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.
Health care providers know that climate change will cause major health issues in the coming years. The CDC reports that climate change can cause “increased respiratory and cardiovascular disease, injuries and premature deaths related to extreme weather events,” and other pre-existing conditions will be exacerbated by factors like air pollution. The health care industry is currently bracing for the impact of the climate crisis, as climate change is predicted to cause 250,000 additional deaths per year.
The link between health care and the climate means nurses are in an ideal position to increase climate change awareness. In fact, in 2014, nurses collaborated with other health care workers to create the national and international policies which are being put in place today. But what can nurses do today to help save the planet and reduce the impact of climate change on health care?
Nurses are already incredibly busy, so it can be frustrating to even think about doing more — particularly when public health crises should be a priority for politicians. It’s okay to decide you don’t have the time to advocate for sustainability, and you shouldn’t feel bad about taking time to fulfill other priorities.
However, if you do have the time and energy to commit to a cause, then you will find yourself well equipped to succeed. That’s because nurses are interdisciplinary thinkers who can understand issues and topics from many different perspectives. In fact, the skills developed in nursing are in high demand in other industries, as many who work in public health have transitioned to careers in the private sector or with governmental organizations. This puts nurses in the unique position of overlap: your knowledge and experience are specific enough to be authoritative and reputable, and your skills are diverse enough to connect with a wide audience that might otherwise be missed by public health and climate messaging.
You’ve also seen the impact of public health crises firsthand. This means you play a pivotal role in underlining the need for climate-positive actions and legislation; otherwise, we will continue to see a rise in climate-change-related illness and deaths. If you wish to become an advocate, you can find support through initiatives like the Alliance of Nurses for Healthy Environments.
Advocating for Public Health
As a nurse, your voice carries credibility and, when used correctly, can capture the imagination of the public. This means that publicizing your advocacy for health-related initiatives, programs, and legislation will draw people from unexpected demographics.
The way you choose to advocate for public health awareness is really up to you — and you’ll need to ensure you’re in line with the law before sharing information. However, social media platforms can amplify your message and will allow you to connect with new audiences.
If you’re not sure of how you can start, consider finding some reputable role models online, like Dr. Lisa Fitzpatrick. Dr. Fitzpatrick hosts a podcast and uses her platform to advocate for improved health literacy. She provides a great example of a health care professional engaging with social issues and regularly highlights contemporary issues in nursing. You can follow suit by creating podcasts, posting relevant and peer-reviewed content, and demystifying public health entities through social media channels.
Clean water is a basic right and is essential for the health of all citizens. Nurses also rely on a regular supply of clean water to stop the spread of disease. Many of us assume that water supplies in the United States are universally clean and healthy, but this is not the case. Across the nation, millions of Americans experience waterborne illnesses every year — low-income populations and some communities of color are more likely to be affected by unhealthy water supplies.
Nurses who are concerned about current attempts to repeal the Clean Water Rule (CWR) can leverage the credibility of their voice in the public space and can raise awareness about the current attempts to undermine universal access to clean water.
Nurses can also create greater awareness about the prevalence of unsafe water in homes, and reduce the number of patients admitted to hospitals with waterborne illnesses. For example, it’s reported that 10% of homes in the United States currently have significant water leaks. This means that homeowners are at risk from contaminated water and mold-related conditions like respiratory infections, chronic fatigue, and nausea. Increased public awareness can help homeowners spot the signs of unsafe water in their homes, and you can help proactively prevent illness.
The food industry is one of the biggest contributors to climate change. Every year, nearly half of all fruit and vegetables produced globally are thrown away as waste. This causes billions of dollars in losses and adds needless greenhouse gases to the atmosphere — all while 811 million people go hungry every day.
Unfortunately, the health care industry is a major culprit in producing food waste. Studies show that hospitals produce two to three times more food waste than other food service sectors, and only 16% of hospitals donate their excess food.
As a nurse, you can push for food to be donated to local charities and can ask administrators to change service practices, so food is only served to patients when they actually ask for it. This can reduce food waste by 30%, and can make a real impact in your local community. Additionally, you can publicly advocate for sustainable farming practices which centralize sustainability and help to reduce food waste.
