Burnout and beyond with Athol Hann

Mark Aitken
Burnout is something that many nurses and midwives experience in their career. In this episode we talk to Athol Hann, a registered nurse, about his experience of burnout, what he did to move past it, and what others can do to avoid it.

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Podcast details

Episode: 20
Guests: Athol Hann
Duration: 43.13
Tags: Exercise, Burnout
SoundCloud: Episode 20 Burnout and beyond with Athol Hann


According to the World Health Organization “Burn-out is a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. It is characterised by three dimensions:

  • feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion;
  • increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one's job; and
  • reduced professional efficacy.

Signs of burnout

Feelings of burnout are often clouded by varied emotions and self-recrimination:

  • Shame: “I should be able to cope, I feel like a failure. What will my colleagues think about me?”
  • Regret: “I can’t believe I got to this point in my career and didn’t do something about it earlier.”
  • Sadness: “I can’t believe my work has done this to me.”
  • Self-doubt: “I should be better than this I’m not a good nurse, if I can’t handle the stress of the job.”
  • Anger :“Why didn’t someone notice how I was feeling and do something to support me before I got to this point?”
  • Despair: “I feel so sad I don’t think I’ll ever feel better.”

These are comments I’ve heard expressed by nurses and midwives in my years supporting the profession. There have been times when I have expressed some of these feelings myself.

Burn-out refers specifically to phenomena in the occupational context and should not be applied to describe experiences in other areas of life.”

My personal experience

Twenty-five years ago, when I experienced burnout as a result of my work, I didn’t have the language to describe what I was feeling and name it as burnout. I just knew that I wasn’t OK. Exposure to multiple deaths and trauma, a high stress work environment, unpredictable unrealistic workloads, lack of adequate resources and physical and emotional exhaustion had depleted me. The great sadness I felt about a perceived lack of support left me wanting to leave the professional I loved. Fortunately, I got the support I needed, studied counselling and made a commitment to do all I could to support other nurses and midwives at risk of burnout

About Athol Hann

Athol's story

athol hannSo, when I met registered nurse, Athol Hann and heard his story of burnout, his story resonated and I had mixed emotions. Sorry that Athol had experienced burnout, glad he had come out OK at the other end, grateful that he is prepared to discuss his experience and pleased that he had used his experience and his tenacity to support other nurses and midwives through establishing his tech company and developing the FWARDS app.

As Athol states in his 4-part blog on burnout:

“Experiencing burnout was one of the hardest things that I’ve gone through in my life, and despite my newfound appreciation of my experiences, it’s still something that is hard for me to recount with others. However, I’ve found myself compelled to share my journey because I know I’m not alone in having these feelings, and I don’t want others to go through this- or feel like they are alone.”

You can check out Athols series on burnout here:

It was a privilege to speak to Athol about his experience of burnout on the Nurse & Midwife Support podcast.

Athol Hann bio

Athol is a critical care and emergency nurse, and founder of Fwards; an app designed to assist healthcare workers to control the fundamentals of shift work and off-load from the demands of working in healthcare. With over 10 years experience working in healthcare and extensive knowledge and certifications in leadership, mentorship and communication, Athol has developed an intricate understanding of the problems that shift workers experience within the healthcare system.

Athol's personal experience of burnout, in conjunction with his observations as a healthcare leader, fuelled his passion for developing tools to assist health professionals to improve their lives mentally, financially and professionally. These experiences positioned Athol to understand how individuals operate in high stress healthcare environments, and learn what solutions medical teams require to optimise staff performance and reduce burnout.


Mark Aitken: Welcome to the Nurse & Midwife Support podcast, your health matters. I’m Mark Aitken, your podcast host. I’m the Stakeholder Engagement Manager with Nurse & Midwife Support, and I'm a registered nurse. Nurse & Midwife Support is the national support service for nurses, midwives and students. The service is anonymous, confidential and free. You can call us anytime you need support: 1800 667 877, or contact us via the website www.nmsupport.org.au

Today's podcast is about the important and sensitive subject of burnout. No nurse, midwife or student should experience burnout, but unfortunately many do. We hope this podcast supports you with information, tips and strategies to set you up so burnout doesn't impact you. If you think you are at risk of burnout, or indeed you feel burnt out, please know that support is available. You can contact Nurse & Midwife Support, the national support service for nurses, midwives and students anytime: 1800 667 877, or via the website at www.nmsupport.org.au

