The study, which was recently presented during a meeting on Investigation into Palliative Care, held in Castelo Branco on 20 and 21 March, claims that the overwhelming majority of professionals who are suffering from burnout work in intensive care units, or ‘critical care nursing’.
Health care professionals from nine different palliative care units and ten intensive care units were involved in the study, which concluded that around 30 percent of them – or three in ten – were burnt out; 86 percent of those worked in intensive care.
A summary of the study elaborated that the levels of burnout – a a psychological term that refers to long-term exhaustion and diminished interest in work – found in intensive care units were almost three times higher than the levels found in palliative care units.
The authors of the study - nurse Sandra Martins Pereira, researcher for the Portuguese Catholic University’s office of investigation and bioethics, alongside three other researchers – believe the indictors show a need to incorporate the philosophies and work methods of palliative care into other contexts, such as intensive care.
They also considered it important that professionals with roles in such highly complex scenarios have advanced training in the fields in which they work.
Moreover, according to the study, professionals with post-graduate training in intensive or palliative care showed lower levels of burnout.
On the other hand, conflict in the workplace proved to be a significant variable associated with the presence of burnout.
The study’s authors and researchers stressed that the consequences of exhaustion affect not only the workers, but also have a direct impact on patients and families, with an increased risk of errors by health professionals.
They also claimed that the worsening economic and financial crisis is aggravating the confrontation of health professionals with high stress situations, physical stress, time pressure, work overload or perceptions of injustice.
Speaking to newspaper Público, Sandra Martins Pereira said there are ways of preventing burnout in the workplace, and recalled that most of the professionals experiencing it work in “end-of-life” contexts.
“In intensive care death is considered a failure, those professionals are trained to save lives, while in palliative care death is not seen as a frustration”, she explained.
Meanwhile, large numbers of Portuguese nurses continue to flock overseas in search of greener pastures despite a widely-claimed lack of health professionals in this country, made all the more evident last winter when various overstretched A&E departments made headlines after struggling to deal with a swelling influx of patients, largely due to the increasingly aggressive flu virus.
In February the Portuguese health ministry said it would be hiring 2,000 nurses throughout the course of this year; according to the National Nurses Council, last year that same amount of Portuguese nurses sought jobs abroad.
Dr. Sérgio Gonçalves, national director of the Portugal-based Borboleta Jobabroad healthcare human resources recruitment company told The Portugal News that his company has, over the past three years, exported “hundreds” of Portuguese health professionals.
He believes a number of factors, including poor professional recognition and low wages; limited career progression and a shortage of job openings at home sway many of Portugal’s nurses to look abroad.
“One of the main reasons that drive many health professionals to leave the country is the recognition and opportunities that are offered abroad. Anyone who works likes to have their efforts acknowledged, and, here in Portugal, there is no recognition for [health] professionals” particularly in terms of remuneration, promotions or additional training, he explained.
According to Dr. Gonçalves the economic crisis saw many of the above-mentioned incentives for Portuguese health workers being slashed.
“Many nurses in Portugal work overtime and they are not paid for the hours they work”, he elaborated, adding that a shortage of job availabilities in the country’s public hospitals, caused by a lack of State finances to employ more staff, coupled with a possible overload of professionals who graduate from the “countless” nursing schools every year, makes job-hunting overseas an option that cannot be ignored.
Sérgio Gonçalves claims that Portuguese nurses employed overseas are treated “exactly the same” as the native professionals and offered the same opportunities.
He says “95 percent” of the Portuguese professionals his company has found employment for abroad say they want to return to Portugal, with the average time they spend overseas being between five and ten years.