Today marks the annual celebration of Certified Nurses Day to let nurses know just how important additional training is for career growth and for patient care.
Certified Nurses Day gives a shout out to nurses who take on the additional training and education to gain board-certified credentials in their area of specialty or in an area in which they want to gain more expertise. With many dozens of certifications available, nurses can find something that will help them do their jobs better.
Why is certification so important? In addition to gaining the extra knowledge, taking the initiative to gain certification shows a nurse who is willing to do all he or she can to offer the best care possible. As methods, equipment, and evidence-based outcomes change frequently, certification is one way to keep up-to-date on the very latest information in your area of specialty.
What about nurses whose jobs don’t require are specialization in one particular area? If your job requires more of a general skill set, then more than one certification can help you as a nurse. Do you work in an ICU that sees lots of heart patients? Or in an ER where you see asthma attacks? Or are you especially interested in wound care? Certifications in heart failure, asthma, emergency care, wound care, women’s health, palliative care and hospice, and nurse leadership are just a few of the available certifications nurses can hold.
If you are interested in gaining knowledge and learning as much as you can, you can earn more than one certification, and, in fact, doing so makes your expertise deepen.
If you are debating whether you should get certified or not, know that it adds a level of status to your professional standing and lead to greater opportunities. Employers appreciate the effort and like to have nurses who gain credentials.
Certification is hard work and you do have to pass an exam to receive your credential, so you should choose those that will expand your skills in a strategic manner. When you do gain a credential, take pride in knowing you are doing all you can to advocate for, protect, and care for those in your care.
March is National Nutrition Month and offers up a good time to think of tweaking your diet.
Nurses are especially prone to falling into an eating-on-the-run trap. With long shifts that barely offer time to sit, nurses rarely have the luxury of taking the time to eat a relaxing meal when they are on the job. No one recommends eating quickly, but, let’s face it, most nurses have to eat quickly or they won’t eat at all.
During National Nutrition Month, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics helps people focus on making nutritious choices. Knowing that nurses have short bursts of time in which to get the most nutrition possible, they have to plan ahead to map out what is the best eating plan for them. Leaving it all to chance means fast food that might be higher in fat and salt and lower in things like fiber.
What makes sense for nurses? Figure out what and how you eat throughout the day and try to find foods that can fit that pattern but that offer a nutrition boost. Do you make a coffee run and add in a danish or a roll? Is lunch whatever is left in the vending machine and that you can eat in the few minutes you have?
Packing your food at home and bringing it with you is an easy option. Once you get into the habit of prepping your food at home (beware – it can feel like a chore until you get into a groove) you’ll have an instant fallback of food you like to eat, that gives you energy, and that provides you with the most nutrition possible.
Salads are an excellent way to pack in vegetables, fruits, and some great protein, but they take a lot of time to eat. You can keep the focus on the nutrition a salad provides and bring other foods that are healthy but take less time to eat. One of the easiest ways to pack in all those veggies and fruits is with a smoothie. Throw all the ingredients into a blender, add some protein powder or high-protein Greek yogurt, and you have an easy-to-digest and quick-to-eat option.
Lots of granola bars in the supermarket offer wholesome ingredients without extra sugar or added binders. With pure ingredients like nuts, seeds, and dried fruit, these bars are easy to tuck into a bag, don’t take a lot of time to eat, and offer energy-boosting nutrition. You can also make your own trail mix to bring. Customize it to include the ingredients you like and you’ll get an even more pure (and less sugary) small meal. Pair it with a yogurt drink, a hard boiled egg, or a few slices of rolled deli meat and you’ll feel more energized for a longer time.
If you think it will fit into your day, pack smaller portions, but eat more frequently. A small bowl of brown rice or quinoa, lentils, beans, or chicken, and some finely chopped veggies takes less time to eat than a bagel with cream cheese and offers a powerhouse of hunger-fighting fiber, protein, and nutrients.
And one of the best ways to keep yourself energized is to stay hydrated. Instead of fueling with caffeine all day, add in some other beverages. Try to swap out soda with flavored seltzers (add in some juice if you need more flavor) or throw a couple of fruit-flavored herbal tea bags into your water bottle with a little lemon. Being even slightly dehydrated quickly saps your energy and makes your body work harder at everything.
With a few small changes, you can give your body the energy and nutrition to have a more productive day and better overall health.
National Patient Safety Awareness Week (March 11 – 17) focuses attention squarely on one thing at the top of every nurse’s list – keeping patients safe.
Minority Nurse spoke with Patricia McGaffigan, RN, MS, CPPS, vice president, safety programs at the Institute for Healthcare Improvement (IHI) about the ongoing issues around patient safety and how nurses can continue to implement positive and productive change.
While nurses provide a majority of care in inpatient settings, McGaffigan says the issue of patient safety extends to a wider setting as interprofessional teams are responsible for so many levels of care.
Because of the nurse’s role, they are especially able to impact patient care. “Nurses represent the largest segment of the healthcare workforce, in roles that range from the bedside to the boardroom,” says McGaffigan. “One specific and relatively easy way that nurses can effect change is to become educated in foundational safety science.” Nurses who aren’t trained in safety science can obtain training, and many student nurses receive the training as part of the curriculum. “Nurses are perfectly positioned to be able to identify risks and hazards in their work environments that may be mitigated before harm occurs, and this daily commitment to mindfulness about preventing harm before it happens is vital.”