Today, my guest is Athol Hann. Athol is a registered nurse and the founder of AtholTech. Athol has developed an app called FWARDS, and we're going to talk about that throughout this podcast. Athol has also kindly agreed to share his story of professional burnout and the factors that supported his recovery. Thank you very much Athol, I'm incredibly grateful for you being our guest and sharing your story. I know our listeners are going to benefit from hearing it. Athol will also tell us why he set up his tech company and developed the app that supports nurses and midwives to (hopefully) prevent them from experiencing burnout. So, hello, and welcome Athol!

Athol Hann: Thanks Mark! And thanks for having me on the podcast.

MA: Great to have you on board! As I said, we're very interested to hear your story. Athol, please tell our listeners about your nursing career. As much, or as little, as you’d like. And, what is AtholTech? Why did you establish a tech company?

AH: Thanks for the question. My career, I guess, starts back in Victoria. I started off studying nursing in rural Victoria, in Bendigo. I loved my time there, studying at the regional campus. It was a great community. I wanted to step out of my comfort zone, so I moved to Perth for four years. Loved that, I spent a bit of time working at Royal Perth Hospital. Got around many departments, ended up in ICU. As you’ll probably hear, that’s when I had my first instance of burnout. I’ve been a nurse for about 11 years, working around many different areas from aged care, to oncology, to intensive care, to emergency, general medical, surgical. I’ve dipped my toes in every bit of nursing, it’s a really dynamic and flexible field. Nursing has been one of those great, flexible job roles.

To answer some of your other questions, what is AtholTech? Funny enough, I was on this search for something more. I was looking for a bit more meaning and something a little more challenging. I’d found so many problems in healthcare and nursing, I was just really struggling to make an impact and make the change that I was desperately searching for. I met a developer at a volunteering organisation. We started talking, at this stage I was really soul searching. I was doing some agency work, wondering what I was going to do with my career. What would I do with my future? I just started talking to him about some different concepts in health. We got chatting, I didn’t have an idea at the time. There must have been something in the back of my head. I’d come up with this idea from online pamphlets. Where you can just create your own pamphlets for organisations that have all of the information. Anyway, that’s the start of it.

I went to see him in Sydney. We had a fantastic day of going through different stuff with tech. Then he goes, “What’s the name of your business going to be?” I said that I didn’t know, no idea. Then he said, “Well, you’ve got an unusual name. Why don’t you call it AtholTech?” For a country lad from Victoria, I was a bit taken aback. But I had nothing better, so that’s where AtholTech came from. Probably a bit of the purpose behind AtholTech is that I was searching for ways that we could work better and take better care of our patients. How can we change some stuff for ourselves? So we can thrive in nursing, and not get to the point where we’re questioning, “Why am I doing this? Where is my career at?” I think that’s a bit of the background of where it started from.

MA: I love it Athol, it’s a really noble philosophy. To turn a personal experience into producing something that’s going to benefit not only you but other nurses and midwives or healthcare professionals who might use your app, I think it’s really terrific. I think it's really exciting that nurses have ventured into the tech sector. I had a chat recently about NursePreneurs, I think there's a whole community of nurses and midwives in this entrepreneur tech space. I guess you've met a few of them?

AH: Yes, definitely. You know, it's growing. There's a lot of nurses out there asking those questions. Those hard questions, how do we do this better? We’re really inquisitive types, we want to do the best we can. If we're not getting through, or the feeling where we’re not sitting on our hands and thinking, “Well that’s the way it is.” We’re really pushing the boundaries. It’s great to see many of us join up and soldier up and have a really good crack at this. Doctors have been doing it for a while, I’m not sure why, but nurses haven’t traditionally gone this way throughout their career. It’s nice to be a part of that movement.

MA: That's great Athol, thank you. Now, to the really sensitive and important issue of burnout. The Nurse & Midwife Support website content on burnout states that burnout is not just having a bad day, it’s work-related stress that may have a cumulative unwanted effect over time. Burnout is a term for a mental or physical energy depletion after a period of chronic, unrelieved, job-related stress characterized sometimes by physical illness. The person suffering from burnout may lose concern or respect for other people, themselves and have a cynical dehumanized perception of people labelling them or indeed themselves in a derogatory manner. That’s a pretty intense definition, would you add anything to that Athol? Or, indeed, would you describe it differently?

