I don’t believe it’s burnout: A descriptive qualitative study of ED staff perceptions’ of their working environment

Ms Elizabeth Elder1, Dr  Amy Johnston2,3, Professor Marianne Wallis4,5, Professor Julia Crilly5,6

1School of Nursing & Midwifery, Griffith Health, Griffith University, Gold Coast, Australia, 2Department of Emergency Medicine, Princess Alexandra Hospital Metro South Health, Brisbane, Australia, 3School of Nursing Midwifery and Social Work, University of Queensland Woollongabba , Brisbane, Australia, 4School of Nursing Midwifery and Paramedicine, University of the Sunshine Coast, Sunshine Coast, Australia, 5Menzies Health Institute Queensland, Griffith University , Gold Coast, Australia, 6Department of Emergency Medicine, Gold Coast Hospital and Health Service , Gold Coast, Australia

Introduction: Occupational stress is of interest to a variety of professional groups (e.g. teaching, policing, healthcare (1,2)). Research specific to the perception of emergency department staff of their working environment and occupational stressors is only beginning to emerge. Given ongoing increases in ED presentations, exposure to violence, and high risk of burnout, it is important to continue to explore and understand which aspects of work ED staff find stressful, and how this impacts on their perception of the working environment.

Aim: The aim of this study was to explore ED clinicians (nurses and doctors) perception of their working environment and their perceived occupational stressors.

Methods: Twelve semi-structured descriptive interviews with clinicians working in a public teaching hospital ED in south-east QLD were conducted. Thematic analysis was undertaken of the data.

Results: Participants described a variety of occupational stressors including, inter-departmental communication breakdown, volume of documentation, poor physical and human resourcing and high workloads. An overarching theme of ‘demoralization’ emerged. This was underpinned by four sub-themes; lack of resourcing, inadequate of support, mis-match between staff, oganisational and societal expectations and departmental workload/activity.  Participants commonly cited feeling ‘frustrated’ when exposed to occupational stressors.

Conclusion: Stressors reported by participants in this study mirror many of those noted in the literature. This study adds to the body of literature in this area, identifying a theme of demoralisation experienced by some ED staff . These findings can be used to inform the development of potential strategies to ameliorate stressors and or enhance coping within the ED working environment.


  1. Santoro DA. Good Teaching in Difficult Times: Demoralization in the Pursuit of Good Work. American Journal of Education. 2011;118(1):1-23.
  2. Gabel S. Demoralization in health professional practice: development, amelioration, and implications for continuing education. The Journal of continuing education in the health professions. 2013;33(2):118-26.


Elizabeth is a credentialed emergency nurse with a passion for education, research and clinical practice.  Believing research is the juncture of clinical practice and academe Elizabeth enrolled in her PhD in 2016. Areas of research interest include staff perceptions of their working environments and stress and coping of ED clinician