When you were in nursing school, your professors and your mentors undoubtedly warned you about the hard times. They said you’d be tested. They told you there would be times when you wanted to quit, times when you just didn’t think you had the strength to go on.
But no one could have prepared you for the test that is COVID-19. In your worst dreams, you never could have seen this coming.
Now it’s here, though. And you’re slogging through one day, one hour, sometimes one minute at a time. But with infection rates surging, there doesn’t seem to be an end in sight, at least not anytime soon.
If you’re going to make it, then you’re going to have to take care of you. And that begins by setting boundaries, even with your precious COVID patients and their families.
Claiming Your Right to Self-Care
As a nurse, it probably feels only natural to put other people first. It’s what you do every working day of your life, after all. And that habit likely doesn’t change when you’re off the clock.
That’s not a healthy or sustainable way to live in the best of circumstances. Lack of self-care, especially as a result of overwork, can take a devastating toll not only on your physical health but also on your mental and emotional health. It’s also debilitating to your relationships, those emotional support systems that keep you strong in body, mind, and spirit.
One of the greatest risks, of course, is that the demands placed on you as a pandemic nurse is that you might easily lapse into work addiction. You might find yourself unwilling, or even unable, to leave your work behind you when you come home. You might feel as if the only “right” or “noble” thing to do is to work yourself beyond all reason, giving yourself wholly to your work, supposedly for the sake of your patients but, really, for the sake of your addiction.
But whether you are simply facing extreme overwork, or you are falling into a full-fledged work addiction, as a nurse in the age of coronavirus, failure to practice self-care by nurturing your mental health isn’t just hurtful, it’s downright destructive. Right now, you are bearing physical, mental, and emotional burdens that you never thought possible.
Recognizing the signs that you are struggling and you need help is neither weakness nor selfishness. It means valuing yourself as much as you value those under your care. It means allowing yourself the right to the same kind of love and care that you give your patients. It means taking care of yourself so that you can take care of them.
You’ve probably been taking care of others for so long that you’ve forgotten how to prioritize your own needs. You might never have learned how to protect your well-being by setting boundaries. When you have boundaries, you’re going to have more emotional energy and a stronger sense of agency and power, something that this pandemic has taken from far too many of us.
Setting boundaries, though, is not rocket science and it doesn’t have to be hard. You can start simply, by ensuring that when you’re off the clock, you’re actually off the clock. That means that when you get home, you need to turn off all the COVID coverage and you need to let yourself be taken care of for a while.
If you’ve been working with COVID patients, unfortunately, you’re probably not going to be comfortable being physically close to your family and loved ones. But you can still let them nurture you from a distance. Get your kids to make dinner and do the laundry. Have your spouse draw you a warm bath and turn your bathroom into the perfect spa retreat.
Above all, make it clear that no pandemic talk is allowed unless and until you want and are ready to share. And that also means resisting the urge to constantly check on your patients. For the sake of your physical and mental health, when you are off duty, you must do your utmost to get away from thoughts of the virus and to nurture yourself, instead, with the things that you love in the best way you can.
Setting boundaries as a COVID nurse means standing up for your right to take time away. Scheduling a weekend getaway to the outdoors is good for your physical health, reducing your stress, and boosting your immunity. But it’s also ideal for your mental health, helping you to rest and decompress, to calm your mind and regroup.
Studies show that spending time in nature can help nurses build resiliency and avoid burnout. And there’s never been a greater need for that than right now.
No one needs to tell you that the pandemic is one of the worst health crises in modern history. You’ve been on the frontlines for months now. You know the score. And because you know the score, you also know that this crisis isn’t something you can, or should, handle alone.
If you are 65 or older and have Medicare, you likely qualify for mental health care coverage. And if you’re covered under your employer, then mental health benefits are also likely included in your group insurance plan. On the other hand, if you’re uninsured or your plan doesn’t include mental health benefits, you can still reach out for free or low-cost care in your community.