AH: It’s important to have definitions that really characterise what we see. Unfortunately, it doesn’t represent what we practically experience and what goes through your own head. All of those factors mentioned in that definition are certainly true. One of the things I don’t think that it really pushes hard on is the personal experience, what is that internal dialogue? What’s going through your own head? We’re all inherently caring by nature, to a degree. We can push that out in different ways, but how does someone get to the point of not wanting to go to work? Talking to other people poorly, talking to themselves poorly. What’s going on? It’s really about that internal dialogue. When I suffered burnout, it was the stuff that was going through my own head that was just as bad as anything else that was going on outside. It was represented in physical and emotional symptoms, but that internal dialogue was really bad. Struggling to sleep, to make decisions. Going to work, getting the job done but losing that connection with what you’re doing. I guess, it’s hard because the experience can be so broad but you need a definition that’s brief. What I’m really about is putting that to the front, what are you saying to yourself? What’s happening in your own head?

MA: Good advice and a good addition to that, thanks very much Athol. You’ve talked a bit about your own experience with burnout in relation to your career, you and I have talked outside of this podcast about it. Are you happy to share more in relation to that story? I think that these shared stories really support other people who might be going through a similar experience.

AH: Yes, I’ve become comfortable with it. Certainly, you go back three or four years and I certainly wouldn’t have been comfortable talking about it. I’m in this comfortable place with it now because I’ve been able to find my purpose, what drives me, what pushes me forward and what makes me feel fulfilled. Whereas back then, I wouldn’t have been able to talk about it. I’d just start crying. If I think about it too hard, then I will start to get teary because it was hard. For me, I had moved from Victoria over to Perth and was really excited. Into my graduate year I was trying to push towards my ambitions, I’m quite a driven sort of person. Type A. I wanted to share those similar experiences and I decided that I wanted to be an intensive care nurse.

Got there, and had a pretty tough time. There was a little bit of bullying, but a lot of people were just trying to make me better. But, because I didn’t have a good support network set-up and I didn’t have a good frame of reference, I thought it was bullying. When really, a lot of people saw a lot of potential in me and wanted me to do the best that I could. My frame of reference was just what was continually going on in my own head. I felt like I wasn’t contributing, like I wasn’t getting anywhere. Like I didn’t have any significance for my patients, or for myself. I didn’t know what it all meant. I battled with this for over a year and, like some others who have gone through intensive care settings, a lot of the time you don’t feel comfortable for long periods of time. For me, working in such a high-pressure environment it wasn’t until about a year where I was confident. Knowing that I’d be ok. Dealing with those pressures for a year, it just built up and built up.

What I found was that it wasn’t just the work-related stuff. It was a big proportion of it, but stuff outside wasn’t going great. My network of connections outside of work wasn’t strong. I had some family over in Perth, but I didn’t have my close networks. I put myself under financial stress and bought a house. All of these things just kept adding up and adding up. Add-in shift work, when your roster changes all of the time which impacts your sleeping patterns, it’s a bit like a cup of water. A cup can hold a certain amount of water, but if you keep pouring and pouring it will reach its tipping point. That’s what happened to me, I just added so much stress onto myself. I already had a tonne of stress from work. By the time I got into that tunnel, with burnout, I look at it as a tunnel. Once you’re in that frame of mind and emotional state it is really hard to break out because you can’t see it yourself. My response to that was, “I hate nursing. I need to go and do something else.” I did another role in a regional town in emergency nursing and I really enjoyed it, but I was still struggling.

I ended up leaving nursing and becoming a dairy farmer, and that was me for a little while. I was on the search for something and wasn’t able to fulfil my own needs, purpose and drive. I was pushing against what makes me whole. I had some good mates who pulled my head out of it, enough so that I didn’t go into a terrible spiral, but there were certainly times where I ticked a lot of boxes for depression. I didn’t push it over the edge with the burnout, but I was going in that direction. Fortunately, I was able to leave work and have some time off, I had to have about three months off. Some good friends grounded me and got my head a little bit clearer. We had some fun. It was an experience that I certainly don’t want to see anyone else go through, I’ve seen some of my mates go through this. Once you’re in that tunnel, it can linger for a long time.

