Changes in the status of women’s reproductive health and protections have been at the forefront of new headlines in recent weeks. The leaked Supreme Court documents indicating that the justices are on the precipice of turning over 50 years worth of reproductive health precedent has a lot of people pausing to consider the implications of losing something they have largely taken for granted. Many women are recognizing that if Roe v. Wade is overturned, they will have less bodily autonomy than corpses often have in their home states.
Of course, for many women – particularly minority women in deeply conservative states – these rights were slipping away long before this. In many of these states, the number of reproductive health clinics is extremely limited and causes undue burdens on women trying to access them. Multiple studies on the topic have shown that minority women, especially those from poorer backgrounds, are the most likely to face difficulties accessing any sort of reproductive healthcare than their more affluent, white peers.
Regardless of where our personal beliefs related to abortion rights fall, we can all agree that women having better access to reproductive healthcare is a valuable endeavor. For many nurses out there, this means striving to break down barriers that limit healthcare access. It also means becoming an advocate for health equity. But how does one become an advocate within their own community?
Many of the inequalities that nurses see every day aren’t easy ones to just address and deal with. Rather, they are ingrained, pervasive community and cultural issues that will take years to fully unpack and start to address in a positive manner. However, there are things that nurses can do to help address some of the healthcare inequalities that minority women face regularly.
Perhaps one of the most powerful things nurses can do to help address health disparities is to recognize and empathize with the differences. Minority nurses with a background in minority communities are in the position to play a unique and powerful role here. Who better to build a bridge of understanding and trust than someone who already has an understanding of the social, cultural, and economic factors that may be influencing healthcare choices.
Immediately addressing any form of blatant discrimination.
Advocating for policies that promote human rights and equity.
Working with numerous professionals across disciplines to ensure patients are receiving holistic healthcare.
Encouraging medical trials that are inclusive and address the concerns of minorities.
Seeking out and promoting other professionals that are striving to address equity issues in their communities.
When working directly with patients there are a few things that can be done to help decrease health disparities. Arguably the most important is building trust in the community, which most certainly will not happen overnight. Small steps to start can include things like doing preventative health education out in the community, finding strategies that can help with payment for medical services, and being available for health-related questions without requiring an appointment.
Unfortunately, minority women are typically at greater risk for developing a number of diseases. For instance, African American women are twice as likely to develop breast cancer. Likewise, African American women are more likely to develop high blood pressure earlier in life than white women. There are many factors that influence this, but ultimately detection is one of the best forms of prevention.
Women can benefit from regular health screenings, but many are reluctant to do so. Going to the doctor’s office is uncomfortable, time-consuming, and potentially expensive. Helping women, especially minority women, understand the value of preventative health screenings over the long term is a vital role that nurses can play. Promoting more screenings can be one straightforward way to catch and treat issues before they become life-altering health problems.
Soft Skills Matter
Minority women, particularly women of color, are more likely to face negative health outcomes than other groups. Ingrained inequalities and cultural perceptions of the healthcare system play a major role in this. As nurses work to address these health disparities it becomes apparent that not only is a deep knowledge of nursing and healthcare important, but so are the soft skills that help convey the message.
For example, soft skills such as empathy are critical to understanding and adequately responding to the difficulties that some patients are facing. Empathy can lead to better, more realistic health prescriptions and outcomes. Patients are also more inclined to trust and listen to someone that shows an understanding and compassion for the information they are providing about themselves and their health.
Communication is another important factor. Even the best messages can be lost if they are not delivered in an understandable and relatable way. Patients do not like to feel talked down to and many very deeply want to understand the healthcare system before they have to make major decisions within it. Clear communication about procedures, health factors, costs, and outcomes are also imperative for building trust and making patients feel comfortable about their health choices.