Sustainable farming practices are typically smaller and do not rely on chemical fertilizers, monocropping, or pesticides. This means their basic practices are more sustainable, and — due to their smaller scale — are inherently more waste-efficient. You can advocate for sustainable farming by posting relevant, accurate resources online and by partnering with groups like Farmworker Justice.
Nurses play a vital role in creating awareness around the social issues which impact health. Nurses can take to social media and host podcasts to share their experiences of climate change in health care, and can actively influence legislation by teaming with other health care professionals and organizations that are committed to fighting the climate crisis.
It’s difficult to imagine there was ever a time that health care workers were not in demand. As the population grows and people are living longer, it is becoming a struggle to keep up with even the most basic requirements of the country. Indeed, the Bureau of Labor Statistics has predicted a 16% growth in health care employment opportunities by 2030, which it states is faster than any other industry. Throw into this the pressures of the pandemic and a widening skills gap, and you have a great many understaffed facilities.
While this is a concerning state of affairs, it also presents opportunities. Whether you’re about to graduate from college or have already started your health care career, there are chances for advancement.
We’re going to take a moment to review a few of the elements you should be focusing on as you forge your future in health care.
Clarify Your Goals
To advance your health care career in an empowering way, you need to make sure you’re not simply reacting to the industry’s needs but have a personal plan of action. This begins with clarifying what your career goals are.
This doesn’t necessarily have to begin with a specific job title. Treat clarifying your goals as a process of discovery. Consider first what you want from your job. Aside from the opportunity to help people, which is something shared by most health care workers, think about what areas of the industry interest you the most. This could be a field of care or the types of skills you’re interested in using on a day-to-day basis. Another part of choosing a career path is the lifestyle it provides you. Aside from a higher salary, you may be more interested in a role with a safer environment. Or you may be prioritizing more flexibility or control over your schedule, like travel nursing.
As you narrow down what you want from a career, it can then be useful to move on to what doors specific qualifications can open for you. If you’re already in nursing, following a doctor of nursing practice course can give you access to various lucrative leadership positions. Some of these careers, like family nurse practitioner and psychiatric health nurse practitioner, may be familiar to you already. Others may be slightly more unexplored, like being a nurse educator or taking on administrative positions. Looking further into what options each qualification could offer not only highlights careers but also gives you a road map to bring your closer to the role.
Consider Your Current Skills
It’s important to remember advancing your career isn’t just predicated on learning new skills. One of the great things about having established yourself to a certain extent in the health care sector is you’ll likely already have some transferable abilities. As such, you should take the time to review what these are and where they might be considered valuable.
Your technical skills may be the most obvious place to begin here. After all, these are usually the aspects denoting your suitability in certain medical fields. However, it can be easy to overlook just how vital and attractive your soft skills can be in a variety of roles. If you’re a registered nurse, thinking about which abilities you use in a typical day — digital tool usage, organizational processes, empathy, and leadership among them — can be a useful place to start. It’s also worth talking to colleagues and friends in fields you’re interested in pursuing to understand what soft skills are in demand.
Having a good handle on your range of skills is also an important component in shaping your resume in a way to capture the interest of the right health care industry employers. It’s worth considering that, contrary to other professions, employers in nursing have a preference for skills-led resume structures. As such, you need to professionally format your resume and make it easy for applicant tracking systems (ATS) to ascertain you have the relevant hard and soft skills for a role and pass you through to the human decision-makers. Avoid bulking up your application with a lot of irrelevant skills and experiences. This can just confuse matters and lead to you missing out on the next step of your journey.
Benjamin Franklin’s expression, “failing to prepare is preparing to fail” may seem a little hackneyed. However, it can be appropriate when you’re trying to advance your career in health care. There are some forms of preparation that can help set you up not just to gain the position you want but also to confirm you’re targeting the right career.
One of the most important forms of preparation is gaining a practical sense of the position you’re pursuing. Let’s face it, no job in health care is exactly as the standard job description would have you believe. When you’re already working in health care you’ll likely have contacts that can help you to shadow a professional in your intended field and get a real idea of what the work, atmosphere, and pressures of the environment are like. This can either solidify your commitment to following your path or help you avoid working yourself into a role you’ll be miserable in.