For me, it hung around for two or three years. It was just sort of sitting there. What I’m really passionate about is trying to prevent this from happening at all. Trying to remove someone from getting right down to that pointy end. We’re all going to have stress, but if we can avoid two or three years of heartache then we should try and avoid it.

MA: Thanks Athol, for sharing that powerful story. There’s some vulnerabilities, obviously, in doing that. How are you feeling now? After your experience of burnout? What do you think were the key components of getting you through that? Did you connect with your GP? Did you contact your EAP? Was the national support service for nurses and midwives available to you then?

AH: Good question. I certainly knew that something was wrong, but I had no idea it was burnout. This seems to be a similar pattern for others, that they don’t realise that it’s burnout. I actually thought that I had cancer, or something really terrible from a physical perspective. I had all of these physical symptoms that were really odd to me. I was really thirsty all of the time, I was really drained. I had no energy. I wasn’t sleeping, all of this stuff which was so odd for someone who is pretty active. I thought there was something really wrong, so I went and got some bloods. I went and got a physical check. I remember the second or third time I saw my doctor he asked how I was going, mentally. I said I was ok, I suppose. He went through the check list for depression and I ticked off a fair few of those boxes. I wasn’t meeting all of the criteria, but I was certainly on that path.

He suggested I reach out to the EAP service, which I ended up doing a couple of times. Whether the councillor wasn’t right, it just didn’t fit well for me. What I felt, was that I would go and see the counsellor. Get upset for an hour, cry my heart out and leave. Then feel even worse. It wasn’t really the thing that helped me, at the time. It was really having some time off work and doing something else. Working out what your priorities are. I had a lot of other stressors that had caused my symptoms, with the financial stuff with the house and what not. So, me having time off and realising that my house was probably going to be the worst thing. During my time off I went and did some agency work with a rural hospital. That was the best thing for me. I got a good perspective of what it was, it wasn’t me as a nurse, it was something else (bigger) going on. Whether it was to do with that workplace or to do with me personally, it was just enough to give me a little bit of perspective. I met a good mate, we had a great chat. I found like a soul mate in a mate, in nursing. We kicked it off, and he really supported me through it. He was just there for me. I think those are the things that really helped me get through it: connecting with people, having a little bit of time away to get some perspective. Nutting it out with someone that you trust. From a male’s perspective, that’s what helped me.

Females, you know, they seem to know how to deal with this stuff much better and I didn’t know how to deal with any of these emotions. I had no idea how to operate. I have a bit better of an idea now, but at the time it was just unfathomable. Looking back at what happened, at the time I had no idea what I was doing. It was just a foreign land. I don’t know, it would be interesting to ask you that, Mark. You know, you’ve talked to thousands of nurses and it would be interesting to hear your perspective on that.

MA: I think the key here Athol is that it’s a very individual experience for each nurse, midwife or student experiencing it. What we’re really keen to reinforce, within the profession, is that if you’re feeling not great about life, or yourself, or your work, then really connecting and tapping in to that feeling. Honouring it, owning it and doing something about it. We’re all about early intervention and health promotion. Obviously, we do support nurses and midwives that have a full-blown or chronic issue and we’re certainly in the business of supporting any nurse, midwife or student. But, we recommend that if you just don’t feel good about life, or yourself, or work, call the service. Contact the service earlier rather than later: 1800 667 877 or via the website at nmsupport.org.au

It’s really vital to get that support, so we’re really delighted that Nurse & Midwife Support is now available to our profession. Please know that we’re here 24/7 to talk about any issue you need support with. I hope that’s helpful, Athol. I wish when you were experiencing burnout that we’d been operational then. Obviously, we weren’t. Any nurse, midwife or student whose experiencing anything remotely like what Athol was talking about then please get in touch.

AH: I totally agree, I would have loved it if you guys were about. The other thing too is, I didn’t know who to turn to. Stuff like this, with you getting out there and telling the nursing community about this service is so fundamental. You sort of get in your own head, you put your head down and can’t see clearly. This is fantastic, and I totally agree. Prevention, getting in early is the best thing you can do.

MA: We’re really big advocates for self-care, and the importance of self-care for nurses and midwives. When you’re in the service and care of other people, often you’re not wired or very good at putting your own needs or your own self-care first. Would you agree, Athol, that self-care is a really important protective but also restorative factor here?

