Nursing can be one of the most rewarding professions available to people today. Few other positions offer practitioners the ability to help people so directly and make such a large impact in their quality of life. It’s no wonder that nurses are some of the most trusted and highly thought-of professionals in our world today and have been for much of our lives.
Though nursing offers a lot of opportunity to help those in need, actually becoming a nurse can be challenging and filled with barriers that make entry into the profession quite difficult. Many aspiring nurses find themselves struggling with at least one of these barriers to entry.
Fortunately, there are ways to prepare, avoid, and fight these barriers at every curve in the road. It takes preparation and verve, but becoming a nurse is completely attainable for those with the drive to make it happen.
Perhaps one of the biggest challenges that many young aspiring nurses face is getting their finances in order. Student loan rates in the United States today are out of control, and nursing school is no exception. The average nurse will leave nursing school with upwards of $20,000 in debt. This amount doesn’t necessarily cover the debt acquired in any other associate’s or bachelor’s degree program prior to entering nursing school either.
Student loan debt is a significant challenge that a significant portion of the younger generation is facing. Few things can be done to resolve the larger issue without government regulation or debt relief programs, but there are some actions you can take individually. These include measures such as saving money before nursing school to avoid taking loans, working a part-time job, paying down interest while still in school, and refinancing loans for a lower interest rate.
Beyond financial barriers, there are still lingering educational barriers that could prevent aspiring nurses from attaining their goals. For instance, getting into a quality nursing school can be a real challenge. Even after getting into school, balancing rigorous coursework, homework, studying, and clinicals can be difficult, especially if you are already dealing with financial barriers that may require you to have a part-time job.
Time management is the best way to get around this barrier. Work on setting up your study schedule and sticking to it. Your days may feel full, but you should still build in time for breaks, exercise, and fun activities that will keep you from burning out. For better or worse, there still may be a time or two when you need to stay up all night — there are good (moderate doses of caffeine, exercise), and bad (energy drinks) ways to go about doing this, so be sure to take some steps to be successful.
Once you’re starting clinicals you may quickly realize that there is a lot more to helping people than originally advertised. There are long days, demanding patients, complicated treatments, and lots of stress. Many nurses will start to experience caregiver burnout, which is the feeling of being unable to care for yourself after caring for others all day.
Nursing is not an easy job and many people start to burn out relatively quickly if they don’t have a great work-life balance. Unfortunately, there are still plenty of workplace stressors that nurses bring home. This being the case, job stress leads to a high divorce rate for nurses.
The key here is to find some way to make time for yourself every day. Go for a walk on your breaks, exercise before work, read on the subway — do whatever it is that you need to do to relax and feel like you’ve had a little bit of “me” time. It goes a long way when the going gets tough.
Being a minority in the health care system isn’t necessarily easy either. Racism is still a lingering problem in health care in general. Though nursing as a profession has made many leaps and bounds, other specialties have not necessarily kept up. Chances are minority nurses will work in an environment where leadership isn’t necessarily representative of the country’s racial makeup.
Conquering these barriers takes organization and forcing greater attention to be brought to a lack of representation in the workplace. Policy change isn’t always easy to come by and many critiques have been made about policies that make it more challenging for minority students to succeed. Ultimately, greater pressure on leaders to implement reasonable changes is what is needed to continue to push the needle towards greater equality and representation in the workplace.
There are a lot of real barriers that work to prevent some aspiring nurses from achieving their goals. The barriers range from finance and education ones to physical workplace demands and social structure barriers. There is no easy way to solve all of these problems but making a plan, making time for yourself, and making people realize a need for a change is a good start.
While industries attempt to address the spread of COVID-19, nurses have been working long hours, many times with insufficient personal protective equipment (PPE) and constantly changing state and federal requirements. They are also having to make ethical decisions about patient privacy, informing others of likely exposure, and patient treatment, and as the fight against the virus continues, we are seeing new and changing ethical issues arise.