Healthcare inequalities are significant for some demographics of the population, particularly minority women seeking reproductive healthcare. Nurses can make a real difference in starting to address some of these disparities by becoming advocates for their patients. It involves building trust, showing empathy, and encouraging positive health choices. None of it is easy, but it can add up to make a powerful difference in local communities.
As a nurse, you know that shouldn’t risk your health while you help improve the health of others, but it can be especially hard for a health care provider to adopt a healthy lifestyle. Every day, you make a difference in the lives of individual patients and the overall well-being of the community, but while you’re focused on the health of others, you need to counter the aspects of your job that can be detrimental to your own wellness. The healthier you are, the better you can help your patients (and your loved ones as well!).
So, let’s take a closer look at what the benefits are of maintaining your physical health as a nurse. What do you stand to gain from keeping your health in check, and how can you integrate a healthy routine into your lifestyle?
Strengthening Energy and Immunity
Your job as a nurse can take a lot out of you. Some focus on building your physical wellbeing can make sure you and your patients benefit from negative impacts here. With solid energy levels and optimized immunity, you can perform all tasks to the best of your ability. Not to mention it keeps you personally on top form.
Some ways you can maintain your physical health in this area include
● Tai-Chi and Yoga
Tai-Chi and yoga are mind-body exercises regarded as effective in boosting energy and immunity. The combination of deep and slow breathing, mindfulness, and physical stretching can reduce your fatigue and strengthen your muscles. Not to mention they can support your mental well-being. Particular poses — like the cobra and downward dog — are considered helpful for energy maintenance. These are also exercises you can take just a few minutes out of your busy day to perform.
● Resistance Strength Training
This type of exercise involves the use of equipment such as weights and resistance bands. It may seem as though this would expend more energy than it gains you. But if you’re mindful of your limitations and build up gradually, you can experience short- and long-term boosts. It can also help you to sleep better, which can improve your energy. There is also evidence to suggest this type of regular exercise has a positive impact on the immune system.
● Walk Outside
It can certainly be difficult to galvanize your motivation to exercise, particularly if you already have low energy levels. But it’s important to recognize that even small actions can help to begin with. Taking a couple of moments each day to step outside your hospital or clinic to take a walk in the fresh air and sunshine can do wonders. It keeps you energized, maintains your health, and can motivate you to adopt more beneficial activities.
Optimizing the Senses
Being a nurse requires you to be sharp at all times. Noting less-obvious symptoms or patient body language can influence whether you can deliver the right care to them. Not to mention it can be quite distressing to find you need to strain your eyes and ears in the course of your duties. As such, keeping your senses top-notch is a vital aspect of maintaining your physical health.
Some important focuses here include:
● Nutrition to Protect Your Eyes
Maintaining a balanced diet is a key aspect of keeping generally healthy. But it’s important to understand how your nutritional intake can have a direct impact on your visual health. Some foods contain antioxidants that can protect you against cataracts. Foods high in vitamin C could reduce the risk of glaucoma. It’s worth taking the time to plan your meals to include these foods that play a key role in keeping your senses sharp. Many brightly colored fruits, leafy greens, and fatty fish can make a positive impact.
● Minimize Negative Stimuli
As a nurse, many of the physical health risks to your senses are likely to involve aspects of strain. Harsh strip lighting and spending a lot of time looking at computer screens can put pressure on your eyesight. If you work in the city or busy environments, loud noises can affect your hearing over time. Taking steps to mitigate the effect of stimuli can bolster your physical health. Blue light-blocking glasses can reduce issues from computer screens. Some earplugs can reduce the loudest noises while still keeping you able to hear patients.
● Get Regular Tests
One of your most powerful tools in maintaining the physical health of your senses is regular tests and checkups. As a medical professional, you know how important it is to identify potential issues early on. Getting your sight and hearing tested annually can mean you can benefit from early insights and professional guidance.