AH: Yes, I think, how I like to see self-care is what fills your cup? What’s driving you? Sometimes, what’s driving you is to do that little bit of extra study after work. Then that makes you feel a bit better because if you’ve seen something during the day that you’re not too sure about, after doing a bit of reading about that it makes you feel a bit better. It’s really about identifying what the driving needs are for that day and that week. Then over a longer period of time, it’s identifying what’s driving you and why you’re doing stuff. Make sure you do that stuff. I think self-care will take care of itself. For me, I know exercise is big. Just because of the feeling that I get, it’s one of those things that I’m really driven towards doing. But I also know that on the other side, it can also be detrimental. It’s just a matter of getting that balance right. You’ll find that energy levels don’t go up and down as much.

MA: That’s great Athol, thank you. Thanks so much again for sharing your story, it was really powerful. Now, your app FWARDS was driven in part (if not entirely) through your experience. As you say, that was really a part of what you went through in recovery. Could you tell us a bit about that app and how it could prevent nurses and midwives from experiencing burnout?

AH: It’s a funny journey, isn’t it? I didn’t realise the app would be addressing all of these deep-down needs and problems that I’ve experienced in the past. It’s funny, what we do as humans. When the biggest problems are boiling beneath you, you either avoid them forever or you do something about it. They come up, eventually. I guess this is what has happened to me. As I said, I was trying to do some stuff with tech and then I started to unpick it. Why? I always asked that question, why? The app came from that starting point.

One of the biggest things that I’ve found, from a functionality perspective as a nurse, is that shift work is pretty tough. Your roster changes, your team changes. You lose connections with some staff, you lose connections with some family members. Your pay changes all of the time, so you don’t have a lot of certainty with the job that you do. Then you come into an environment that is really uncertain as well, it changes all of the time. No matter what you do, there’s different wards, different patients. In ED, there’s always new patients. In ICU, there’s new patients all the time, even though it’s semi-structured. All of that uncertainty really builds up. It’s an unnecessary stress for a stressful job. We’ve talked about the cup and water, how we can only hold so much. I think shift work can just pile on the water. If you’re not feeling good, for whatever reason, then add in sleep deprivation, poor diet, reduced connections, inability to do the stuff that you want to do can really effect you. Maybe point you towards the tunnel of burnout.

That’s the purpose of the app really, to give you a little bit of control over that shift work dilemma. It’s built off your roster. So, what people do is they enter their roster, if we know who you are or what you do then we can group you together in teams for the day. We can deliver some content. We can help you understand your pay, before your pay comes to you. If that’s one of your priorities, this gives you the foresight to work a bit more. When you do get paid, you’ve already got an understanding of what your gross amount should be. You can check your pay and be certain that it’s accurate. $200 is better in your pocket than the governments.

MA: Absolutely.

AH: I don’t know about you Mark, but I got around $1 000 over Christmas just from checking my pay. It’s one of those things that they’re not checking for you, they’re looking after their own backend. You’ve got to be on the go, backing yourself. The last little thing in the app is a mindfulness area where you can debrief, journal, unload from the day. That’s related to the end of your day as well. When you finish your shift, you can download onto the app. Leave something there that you can touch on later, and move on with the rest of your day. We’ve left the Nurse & Midwife Support number in there as well, just so if people have put something on the app then they can call you guys to touch base as well.

MA: And we’re very grateful for that, thank you very much Athol for promoting Nurse &Midwife Support within your app. I think it’s really important that the more people who know this information, they’ll have better outcomes and a better quality of life. I really like the fact that that you’ve got financial support information in there too because many nurses and midwives don’t really connect that much to finances. I think it’s really empowering when you do. So, really terrific advice. If I wanted to download the app, how do I go about doing that?

AH: At the moment, we’re just getting it going, but you can go to the GooglePlay store or the Apple store and it will be there. So just search for FWARDS and have a look for it there. It’s only available to public health employees and public health nurses at the moment. Just so we can keep the security functionality right. Hopefully we can get a bit of traction and momentum, then deliver it to every nurse in Australia. But that’s where we’re at, you’ll be able to find it at your favourite app store and download it with your work email address.

MA: Is that Australia wide? For public health nurses?