Nurses are superheroes and the world knows it now more than ever. But even superheroes need caring for. And that begins, above all, with recognizing your right to self-nurturing and setting the boundaries you need to ensure that the one who cares for everyone else finally gets the TLC she or he deserves.
It’s a great time to be a nurse. Especially with the COVID-19 pandemic and as the global population continues to swell, improving public health is paramount. Health care professionals, especially nurses, are essential to helping people establish and maintain healthy lives. Thus, nursing professionals are in high demand. Job growth within the industry is expected at least through 2028, reports the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), at a rate that’s much higher than average.
At its core, nursing is a fulfilling job where you can truly make a difference. But the perks of a nursing career don’t end with humanitarianism. Nursing opportunities essentially span the globe, giving you free rein to comfortably live wherever you want, from dynamic cities to suburban enclaves or rural communities where the pace of life is slower.
So where will you live? It’s in your best interest to find somewhere that you enjoy, and where you can envision building a life over the long-term. In fact, your health may count on it.
Cultivating Happiness at Home and on the Job
Every place we have ever lived has left some kind of an impression on us. Many of those places spark joy and fuel happy memories, aptly illustrating the connection between mood, emotions and place. As a healthcare professional, you may be aware of the ways in which where you live affects your happiness. And where your personal happiness is concerned, it all comes down to well-being: According to NPR, well-being is associated with “longer life expectancy and better health outcomes.” The place we call home has the power to diminish or boost our well-being
Most of us have heard the old cliché, “home is where the heart is.” Or how about “there’s no place like home?” Your hometown and its traditions are the building blocks of your personal identity, influencing everything from your choice of sports team to favorite recreational activities. What’s more, cultivating a sense of place helps us build our identity as we grow older, and make decisions that impact our career.
No matter how much you love the place you call home, however, changes in your work or life situations can lead to a geographical change as well. Sometimes, we outgrow a place, a company, or a once-beloved position and want to start afresh. And figuring out where shouldn’t be done lightly. Start by asking yourself what you want in a city while also looking for employment opportunities that reflect your values. Conducting research into the top states and cities for career growth, including Seattle and Austin, may help you narrow down your choices.
And with a nursing degree, you can broaden your search well beyond jobs in the U.S. Across the world, 6 million more nurses are needed to help fill demand and meet global health targets. The nursing shortage is more prevalent in low- and middle-income countries, the World Economic Forum reports.
Taking the International Leap
Nursing provides plenty of opportunities for adventurous spirits to satiate their wanderlust, in the U.S. and beyond. For many, the international nursing experience is life-changing, broadening your worldview as you build essential skills. Further, nurses with a job history that spans continents may have a leg up when it’s time for a career change.
Employers in the health care industry appreciate a diverse background in their candidates, as well as the ability to quickly adapt to changing environments. Alongside the U.S. and its territories, some of the best countries for nursing include Italy, Canada, and Luxembourg.
International nursing is a great choice for those who are passionate about the humanitarian side of health care. Some international workers may care for refugees or marginalized populations, for example, such as those aboard Africa Mercy, a hospital ship. It’s important to note that international nursing jobs aren’t always paid positions, but volunteer experience in the health care trenches can be an invaluable tool in furthering your education and career.
Reflecting on Your Career Choices
Just as there are different types of nurses, there exists a seemingly endless array of places in which you can practice your craft. Your chosen career field is a guide towards the place that you can call home — For instance, Nurse Practitioners (NPs) may end up working with marginalized populations in a primary care provider (PCP) capacity. Registered Nurses (RNs), on the other hand, primarily work in hospital settings, so city life may be in the cards.
Your nursing career provides boundless gifts. For starters, you can truly make a difference in the world, helping improve quality of life at both the individual and community levels. But nurses also enjoy the freedom to choose where to live, and that gift shouldn’t be taken lightly.
