NUI Galway national study looking at the psychosocial risk factors and burnout among nursing staff in Ireland

Natasha Fitzgerald-Yau, a Psychologist in Clinical Training at the School of Psychology in NUI Galway
Jan 05 2017 Posted: 09:19 GMT

This national study is seeking 1,000 nurses to examine how burnout is having an impact on their ability to provide treatment and care to the elderly population.

The School of Psychology and the School of Nursing and Midwifery at NUI Galway is conducting a research study on nursing staff’s experiences of burnout and how this impacts both their mental well-being and capacity to treat and care for the over 65 year olds. All registered general nurses are invited to participate in the online study, and the findings will better inform future policies and interventions for trainee and qualified nursing staff in Ireland.

This study is being carried out by Natasha Fitzgerald-Yau, a Psychologist in Clinical Training at the School of Psychology in NUI Galway, under the academic supervision of Dr Jonathan Egan, Deputy Director of the University’s Doctorate Programme in Psychological Science and under Dr Andrew Hunter in Nursing and Midwifery.

Ms Fitzgerald-Yau is interested in the effect of burnout and stress on people’s capacity to mentalise. She said: “Mentalising means being aware of what is going on in our own minds, that is our thoughts, feelings, intentions, etc., and in other people’s minds. It is the attachment processes between staff and patients that helps to foster and maintain the capacity to mentalise. When staff are feeling over-pressurised, this attachment relationship can become disrupted or fail to develop. If the ability to mentalise gets compromised then this may explain why both patients and staff alike report feeling objectified within the healthcare system.”

A recent survey in 2016 of [i]nursing staff across 200 hospitals in Belgium, England, Finland, Ireland, Spain and Switzerland found that nearly a third showed signs of burnout and a similar proportion were dissatisfied with their job. A qualitative study [ii]in October based on interviews with nurses in three Emergency Departments across Ireland revealed that many leave the profession because of stress and that they are “often forced to engage in a sliding scale of care resulting in reduced dignity for patients”.

One such patient group whose care is particularly at risk of being jeopardised are the over 65’s. Patients and staff report the dehumanising experience for patients of being moved around inside hospitals ‘like parcels’. Older patients are more likely to be forgotten about because they are less critical and are less likely to complain.

Research has found that negative attitudes towards working with older people pervade among health professionals due to working conditions, poor career prospects and a perceived lack of professional esteem.

For those who would like to participate in this national study, please visit the online survey link at

For further information, contact Natasha Fitzgerald-Yau at


[i] Aiken, L. H., Sloane, D., Griffiths, P., Rafferty, A. M., Bruyneel, L., McHugh, M., & Sermeus, W. (2016). Nursing skill mix in European hospitals: cross-sectional study of the association with mortality, patient ratings, and quality of care. BMJ Quality & Safety, bmjqs-2016.

[ii] White, G. (2016). Understanding Emergency Nurses' experiences of moral distress (Doctoral dissertation).

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