AH: It’s Australia wide. If we don’t have the health organisation entered into the backend database, just let us know and we can enter it form a public health perspective. If we don’t have your hospital or department loaded into the system, let us know and we’ll quickly do that as well. We’re not able to enter every hospital and department in Australia, we’d probably spend the next year just doing that alone.

MA: Thanks Athol. Like you, I’m always concerned about nurses and midwives experiencing burnout. Currently, many (particularly those working in Melbourne) are dealing with the challenges of COVID-19 so we’re recording this in late August 2020 when COVID-19 has had a huge impact throughout Australia. Currently, most prominently in Melbourne. A recent report from Safer Care Victoria has highlighted that the majority of healthcare workers infected with COVID-19 are nurses. To any nurse or midwife out there, in the thick of this at the moment, thank you very much for the incredible work you’re doing. We realise that you’re going above and beyond and we’re here to support you at any time: 1800 667 877.

Athol, you wrote a blog about this called Boiling Salty Water: COVID-19 back in March 2020, right at the beginning of the COVID-19 impact in Australia. Could you talk a bit about that blog? And some of the information that is pertinent, I think, to people right now?

AH: I wrote the blog because I could see the pressures being faced by, maybe not the nurses here in Australia, but definitely overseas. I could just see it was a matter of time. Nursing is one of those core fundamentals that stay pretty consistent throughout the world. There’s different levels in different health systems, but the approaches and issues faced in the US and the UK can be very relatable to us here in Australia. I wrote the blog just as a bit of a warning. To say that we’re already under the pump, and you’re going to pressure us a little bit more with COVID-19. There’s a pandemic coming and we’re already feeling the pressure as it is. It was a bit of a call to action. To say, get ready. Prepare your resources. Get enough equipment, update your training. Get some practices around offloading and keeping your mental health in check, up to a level, to handle the extra stress. Even myself, there were days where we were really stressed with the workload that we had. I was just concerned. I’m still concerned for our nurses here. You hear about some situations in Italy, the cases coming out of the US. I find it crazy, it’s life or death situations over there yet they’re still turning up to work to support their communities. I hope it never gets to that level here, but we’ve obviously seen that on the news. There’s a bit of that mental brace that’s been happening as well. I think it’s just a matter of putting the warning signs up. Understanding it and preparing as much as possible and here we are. Victoria is still in the grip of it.

MA: Yes, we certainly are. I’m based in Victoria so it’s really front and centre for me. In your blog Athol, you offer this advice and I quote:

“So, let’s do what we do best. Let’s look after each other. Here’s a little exercise to help you get through these tough days, if something is bothering you or you can’t find a solution, think SACA.”

Could you tell our listeners what that stands for? What it actually means and how it can assist?

AH: Yes, SACA is how I like to call it.

MA: Cute, I like it.

AH: SACA, it was something I had been doing subconsciously for a little bit. It was a process that I used when I was having trouble making a decision. Then I started to relate it to anytime I was feeling a bit off. About anything. I don’t know about you Mark, but when something is pressuring me or I feel overwhelmed, my brain stops. It just seems to lock down, I can’t get the words out. It just won’t seem to process anything. At the time I was thinking about this SACA sort of stuff, we were really busy in our department. After 5/6/7/8 hours into the shift I just felt my brain go into shutdown mode. I knew I had to do something about this, because I still had to make decisions, we were still really busy. But my mind really stopped. So, I developed SACA. It stands for:

S – Stop

A - Assess

C - Consider

A – Act

I would stop and take three deep breaths, focussing purely on those breaths. Breath in for 5 seconds, hold for 5 seconds and breath out for 5 seconds. What that is doing is helping you reset, clear your mind and getting you to think a bit more analytically. Not that panicked flight mode. So you just want to stop your brain. Then I’d assess, assess the problem? What are the facts? What am I looking at? What’s my problem in front of me? I’d focus and narrow it down. Don’t be too broad. Then I’d consider what are those facts? I’ve assessed them, these are the problems and the facts that I’m looking at. Then you want to think, what are my options? What are my options here? What paths can I go down. What’s the best way? Or talk to someone and find out. Then act on it. You don’t want to be dwelling on it for too long. You want to complete and perform the next action. What’s next? Plan ahead. If the next step is simply to ask someone, go and ask them straight away. If that doesn’t answer your problem, you can start again. Or, these steps can point you in the right direction. I think we put a lot of burden on ourselves to always have the answer, in nursing. But simply asking anybody, it might even be a new grad. It might be a senior doctor. Or someone on the same level, I think asking someone can help you clear your mind.