Whether you’re kicking off your nursing career or entering a new field of nursing, it may be the perfect time to upgrade your location as well. You may find that a change of scenery does wonders for your personal well-being, allowing you to thrive like never before.
In the last two months, the world has begun to recognize and acknowledge what anyone in the health care field has always known: that nurses are society’s real superheroes. And yet for all the praise and adulation being heaped on our health care providers, for thousands of nurses, it all feels like lip service.
The fact that nurses are risking their lives every day in the fight against coronavirus isn’t news. But what few people know is that nurses aren’t just being asked to sacrifice their physical and mental health in the face of the pandemic. They’re also being asked or required to sacrifice financially as well.
This article discusses the profound economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on nurses, especially nurses of color. It also provides strategies for minority nurses to protect themselves financially as well as physically during the pandemic and beyond.
Nurses worldwide and particularly in the US are being asked to risk their lives and health to care for infected patients without even the most basic of protective equipment. At the same time, they’re facing job cuts on a level second only to those of the restaurant industry.
And even as nurses not called to the frontlines are facing furloughs and job losses, minority nurses find themselves contending with skyrocketing rates of infection in their own communities. This means minority nurses who may have been exposed on the job or at home now face the prospect of illness and the massive expenses of treatment on a reduced income and possibly without health insurance.
A Heightened Risk
It’s not only the loss of income and insurance that nurses are facing today. The coronavirus pandemic has also fundamentally changed the way health care is delivered, and that has increased both the physical and the financial risks that nurses must face.
For example, as the virus began to spread and lockdowns became more prolific across the country, health care providers turned increasingly to telehealth to care for their patients. This was a great benefit in ensuring continuity of care while protecting against the spread of the virus. Telehealth, however, is an entirely new beast for many nurses, and that’s exposing them to greater liability than they might ever have faced in the clinic. As effective as telehealth technologies may be, they can’t duplicate the conditions of a face-to-face patient exam. There are things that can be missed when you can’t touch the patient, see how she walks into the room, or listen to her breathing.
The question isn’t whether mistakes will be made or symptoms unrecognized. The question is how many of those mistakes will be judged to be malpractice and who will be held financially as well as legally responsible. This is a particular concern for nurses caring for patients with substance abuse disorder. The national lockdown has pretty much necessitated that patients in recovery transition to telehealth.
And yet substance abuse disorder is notoriously susceptible to relapse and the signs of relapse often incredibly difficult to detect, especially through remote care. Should a patient overdose while under the auspices of telehealth care, it is not unimaginable that a treating nurse could be held financially responsible
No matter how deep a toll the pandemic has taken on your physical, emotional, and financial well-being, there is a tomorrow to come. If you have been furloughed because of the pandemic or if you simply cannot tolerate the conditions you have been asked to endure, you might find that a career change is your best option.
That doesn’t mean that you have to leave the field of nursing entirely. If it’s still your heart, then you might take the hard lessons learned during the outbreak and use them for good. You might find your purpose in a new career spent solving the problems that threatened to break you.
For instance, you might decide to pursue a Master’s degree in Health Policy and spend the rest of your working life developing programs to protect those on the frontlines and the patients they care for. You could build a career ensuring that tragedies like those nurses are encountering every day of the pandemic never happen again.
You might decide, however, that you need an entirely new start and venture into an entirely new industry. You might reinvent yourself. If that’s the case, then you need to be strategic and start thinking like a recruiter. Now, more than ever, hiring managers are using behavioral interviewing to find the ideal candidate. Understanding what that is and how it works can give you a decided advantage, especially when breaking into a new industry. At its core, behavioral interviewing gives you the opportunity to demonstrate exactly why you are the ideal person for the job. You simply have to “read” what the interviewer is looking for in the questions she asks.
Nurses are finally being recognized as the superheroes they are, but they are far from getting the treatment they deserve. Instead, they are facing massive job losses, potentially lethal working conditions, and significant financial liabilities. Because of this, some nurses are choosing to leave the field altogether, while others are looking to transform it from within.