Enabling Full Mobility
You need your full mobility as a nurse. In most roles, you will be spending all day on your feet, sometimes rushing around and dealing with emergency scenarios. You may also be lifting and supporting patients at times. As such, maintaining your physical health can mean you benefit from a full range of motion. This also reduces the potential that you’ll injure yourself from pushing your physical limits.
Some approaches to this could include:
● Joint Exercises
It is not unusual for nurses to find their joints are uncomfortable due to the amount of physical pressure the role entails. There are specific exercises you can perform to manage and relieve the symptoms of joint pain, even if you’re experiencing rheumatoid arthritis. Isometric lunges can strengthen the knees, while wall slides can address shoulder pain. Alongside preventing further damage to your joints, these exercises are convenient to perform throughout your workday.
Regularly taking time in the water is an excellent approach to achieving full mobility. Even if you find you experience joint pain or have weight-related challenges, swimming can be a low-pressure way to keep healthy. There is a lower effect of gravity on your body and you can find you’re able to exercise for longer. As such, it is well-suited to gradually building and maintaining your continued mobility.
Being a nurse can put some significant strain on various areas of your wellbeing. Maintaining your physical health can mean you’re able to provide your patients with the best level of care. More importantly, there are opportunities to ensure you don’t suffer from your commitment to serving the community. With some small but impactful adjustments, you can enjoy your nursing career and peak wellness.
As many new and experienced nurses all know, there are plenty of things to learn to be a competent and successful nurse. There are the basics, such as administering medication and filling out charts that every nurse should have a solid understanding of. Then there are the more subtle skills that the best nurses have such as bedside manner and an ability to make visitors feel at ease.
Of course, there are also plenty of things to learn that can also help you to advance your nursing career. Taking courses that allow you to specialize as a nurse are great examples of moving your career forward. Likewise, learning how to incorporate new technologies or focusing on integrating new systems is another way to strengthen your resume.
Though you may not immediately realize it, all of the advancements you are making and all of the knowledge you are gaining help more than just you. Taking forward strides in your nursing career impacts everyone you interact with positively. From your nursing coworkers and doctors that can depend upon you for more to your patients that can sense the breadth of your knowledge, advancing your career helps everyone else.
Improving Hard Skills
Perhaps the most straightforward way to move forward with your nursing career is to focus on improving your hard skills. These are steps like refining your clinical judgment during your first year as a nurse or working towards a specialized certification that allows you to take on greater roles and responsibilities. In general, hard skills are tangible educational advancements in your career.
Hard skills can also include things that are necessarily directly tied to improving the health of patients. For instance, it could include something like learning how to use a new patient tracking software. Technologies are exploding in health care fields, and any efforts to learn the latest and greatest are sure to have a positive impact on your workflows.
The general idea of boosting hard skills is that you are becoming more confident and competent in your nursing abilities. You are learning new concepts and ideas that allow you to take on more responsibility and improve efficiency. These can be pretty obvious benefits to your career, to your supervisors, and to the patients you work with.
Boosting Soft Skills
Equally important to improving hard skills is giving your soft skills a boost as well. This can be a bit more complex than hard skills because soft skills are … well, soft. They aren’t as tangible or easily defined and the benefits, though incredibly valuable, can be more subtle and hard to tease out. However, these are the skills that could prove to make the most significant difference in patient lives.
Empathy is one of the most highly valued soft skills, especially in nursing. It is essentially the ability to put yourself into someone else’s shoes and sympathize with their situation. For nurses, having well-developed empathy skills allows for better bedside treatment, the anticipation of needs, and a more caring demeanor when working with difficult or emotional patients and visitors.
Cultural competence is another soft skill that is important for nurses to have. Cultural competence is the idea of being able to help and treat patients from different backgrounds in a culturally sensitive and appropriate way. It is having the wherewithal to recognize that there are differences in lived experiences between different ethnicities and anticipating how these differences may play out in a healthcare setting.