Once you’ve clarified that this is the career you want, one of your next areas for preparation is the interview process. Getting nervous or not having access to the right responses is a common way people trip up. Even in health care, most interviews will include a selection of standard questions; some surrounding your behavior on the job, others about your personality and workplace fit. Take the time to look into the ideal responses to these and practice these in a way that is genuine and relevant to the role you’re applying for. This may well be your best chance to make a good impression, so make the most of it.
The combination of the growing demand from patients and the challenges of COVID-19 has opened job opportunities in health care. When you’re advancing your career in the field you must take care to understand what your goals are and how you can utilize your current skills to define a meaningful path for yourself. These steps, alongside some key preparations, can help make certain your progression is successful.
Clinical research is one of the most important — and least openly discussed — cornerstones of medicine. This type of research enables scientists to develop new medications, cures, and preventative measures for some of the most difficult diseases facing the human race today. Likewise, clinical trials give scientists an avenue to test new treatments and determine their safety and effectiveness before they go to market and are distributed to the masses.
As great and important as clinical research is, it certainly isn’t free from its fair share of sticky problems. Perhaps one of the most pressing issues in clinical research today is a significant lack of equal representation in clinical trials. The vast majority of clinical research is tested on middle-aged white men, meaning that the side effects of certain treatments on minorities and occasionally even women are pretty unknown. There are a plethora of reasons for this lack of representation. For instance, research studies typically focus on those who volunteer to participate. Historically, many clinical trials involving minorities crossed clear ethical boundaries, which has led to continued widespread distrust of the system.
Lack of Inclusion in Clinical Trials
Unfortunately, minorities have typically been left out of clinical studies altogether. Outside of a few notorious — and disturbing — examples of minority-focused clinical research, most studies have long been predominantly white — upwards of 80-90% white.
Part of this is because rigorous scientific experimentation has long required limiting the number of variables or demographic differences amongst test subjects. Doing so makes it easier to clearly prove that the medication is what is making the difference in outcomes. The obvious negative to this type of research is that once a medication hits the market, it will be recommended to thousands of patients of different ethnicities — many of which the medication was never rigorously tested on in the trial phase.
Congress took a step in the right direction in 1993 with the passage of the National Institutes of Health Revitalization Act. This required the agency to include more women and people of color in their medical research studies. Fast forward to the era of COVID-19 and most ethnicities were represented in medical trials in a proportionately appropriate way. That is, except African Americans.
Lack of Trust
There is no mistaking that a lack of trust in the health care system and in medical research is a significant part of why these disparities exist. In reality, this distrust is completely fair. There are plenty of examples of unethical medical testing throughout history. Some of the most notable ones include the Tuskegee Syphilis Study, where black men were deliberately left untreated for syphilis, or the Plutonium Trials, where participants were given injections of plutonium without an adequate explanation of the risks.
Today, many people argue over the ethics of cutting-edge research studies into things like nootropics or stem cell research. However, even some of the most common research studies lack willing minority participants. For instance, in many cancer studies, medical researchers struggle to garner interest in many minority patients.
The most heartbreaking aspect of this phenomenon is that participating in this type of research may be what saves the lives of many other minority patients in the future. Oftentimes racially and ethnically diverse patients suffer from health issues disproportionately to their populations. Recruiting for studies can be difficult because many do not have access — due to finances or other resource availability — to treatment facilities where the studies are taking place.
Breaking Down Barriers in Clinical Trials
The need to break down these barriers is immense. Not only can including more minorities in medical research studies produce better results for the entire population, but it can save lives in the long run. So the question then becomes — how do we start to break down these barriers and build more trust?
For many medical experts, the answer lies in building a relationship with patients. Earning the trust and respect of a patient through conversations and getting to know them as an individual is important. Even on a very basic level, they have to trust that a medical professional truly has their best interests at heart and cares about them as a real person.
Emphasizing the importance of personalized medical trials to increasing knowledge of how certain diseases and treatments impact minorities.
Improving access to medical information and trial opportunities at the local hospital level.
Expanding upon minority representation in healthcare career paths.
Providing educational materials that can help patients better understand the goals of medical research.