The popularity of social media cannot be understated. Currently, over two billion people use various social media platforms, including 81% of Americans. Social media is not just something we do when we are bored. It allows us to connect with old friends, share stories and recipes, and talk with our colleagues.
But using social media isn’t always ideal. In general, using Facebook or watching YouTube videos at work is considered unprofessional, and you must always be careful of what you post. This is especially important for medical professionals. Nurses have one of the noblest professions, as they help people heal from an unending variety of ailments. However, nurses must also follow a different set of rules, and failing to do so could jeopardize their careers.
Let’s look at the benefits and downsides of social media at work for nurses.
A Different Set of Rules
Everyone should be cautious of the messages and pictures they share on social media, especially if it involves someone else. This is especially true for nurses because they not only have to follow the standards of public decency like everyone else, but they also must also follow the requirements set forth by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA). In essence, HIPAA says that a health professional cannot share the medical or personal data of a patient with anyone without the patient’s consent.
So that means that a nurse can never post a picture of a patient or any identifying information about a patient, including their name, initials, contact information, or anything in between. Medical professionals should be extra cautious because they could post patient information without even realizing it. For instance, you might post a picture of your workplace, then years later, post a photo of a patient that you became friends with at the same place. Even though you didn’t intend to cause a stir, someone could connect the dots and realize where that person got their patient care.
The punishments for sharing patient data and violating HIPAA guidelines are understandably harsh. Potential consequences could run the gamut from fines and mandatory training all the way to termination from your employer and civil lawsuits. For all of these reasons, nurses should always think twice before they press the post button.
Social Media Nursing Don’ts
The best way to stay safe is to avoid talking about patients at all costs. Even if you had an incredible day helping a patient and you are rightfully proud of a job well done, you should avoid posting about the individual, their ailments, duration of stay, and other details. You should also avoid connecting with a patient via social media. Stay safe by keeping a private profile.
You can never be too careful when it comes to posting anywhere inside the hospital or clinic where you work. Even if you are making a video of you and your coworkers lounging in the break room, you never know when a patient can be seen out a window or a confidential file can be seen on a nearby table. Check your surroundings before posting any pictures at work.
While you should never post anything about your patients, you also don’t want to post anything negative about your employer. To ensure that you stay within compliance, you should probably never mention them by name. But even if you don’t, you do not want to share a post where you insult your job or the management. Just like at any other job, talking negatively about your place of business could put a sour taste in the mouths of management, and you could find yourself out of a job.
Social Media Nursing Dos
It is important to remember that social media is not all bad. In fact, when used correctly, medical professionals can use social media to share important messages about health and wellness. At a minimum, medical professionals across a network of hospitals could create their own group on Facebook where they can share new solutions and treatment ideas with one another.
While you cannot post about medical conditions specific to an individual, you can use social media to spread the message about how people can take care of themselves and stay healthy. For instance, a nurse could start a blog about how to stay safe during the COVID-19 pandemic or post to a private page of people who suffer from a particular ailment, like a diabetes support page. Medical professionals could even set up a “Ask Me Anything” forum as they do on Reddit, where you can answer health questions from the audience.
For nurses who want to take public outreach to the next level, post videos with helpful information to sites like YouTube or Snapchat, where you can film fun and brief 10-second videos that stay online for only 24 hours. If uploading videos is something you are interested in, take a look at some of the experts who already have quite the following. One such voice is Crosby Steen, the “Nomad Nurse” who gives advice to traveling RNs. There is also Nurse Liz, who combines nursing with family life.
Social media certainly has its pros and cons, especially when used at work. As a nurse, sharing information online can be risky, but if used properly, it can also help those looking for answers.
Nurses in the United States are facing unprecedented hardships that increase the risk that they will experience burnout. Health care workers, especially nurses, often experience high levels of stress due to the long hours they put in and the sheer number of patients that they interact with.