Benefits for All
There are many, many benefits to be seen from advancing your nursing career. Some of them are going to seem small but will have significant lasting impacts. For instance, maybe you took a class on health insurance policy. You could find that suddenly, you’re in a better position to increase the health literacy of your patients by helping them understand what certain procedures mean and what their health insurance is likely to cover the cost of.
Or maybe improving your hard and soft skills has given you a new perspective on nursing as a whole. The knowledge could put you into a position to be an advocate for better nursing or bedside conditions in your hospital or state. You could find yourself empathizing with a greater number of concerns and becoming an advocate for nurses on a much larger scale.
Your efforts to advance your nursing career could earn you the respect of many of your colleagues and put you into a position to take on greater leadership roles. You may quickly realize that with your new skills you will qualify for a higher paying position. All of these advancements could greatly improve your reach as a nurse, allowing you to positively impact more lives.
There is a never-ending list of new things to learn as a nurse. Working towards building on your knowledge and expanding what you already know can be a great way to improve your career. It can also be a meaningful way to benefit your hospital, coworkers, patients, and community.
The health care industry has been working hard to reduce its carbon footprint and is finally taking a proactive approach to sustainability and health. However, recent research shows that health care still contributes around 5% of global emissions — and that number is rising.
Additionally, the health care industry produces millions of tonnes of waste which ends up in landfills either in the United States or abroad. This is particularly concerning in high-income countries like the U.S., which produce around 0.5kg of hazardous waste per bed every day, leading to global waste management issues.
As a nurse, you may have noticed the waste produced by single-use plastics or carbon emissions in your workplace, but maybe you aren’t quite sure what you can do to help.
Fortunately, there is plenty that we can all do to reduce waste and combat climate change. Additionally, as a nurse, you’re in a great position to inspire others to value personal sustainability, too.
Our global dependency on energy isn’t going away. However, we do need to reconsider how we source our energy and should strive to use renewable energy whenever it is possible. Unfortunately, according to Yale’s Dr. Jodi Sherman, health care is lagging behind other industries that are taking a more progressive approach to combat their emissions.
By following in the footsteps of nurses like Barrera, you can find groups of like-minded health care professionals who want to take an active role in fighting climate change. This helps amplify the impact of your voice in your workplace and community, as you will be able to invite guest speakers and bring expert advice to your work.
Single-use plastics are wreaking havoc on our planet and its wild spaces. A recent UN report found that 85% of total marine waste is plastic, and experts predict that we will dump between 23 and 37 metric tonnes of plastic into our ocean every year by 2040.
This is a global issue and it can be hard to see how you or your workplace can make a difference. But, you can start at home by considering your own relationship with single-use items. That’s because only 9% of the plastics we use at home are recycled, and end up in landfills or our natural environment.
You can begin by making simple changes like packing your lunch in Tupperware and using your own to-go mug for coffee and tea. But, if you feel comfortable doing so, it might be worth raising the issue to decision-makers at your hospital to see if non-essential single-use plastics can be reduced in your workplace. This will make a significant impact that extends beyond your personal use and can give a great example for your patients to follow.
Lead By Example
As a nurse, people look up to you, and your actions carry meaning. This responsibility is a little unfair — after all, you’re just doing your job. But, it does give you a great opportunity to create meaningful change amongst those who will follow your example. So, if you have the time and energy, consider making a few holistic, sustainable changes to your lifestyle at home.
You can start by sourcing sustainable goods and materials. The easiest way to do this is to buy from local sellers who produce their goods in smaller batches. You can also search online via sites like Etsy for people who create their wares using recycled or sustainable materials. Following this, you can reconsider the way you dispose of your waste and can find creative solutions like composting, repairing instead of discarding, and upcycling.
These personal sustainability choices are meaningful in their own right. But, you can maximize their impact by leveraging social media and online platforms to your advantage. For example, you might consider starting a podcast or blog dedicated to combating climate change and can find plenty of examples of other nurses who have used their position to help save the planet.