The value of medical research cannot be understated. However, there is a chronic lack of minority representation in the majority of clinical trials. Breaking down barriers that lead to a lack of inclusion and distrust in the system are important to improving the health of all patients. As a minority nurse, it is possible to play a pivotal role in starting to break these barriers down.
Whether you are an experienced nurse practitioner with years of clinical practice already under your belt, or you’re a student preparing for a fulfilling career devoted to helping people, you’re likely to face some unexpected challenges and some exciting opportunities in the work you have chosen. The role of the nurse practitioner is rapidly evolving, responding both to changes in the health care industry and to the evolving needs of the communities you serve. This article explores some of the most significant trends nurse practitioners are facing today.
An Expanding Role
The global health care shortage is not news, but what is news, perhaps, is how significant and widespread it is. In fact, in the United States alone, it is estimated that the shortfall in the number of physicians needed by 2033 will approach 140,000.
And that reality is rapidly and dramatically expanding the role of and the demand for skilled nurse practitioners. Where nurse practitioners might have once worked primarily in collaboration with a physician, increasingly, nurse practitioners are taking the lead in patient care. In many states, this includes overseeing and implementing treatment plans and even coordinating end-of-life care.
In addition to operating more independently than ever before, nurse practitioners are also finding themselves drawing on an array of skills, resources, and knowledge to provide more comprehensive care.
For example, as demand and cost pressures on the system mount, health care providers and patients alike are seeking more holistic strategies to promote wellness and prevent disease. This often includes, for instance, an emphasis on fitness and nutrition, constituting a significant shift in standard medical practices.
Historically, health care providers have been dissuaded or even prohibited from offering nutritional advice, as it may have been considered outside of the clinician’s scope of practice.
In addition to cultivating specialized knowledge to provide higher quality and more comprehensive care, nurse practitioners are also increasingly being looked to as multigenerational health care providers. In such cases, nurse practitioners may provide many of the services of a primary care physician, general practitioner, or family physician.
For this reason, a large number of nursing schools are offering students the opportunity to train as family nurse practitioners (FNP), enabling them to offer optimal patient care across all stages of the lifespan, from birth to death. Licensure as an FNP can be a particularly attractive option for those who seek to develop long-term, trusting relationships not only with individual patients but with an entire family.
Serving At-Risk Communities
Disparities in access to consistent, affordable, and high-quality health care have long been known and lamented. However, health care systems are increasingly turning to nurse practitioners to stand in the breach, filling a desperate need for health care providers in underserved communities.
That means that nurse practitioners may routinely find themselves asked to serve in remote, rural communities or impoverished urban areas where the need for qualified health care providers is greatest. In fact, nurse practitioners who have pursued specializations in community or public health can find themselves in particularly great demand and may build rewarding careers as traveling nurse practitioners, serving communities in need for weeks or even months at a time before moving on to the next post.
When it comes to both training and practice, nurse practitioners have more options and opportunities than ever before. In addition to choosing specific areas of specialization, such as adult or pediatric care, nurse practitioners can also select from an array of subspecialties which will increase their marketability.
However, the degree of clinical autonomy nurse practitioners enjoy will vary from state to state. In some U.S. states, licensed nurse practitioners enjoy what is known as full-practice authority (FPA), meaning that they can prescribe medication, order tests, and define and implement patient care strategies without requiring a physician to sign off on the plan. In other states, though, nurse practitioners still need a physician’s authorization before a treatment plan can be implemented.
Nevertheless, the opportunities for nurse practitioners to earn FPA are growing. For instance, attaining an Advanced Practice Registered Nurse designation can give you full practice authority in many states, including some states where a physician’s sign-off would otherwise be required. Most exciting of all, organizations such as the American Association of Nurse Practitioners are working to establish a nationwide certification protocol to enable qualified nurse practitioners to enjoy full practice authority in all U.S. states and territories.
It is an exciting time to be a nurse practitioner, a time of high demand, increasing independence, and tremendous opportunity. Nevertheless, the challenges are significant, principally due to an ongoing labor shortage and continuing disparities in health care access. In a time when both the need and the reward are great, nurse practitioners are perfectly positioned to fill the gap.