The Code of Ethics for Nurses is the standard for ethical training and decision making, and is a resource that nurses are taught to know and implement. However, as the day to day operations of hospitals continue to be fraught with unexpected challenges, it is up to the frontline workers to fight for the ethical treatment of patients, families, and even themselves. As the front line personnel most intimately familiar with COVID-19 cases, nurses have a unique perspective on the effects that this pandemic is having on their communities and patients.
Knowing the available ethics resources, standing as an example of ethical conduct, and staying as up to date as possible on regulatory changes, are just the first steps in fighting for quality of care during this turbulent time. As a nurse in the midst of it, you can use the following tools to hold yourself, your colleagues, and your organization accountable.
Know Your Code of Ethics and Related Resources
The first step in being able to fight for strong ethical standards is knowing those standards yourself. Ethical nursing practices are taught using The Code of Ethics for Nurses, and there are now supplemental texts to deepen your understanding of how to apply them. Among them, The Code of Ethics for Nurses with Interpretive Statements, published in 2015, addresses especially difficult ethical situations such as crisis management and pandemics.
Staying up to date with the standardized documentation available will provide you with a framework for addressing new situations in conjunction with the help of your hospital or organization’s ethical resources. Organizational ethical support for nurses is a major necessity that your organization is obligated to provide, and institutions are not allowed to retaliate against nurses who bring concerns about their working conditions to management. These concerns may include unsafe exposure risks, physical safety, and the quality of ethical decision making by other personnel.
While simply knowing your ethical code cannot prepare you for all of the possible decisions you will have to make as a nurse, make sure to utilize the resources you can and bring any concerns to the attention of your organization’s management. By continuing to develop your understanding of ethical standards as they apply to the crises we are experiencing, you are better prepared to argue for both your and your patients’ safety.
Stay Up to Date and be Vocal
By staying as up to date as you can on your hospital’s current regulations, as well as government regulations, you can foster transparent communication between yourself and the organizations you interface with, making sure that you are working with the most recent information available. It is a difficult task as these regulations are changing daily, but keeping an eye on current regulatory requirements is important. This knowledge is the main factor in staying vocal in the workplace.
Addressing the ethical decisions of your colleagues can help save a patient’s life, limit spread to others in the hospital, and evaluate new symptoms of the virus. In the high-tension, high-stress situations that we are seeing right now, nurses are in a position to utilize strong ethical convictions and honesty to uphold their obligation to their patients and themselves. By staying vocal when you see a questionable decision made, bringing the information to management, and holding others accountable, you can be a force in maintaining an ethical workplace.
Part of ensuring the safety and well-being of patients is to ensure that those you work with are not endangering them. This could be simply a matter of fatigue, or of an inexperienced person attempting to complete a new procedure, but either could lead to a patient being injured or worse. Being aware of the ethical practices of those around you as well as their level of experience, is another way to help ensure that high-quality ethical practices are in place.
Stand as an Example
If you are working as a CNA, or in any other advanced position, new employees will look to you as an example of how to conduct themselves. After all, the codes of ethics apply not only to patient care, but to a nurse’s responsibilities to themselves and their team. By setting an active example for your colleagues, you can help create an environment founded on ethics that support the well-being of both patients and nurses.
There are basics of care that all nurses are trained in, including ways to protect a patient’s privacy, but we are experiencing a massive event that has taxed our medical system and its practitioners beyond any in recent history. Organizations are experiencing a lack of resources, personnel are working extremely long hours in high-risk environments, exhaustion is at a high, and newly trained medical professionals are being called on to make difficult decisions. In this environment, holding yourself to high ethical standards can help provide a path for others to follow.
Education, training, understanding, and action are all required to ensure the health and safety of patients, communities, and staff alike. While the mainstays of health and wellness are still important, the environment and stakes that medical professionals are working with have changed drastically. By fighting for ethical practices, you can become a part of the solution, and help ensure that patients, both yours and future ones, get the treatment that they deserve.
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.