suboptimal wellbeing, historically impacts approximately 40% of nurses. Loneliness is an experience of distress that arises when the quality or quantity of available social connections is insufficient to meet one’s emotional needs. Loneliness is one factor that may impact wellbeing; however, no studies have explicitly evaluated the concept of loneliness in relation to burnout in nurses. Therefore, the purpose of this work was to explore the phenomenon of nurse loneliness and its connection to burnout as a symptom of suboptimal wellbeing.
Methods: A mixed-methods approach was used to estimate the prevalence of burnout and loneliness in nurses, explore the relationship between burnout and loneliness, and develop a richer understanding of nurse loneliness. A sample of nurses with at least one year of clinical practice from four diverse hospitals participated in survey data collection which employed the Oldenburg Burnout Inventory and the University of Los Angeles Loneliness scale to measure burnout and loneliness, respectively. A subset of participants who scored in the highest quartile for these scales was invited to participate in individual qualitative interviews.
Results: Rates of burnout in the study population (N=117 nurses) are high (61%) and exceed previous estimates. Rates of loneliness in the study population (34%) exceed rates in general population studies. There is moderate positive correlation between loneliness and burnout (r=0.55, p<0.0001). Qualitative data with a subset of the study population (n=11 nurses) reveal the following key themes: a destabilization of bedside nursing, a feeling of detachment and exhaustion characterizing burnout, loneliness experienced as feeling unseen and not understood, nurses experience a sense of dehumanization, and a position of hope and empowerment in peer connection.
Discussion: This work is the first to explore the phenomenon of nurse loneliness and its contribution to nurse wellbeing. The findings highlight the critical significance of nurse loneliness and offer potential opportunities for promoting social connectedness to improve nurse wellbeing.
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Date of Submission
Available for download on Monday, April 26, 2027