Learn ways for nursing students to avoid burnout and overcome the feeling of wanting to quit.

Nursing school burnout is becoming all too common. Research indicates that medical students and residents experience burnout ranges between 45 and 60 percent. The fact is, nursing school is not only demanding but incredibly intense. So, it’s not surprising many feel overwhelmed and want to give up.

Yet, by following certain strategies, nursing students can combat burnout and succeed. In this article, we’ll discuss how to avoid nursing school burnout. We’ll also include ways to prioritize your well-being.

What Is Nursing School Burnout?

Nursing school burnout is a form of academic exhaustion. It’s often caused by the physical, mental, and emotional demands of nursing school.

According to the National Library of Medicine, Canada, the United States, and Australia present variations in drop-out, ranging from 10 to 50%.

Burnout can lead to decreased motivation, apathy towards patient care, or even depression. It can also have serious implications for academic performance. This is due to decreased interest in learning activities.

Is It Normal to Want to Quit Nursing School?

Yes, it is normal to want to quit nursing school due to burnout. Nursing school is a rigorous program that requires dedication and hard work. As a result, feeling overwhelmed is common.

Yet, there are ways for nursing students to avoid burnout and overcome the feeling of wanting to quit. The first step is recognizing the most common signs of burnout.

How to Tell If You’re Burnt Out

Burnout in nursing school can often be hard to identify because it is a slow and gradual process. It often begins with feelings of exhaustion and lack of motivation. This can lead to more serious symptoms. For instance, decreased performance, absenteeism, and physical illness.

Are you feeling overwhelmed by the demands of nursing school? Or, is your academic performance slipping? Then it may be time to take action before burnout sets in. Here are a few common signs:

You’re Overly Stressed

Overly stressed feelings are one of the most common signs of burnout in nursing students. If you feel overwhelmed with your workload, are unable to meet deadlines, or feel exhausted and unmotivated – these are all signs that you may be experiencing burnout.

You’re Constantly Exhausted

Yes, it’s normal to feel tired after studying or attending classes for an extended period of time. But, if you’re always feeling drained and without energy (even when you haven’t been studying or attending classes) it could be a sign your body is struggling to cope with the demands of your coursework.

You’re Struggling To Eat, Sleep, Or Focus

Experiencing these symptoms over time can lead to physical exhaustion and emotional distress. In turn, this can have a lasting negative impact on both your academic and personal life.

burn out nurse leaning against glass with reflection

5 Primary Causes of Burnout in Nursing Students

Burnout is a very real issue for nursing students. That’s why it’s so important to understand its primary causes. The five primary causes of nursing school burnout include:

Long Hours With Heavy Workloads

Burnout caused by long hours with heavy workloads can manifest as physical exhaustion. Over time, these symptoms may prevent you from completing your studies and stop you from earning a nursing degree.

High Pressure To Perform

One major cause of burnout in nursing school is the high pressure to perform well on exams. Nursing students are expected to have excellent medical knowledge. Students should also demonstrate sound judgment when caring for patients. This pressure can be intense. Especially if you’re struggling with learning certain concepts or lack confidence.

Strenuous Mental And Emotional Demands

The most common cause for this type of burnout is the pressure that comes from juggling many tasks. For instance, studying for exams, writing papers, and taking exams can cause overwhelm. It may even be more intense if you have to balance family life or other commitments. Even the volume of information you need to succeed in nursing school can be a lot to handle.

Financial Stress of Student Loans

With tuition rising, it can be difficult to cover costs even with grants or scholarships. Many need to take out large loans to attend nursing school, leading to significant stress and anxiety. This financial burden combined with the challenging curriculum, can contribute to burnout.

The Stress of Being Labeled A Failure

Nursing school can be a highly stressful environment. There is an enormous amount of pressure to perform well. The stress associated with being labeled as a failure if unable to live up to high expectations can be a significant contributor to student burnout. This sense of failure can cause you to become unmotivated. This may lead to further academic struggles or even quitting altogether.

nurse with stethoscope looped into a heart

How to Avoid Burnout in Nursing School

Managing burnout is crucial for nursing students who often face high levels of stress and demands in school. Fortunately, there are strategies that can be employed to cope with burnout and prevent it from negatively impacting one’s education and well-being. Some ways to avoid burnout are:

Prioritize Sleep

Getting enough sleep is essential for maintaining physical and mental well-being. Sleep deprivation can cause increased stress levels, impaired concentration, and decreased problem-solving skills. This can have a damaging effect on your performance. Aim for seven or eight hours of restful sleep every night and ensure to stick to a regular bedtime schedule. That way, your body knows when it’s time for rest.

Schedule Time For Physical Exercise

It’s easy to neglect your health when feeling overwhelmed. However, taking some time to move your body can have a positive effect on stress and energy. By incorporating exercise into your daily routine, you may find it improves your concentration and mental clarity. Additionally, physical activity has been linked with improved moods and better sleep quality. Both are important factors in helping manage stress levels.

Prioritize Free Time

This could be as simple as setting aside an hour once a week for yourself or going on a long walk while listening to music. Allowing yourself moments of relaxation can help restore energy levels. It can also give you a boost of motivation. Especially when it comes to studying or completing assignments.

Schedule Breaks For Mental Health Exercises

Aim to schedule at least one break every day. Use this time to practice activities that can help you maintain your focus while studying. Two of these types of activities include mindfulness and deep breathing.


By practicing mindfulness, you can combat symptoms of stress and improve concentration. This can help you learn to appreciate the present moment and feel renewed.

Deep Breathing

Taking time to practice deep breathing exercises can help by relieving stress and allowing time to pause. This break can help you make decisions more calmly and effectively.

Looking for Mental Health Resources to Avoid Burnout?

Overall, burnout in nursing students is a very real issue that should not be taken lightly. It is important to understand the primary causes of burnout and how to best avoid it. By implementing the tips mentioned above, you can excel in nursing school and enjoy a burnout-free school year.

If you’re looking for evidence-based mental health resources to help you lower stress and avoid burnout, TAO offers programs at many nursing schools across Canada and the US. We also offer a subscription option for self-guided modules for anyone looking to pursue this themselves. For faculty looking to support their students, TAO offers curriculum enhancement with modules seamlessly compatible with your LMS.


  • National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2019. Taking Action Against Clinician Burnout: A Systems Approach to Professional Well-Being. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. https://doi.org/10.17226/25521.
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