There’s actually a good story on this podcast I listen to, they had this army general talking. He was going into one of his last flights and they were climbing through air and counting down the feet. They were going up and up and then all of a sudden there was this radio call from a young lieutenant. Or I think it might have even been a student in the back of the plane. He said, “Ah Sir, I think we’re only clear 30 000 feet.” And then he says, “Oh no, don’t be silly. We’re clear for 40 000.” He didn’t hear anymore from the student, and he’s counting and counting and then he calls back to control and asks what level they were meant to be climbing to. The control goes, 30 000 feet. He pulled back on the brakes and what he’s found is that they were in the underbelly of another plane. If they’d kept climbing, they would have all died. It was just one of those critical moments, he tells it much better than me but the moral of the story is that you can always ask for a piece of advice from anybody. It doesn’t have to be a guru in that field. That’s where SACA was born from.

MA: That’s great, thank you very much Athol. I really like in the way that you say it, it may be simply asking for help. That’s what Nurse & Midwife Support is all about, providing help and support. As I’ve said many times and I’ll say again, please call us sooner rather than later if you need support or help: 1800 667 877. You mention grads there Athol, early career nurses and midwife students and graduates often struggle and are at risk of experiencing burnout. I think if we support them really quickly and really early then we can set their careers up to be better for them. Be more supported. What advice do you have in relation to staying healthy and preventing burnout for early career nurses, students and graduates?

AH: Good point Mark. One thing I wish I had done when I was pushing forward in my early career is find someone to lean into, a mentor. Leant on them and asked them the questions to get a picture of what I wanted to lie ahead. What’s driving you to be a nurse? What’s your purpose behind it? Is it a stable career so you can pursue other things? Which is very noble, or is it a career where you want to be a nurse unit manager or a clinical nurse consultant? What’s driving you? What are those underlying drivers that really make you feel fulfilled? You can do that by looking at others and asking mentors and asking around. The other thing is that nursing is an evolving career. You can be hell bent on something and wanting to achieve it, but it can change. Don’t be to disheartened. You can do 100 different things in nursing, things can change. Don’t let it get you down. If you can find a mentor, someone to look up to and ask them those questions, then you’ve got more hope with dealing with some of those demands that you face.

MA: Thanks Athol, I really love that statement. Find somebody to lean into. Great advice, have you got any final words of wisdom for our listeners? As we get towards the end of this podcast.

MA: No, I think it was a great opportunity to have a chat to you Mark. Probably my only thing would be to keep asking those questions. Never be put down or told that asking why is a problem. Always ask those questions, why are we doing this? Why are we doing that? How you portray that is a different matter, but ask those difficult questions because that’s the only way that we’re going to get better. In nursing, we’re all in this together and we need to keep asking each other how we’re going. Look after your mates.

MA: Great advice, thanks Athol. Once again, what are your website details? If people want to have a look at your website and the app?

AH: The app website is www.fwards.com and the AtholTech website is www.atholtech.com.au The FWARDS website is one we set up for the app and AtholTech is about that mission of preventing burnout in the industry. I would love for you to join us. If you’re excited about creating some change, I’d love to hear from you.

MA: Thanks very much Athol, you’ve been a great guest. I really appreciate you sharing your story on burnout and your insights and wisdom. I know our listeners will benefit from those and appreciate it. Please remember everybody that Nurse & Midwife Support is available 24/7 no matter where you are in Australia 1800 667 877 or via the website at nmsupport.org.au

Take care, look after yourselves and each other, we’ll speak to you next time. Your health matters.

Additional resources

Tessa is a Mental Health Nurse Consultant with over 30 years experience across public, private and primary health care, mental health and drug and alcohol services. She has generously shared her extensive experience and wisdom supporting nurses who have or are experiencing burnout. Tessa raises the importance of self-awareness and clinical supervision as protective factors against burnout. You can read her story here.

We also have a pages dedicated to stress, anxiety, mental health self-care and burnout.

If you feel burnout, exhausted, sad, overwhelmed, angry or any other emotion PLEASE reach out for support. Nurse & Midwife Support is available 24/7, anonymous, confidential and free. 1800 667 877