I recently was working with a fella who I think is a terrific nurse. He’s intelligent, well-skilled, and compassionate to boot. He basically holds all the characteristics of a great RN, but I noticed on our last shift together that he seemed quiet and withdrawn. Definitely not his jovial self. Upon some probing by me, he admitted his fatigue.
“I think I need a break. I’ve been working so much lately; I just feel burned out.”
I love my chosen vocation of nursing, and most other nurses are in agreement with me I’m certain. But while it’s a well-payed job with great growth potential, I happen to believe that unless you hold a calling and driven determination to be a nurse, you won’t last long.
So why’s that?
Well, nursing is extremely rewarding, but it’s also extremely taxing. As healthcare advances come along we are seeing our sick population grow older. Basically, we’re really good at medicine, and the benefit of that is longer life spans for our patients. This is wonderful news overall, but has the negative effect of nursing shortages. There are more patients than nurses, by a long shot, and this leads to many problems.
Nurses are working more hours and taking care of more people. The nurse-to-patient ratio is unfairly skewed, and there’s only so much an employer can do to fix this problem. As a result nurses are more exhausted, additionally stressed, and we’re seeing increased medical errors being made due to less than desirable work conditions.
The physical toll of the job is taking its toll on nursing. Aside from fatigue and exhaustion related to long hours, multiple shifts, and overtime, we’re also seeing physical ailments aplenty. Most nurses I know have back problems, feet problems, or knee problems, if not all of the above.
The act of constantly pushing and pulling another person’s weight is hard on a nurse’s body. Long periods standing and walking are stressing to muscles and joints. The risk for workplace infection from communicable disease can be life-threatening, and the violence found on the job related to confused or aggressive patients is a real threat to well-being. Even if you forget about the risks I’ve just mentioned, you still have the very real incidence of illness caused by the depleted immune systems of many nurses related to their stress and fatigue.
But aside from the physical strains of the profession you must also consider the emotional ones. These are what I see often.
I’ve joked before that most nurses are on a nerve pill, but all laughs aside, emotional illness in nursing is a real thing. The stress of dealing with life and death is huge, and depression is a common diagnosis amongst nurses. It’s easy to spend so much time taking care of others that you neglect your own health, and mental wellness is an easy one to overlook.
Like my friend I spoke of above, it’s easy for nurses to push themselves to the point of breaking, and it’s often not even until you begin to crack that it’s noticed. A lot of good nurses end up feeling very bad, and if the physical toll isn’t enough to take them out, it will be the emotional one that does the trick. You end up with something that you love killing you.
There is no greater feeling than saving a life or receiving a tearful hug from a grateful family member. As a nurse I thrive on feeling like I’m doing a good job and making a difference, but in the end I am only human. We all are.
As nurses we can save our sanity and health by taking care of ourselves, not just our patients.
Take a vacation, even if just to sit around the house. Get plenty of rest; your body needs fuel. Don’t rely on alcohol or other unhealthy habits to ease your mood, but instead find great friends, peers, and mentors to bounce your feelings against.
Finding an outlet, a source of strength from which you may draw support is very beneficial. I personally rely on my Christian faith to help me through more difficult aspects of my job. But in the end you may find a new environment is most helpful. There are all kinds of nursing jobs out there, and finding your comfort zone is best for the longevity of your career.
It’s also important to remember a very simple word we all easily forget. “No.” Being a team player is super important, but if saying yes all the time is hurting you, then it’s time to say no.
Being a Registered Nurse is one of the most rewarding titles I have ever held, but the other roles I hold for my family are extremely important as well. It’s tough to juggle the roles of quality family life and that of a proficient nurse, but it just takes some thoughtful prioritization.
Above all, the important thing to remember is that we’re no help to anyone if we aren’t healthy ourselves. So you have to remind yourself as a nurse to nurse yourself first. It will not only save your sanity and job satisfaction, but it may also save your life in the long run.
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