Avoiding burnout is necessary for a long career in nursing and it is important that nurses do their research when it comes to methods for preventing burnout. While there is a pharmaceutical answer in the use of antidepressants, this method merely treats the symptoms that can lead to burnout. For many nurses, the answer lies in a more natural path that will give them the tools they need to combat burnout holistically.
Health care workers have been shown to be particularly susceptible to experiencing burnout due to the fact that they are expected to perform patient care with consistent and constant empathy and patience. This can lead to emotional exhaustion which, coupled with the physical exhaustion that comes with working in the medical field, eventually morphs into what we know as burnout. Naturally, the stresses of this line of work can lead to fatigue that impacts motivation in the workplace and a misplaced sense of failure.
One of the best tools available to nurses in the fight against burnout is the development and strengthening of resiliency skills. When nurses possess a solid foundation of resiliency skills they are better equipped to bounce back from a particularly intense shift more easily and are able to maintain their ability to work effectively. Taking breaks during shifts, scheduling time to hang out with coworkers outside of work, and learning how to say no to taking extra shifts if they need breaks are all ways to increase resiliency.
The prevalence of burnout and resiliency’s effectiveness in combating it has led to the development of nurse resilience programs designed to arm nurses with the proper tools before they begin their careers. Through cognitive-behavioral training, stress inoculation therapy, and various other methods, nurse resilience programs are effective in preparing nurses for what lies ahead of them in their career and can be invaluable in the fight against burnout.
Taking Care of Mental Health
Another natural proven method for nurses avoiding burnout is simply taking care of their own mental health and well-being. While it might seem like obvious advice, for those working in high-stress environments like health care can find it far too easy to forget to take care of themselves. Self-care is vital for nurses who want to dodge burnout, and even something as simple as keeping a journal to acknowledge positive things that happen in life can be enough to stymie burnout.
Many nurses suffering from burnout experience feelings of inadequacy, low self-worth, and depression. It is important that nurses recognize that these feelings, while they can be intense, do not represent the reality of the situation and do not reflect their actual performance or capabilities either at work or life in general. Quieting that negative inner-voice is an effective way for nurses experiencing burnout to boost their self-esteem and sense of self-worth.
Learning how to practice mindfulness meditation is another excellent natural way to look after one’s own mental health in even the most stressful of situations. Mindfulness meditation has a whole host of benefits from helping to increase attention and concentration to improving practitioners’ heart rates and blood pressure, all of which can help to manage stress and fight off burnout. While there are plenty of books on the subject, there are also a multitude of free resources available online that are secular, simple, and can get a struggling nurse on the right track.
Looking Towards Nature
Should building resiliency skills and working on maintaining good mental health fail to do the trick, spending time in the great outdoors has also been proven to help prevent occupational burnout. Engaging in physical exercise outdoors helps to reduce fatigue and improve overall cognitive function and can result in a marked reduction in tension, depression, and anger. While nurses do indeed have wildly busy schedules, making an effort to set aside time for themselves in the outdoors can yield incredibly positive results for them.
If a nurse finds themselves unable to break away from the concrete jungle, there are still ways in which stress can be reduced naturally without going outside. Taking the time to unplug from technology frequently can reduce stress and allow for moments of silent self-reflection untainted by the constant and looming force of the internet and social media.
Finally, nurses that are looking for a way to combat burnout but are wary of getting a pharmaceutical prescription to manage its symptoms can always turn to mother nature. Cannabidiol, or CBD, is a compound found in cannabis that has no deleterious or psychoactive effects and is becoming a popular stress-reduction tool for many. While the science regarding CBD is still in its infancy, there is a huge amount of anecdotal evidence that points to the compound being an effective treatment for stress and a host of other symptoms and disorders.
At the end of the day, nurses and health care practitioners are some of the most important people in a functioning society. It is vital that they receive all possible help when fighting against burnout, whether that comes in the form of resilience training, mindfulness practices, or spending time with mother nature.