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Open Access Open Badges Research article

Qualified and Unqualified (N-R C) mental health nursing staff - minor differences in sources of stress and burnout. A European multi-centre study

Knut W Sorgaard1*, Peter Ryan2 and Ian Dawson3

Author Affiliations

1 Nordland Hospital Trust, 8092 Bodo, Norway/Institute of Clinical Medicine, University of Tromso, Norway

2 Peter Ryan, Middlesex University, Archway Campus, Archway, N195NFL London, UK

3 Ian Dawson, Nordland Hospital Trust, 8092 Bodo, Norway

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BMC Health Services Research 2010, 10:163  doi:10.1186/1472-6963-10-163

Published: 14 June 2010



Unqualified/non-registered caregivers (N-R Cs) will continue to play important roles in the mental health services. This study compares levels of burnout and sources of stress among qualified and N-R Cs working in acute mental health care.


A total of 196 nursing staff - 124 qualified staff (mainly nurses) and 72 N-R Cs with a variety of different educational backgrounds - working in acute wards or community mental teams from 5 European countries filled out the Maslach Burnout Inventory (MBI), the Mental Health Professional Scale (MHPSS) and the Psychosocial Work Environment and Stress Questionnaire (PWSQ).


(a) The univariate differences were generally small and restricted to a few variables. Only Social relations (N-R Cs being less satisfied) at Work demands (nurses reporting higher demands) were different at the .05 level. (b) The absolute scores both groups was highest on variables that measured feelings of not being able to influence a work situation characterised by great demands and insufficient resources. Routines and educational programs for dealing with stress should be available on a routine basis. (c) Multivariate analyses identified three extreme groups: (i) a small group dominated by unqualified staff with high depersonalization, (ii) a large group that was low on depersonalisation and high on work demands with a majority of qualified staff, and (iii) a small N-R C-dominated group (low depersonalization, low work demands) with high scores on professional self-doubt. In contrast to (ii) the small and N-R C-dominated groups in (i) and (iii) reflected mainly centre-dependent problems.


The differences in burnout and sources of stress between the two groups were generally small. With the exception of high work demands the main differences between the two groups appeared to be centre-dependent. High work demands characterized primarily qualified staff. The main implication of the study is that no special measures addressed towards N-R Cs in general with regard to stress and burnout seem necessary. The results also suggest that centre-specific problems may cause more stress among N-R Cs compared to the qualified staff (e.g. professional self-doubt).