As a nurse, you’re in a great position to start making personal sustainability choices that will leave a lasting impact on your workplace and community. That’s because the people you work with and serve look up to you, and may choose to follow in your example. Leading a sustainable lifestyle might seem daunting at first, but you can make it easier by connecting with climate advocacy groups like the Alliance of Nurses for Healthy Environments who can support you and your climate-conscious choices.
When your job involves taking care of others, it’s important not to forget about your own health and well-being. All too often, nurses and other health care workers are so focused on helping their patients that they neglect their own self-care needs. Unfortunately, if your own needs aren’t met and your mental health declines, it can affect your work and your ability to properly care for others.
The health care industry is often fast-paced and chaotic, meaning health care workers often don’t even realize that their own well-being needs attention until they hit a breaking point. Minority health care workers are especially at high risk of experiencing burnout and emotional distress due to the added struggles they face. It’s important to take breaks and listen to your body as a health care worker to identify potential mental health conditions the same as you would use your knowledge to help your patients.
How to Improve Your Mental Health and Well-Being
Finding ways to maintain your mental health is a must for nurses and other health care workers. To continue delivering quality care to your patients, you have to take care of yourself as well. The following are ways you can help maintain your mental health or work to improve it if you are already feeling low:
Get Enough Sleep
This one should go without saying, but resting and getting enough sleep is essential. It’s common for health care workers to lose sleep when they work long hours, especially those who work night shifts, but it’s important to find time to sleep when you can.
Process Your Emotions
Working as a nurse can be psychologically draining. Dealing with patients and their families can be challenging, especially when you lose a patient. Often, health care workers will try to brush it off as simply being a part of the job, but it’s important to acknowledge and process your emotions when you have time to yourself. Just because losing a patient or dealing with other emotional and stressful situations is part of the job doesn’t mean you can’t feel sad or angry. It’s essential to find healthy ways to process the stressful things you deal with as a health care worker on a daily basis.
Create a Relaxing Home Environment
When you’ve had a rough shift, coming home to a calm and relaxing environment is crucial to maintaining your well-being. The environments we spend our time in can have an impact on our mental health. Understandably, there are things at home that may need attending to as well, but it’s important to create a space where you can get away from distractions and relax.
Find Ways to Disconnect
Many nurses struggle to find time to themselves because when they do have days off, they have other things that require their attention, like family, social engagements, and other responsibilities. However, it’s important to find time to get out and disconnect to give yourself a break. Getting outdoors, for example, even if just for a short walk every day, can help you feel refreshed and re-energized.
Eat Healthy Foods and Exercise
Another part of maintaining your mental health and feeling refreshed is getting physical exercise and eating healthy, well-balanced meals. It can be difficult for nurses and health care workers to find time to stop and eat, but healthy meals and snacks throughout the day are important to keep you energized and feeling your best. It’s also important to find time outside of work to move your body and get in some exercise when you can. Physical activity can go a long way towards boosting your mood and helping you get better sleep.
Practice Mindfulness and Gratitude
It’s easy to forget about appreciating the good things we have in our lives when we are tired and stressed, but practicing mindfulness and gratitude can positively influence our mental health, especially for health care workers. The more joy we can find in our lives wherever possible, the easier it is for us to maintain a positive state of mind. A great way to practice mindfulness is to journal or write down things at the end or start of your day that you want to work on or that you are grateful for.
Though you may feel that your work and your patients should always come first, you can’t give them the quality care that they need if you are struggling with your own mental health. It’s important to remember to take time to focus on your needs. The stigma around mental health can often lead to it being neglected, but there is nothing wrong with prioritizing your well-being and speaking up when you need help.
Dealing with mental health conditions and asking for help is not a sign of weakness. As a nurse or other health care worker especially, you must advocate for yourself and your needs. Maintaining your mental health can ensure you continue to deliver quality care and avoid feeling overwhelmed and burnt out.