As nurses, ongoing education, and maintaining and obtaining appropriate certifications help nurses provide the optimal care when they are with patients. Consistency in providing care and following a standard of care plan help patient outcomes as well.
“Nurse-sensitive indicators that reflect structure, process, and outcome are of great importance to nurses.” she says. “As a profession, we want to ensure that we have appropriate numbers of skilled nursing professionals who are able to meet the unique needs of patients and families. Process measures are focused on ensuring that we deliver the right care in a consistent and reliable manner.”
Patient harm can result when there is a lack of guidance or an absent standard to follow, says McGaffigan. For instance, harm can result when patients aren’t regularly repositioned or when oral care in ventilated patients is neglected. Other areas of particular importance include medication errors, falls, hospital-acquired infections, or complications, and other injury.
To provide the best care, nurses must also be able to care for themselves. If they are overly fatigued, do not feel supported or able to thrive in their organizations or if they are working in an organization where a culture of safety is not emphasized, patients cannot receive optimal care and nurses themselves might be at greater risk.
“Nurses are increasingly and very appropriately focused on their own physical and emotional safety, as well as cultures of safety,” she says.
The interactions that build relationships between nurses and patients are key to keeping patients safe. “Nurses are often the profession that has the most interaction with patients and families,” says McGaffigan. “We can consistently strive to identify the needs and preferences of patients and families, and also ask patients and family members what matters to them, and what they might be worried about.” McGaffigan knows this first hand. “As a former pediatric critical care nurse, one of my greatest ‘early warning systems’ was when a parent might tell me that ‘something just doesn’t feel right about my child,’” she says.
When errors do happen, a transparent process to understand what went wrong, assess the cause, and prevent future harm is essential. “Punitive cultures exacerbate reluctance to report near-misses and errors,” says McGaffigan. “Nurses can become more familiar with Surveys of Patient Safety Culture, identify areas where unit and organizational performance is stronger or weaker, and play a key role as leaders and participants in initiatives to improve scores on their survey domains.”
Patient safety continues to evolve as new medical technologies are introduced and as patient care continues to become more complex and more challenging.
“Nurses, as well as our other colleagues in healthcare, have chosen our profession because we have a core value of ensuring that our care is not only technically sound and appropriate, but is safe,” says McGaffigan. “As nursing professionals, we come to work every day to ensure nothing less than safe care. Whether we are in traditional roles at the bedside or as nursing leaders, educating our next generation of nurses, sitting on boards of directors of health care organizations, serving in formal patient safety positions, contributing to progress in the medical device and pharmaceutical industries, or more, we individually and collectively embody safety as our core value.”
Those who enter the profession do so knowing they are often a patient’s greatest advocate and a crucial partner in receiving the best care. “We are committed to creating a world where patients are free from harm,” she says, “and we advocate and anchor our healthcare system to not simply regard safety as ‘one more thing that we do,’ but understand that ‘it is the one thing that must permeate and provide the foundation for all that we do.’”
It might seem ironic that the kickoff of the National Sleep Foundation’s Sleep Awareness Week starts with an hour less of precious shut eye.
While Daylight Savings Time has most of us springing our clocks ahead one hour early in the morning of Sunday, March 11, it also means we are losing that extra hour of snoozing.
But paying attention to your forty winks is nothing to slack off on. Nurses, traditional whirlwinds chameleons thanks to long shifts, nighttime hours, family and school obligations, and just plain stress, are typically fairly sleep deprived. Known to fit amazing amounts of tasks into one day, nurses often accomplish these things while shorting their bodies of necessary sleep.
Here are four reasons to pay more attention to your sleep.
1. Your Work Performance
According to the American Sleep Association, lack of dreamtime contributes to big problems on and off the job. You know you’ll feel sleepier during the day, and that’s a problem for nurses when they are working. Given the fast pace of the job and the critical thinking necessary to dose medications or provide care, chronic sleepiness will impact your patient care negatively.
2. Your Health
Not getting enough slumber can also lead to potential health problems. A body that is sleep deprived gets the hormones that regulate appetite mixed up. Not only are you awake extra hours, but you are hungrier during those hours as your body tries to stay alert. If you aren’t careful, this can quickly lead to weight gain and associated problems like high cholesterol or high blood pressure. Lack of sleep can even trigger an improper processing of glucose and can make you more prone to developing Type 2 diabetes.
3. Your Mood
Sleepiness can easily turn to crankiness as your body craves needed rest. Sleep gives you the extra cushion against the things in the world that irritate you. When you haven’t had enough good rest, your mood takes a nosedive and everyone around you notices it. You might be more short-tempered with your friends and loved ones, but it can also impact your attitude with your patients and with your colleagues.
4. Your Quality of Life
As a nurse, you work hard for everyone else’s well being. You spend your days taking care of other people and other needs, often while neglecting what you need. Not getting enough sleep is a sure-fire way to put a wrench into your forward momentum and finding a balance that is sustainable.
The next time you find yourself skimping yet again on crawling into bed, think of how often you tell your patients they need rest to heal and rest to recover. Treat yourself the same way and see if it makes a difference in your life.
As Black History Month closes, Minority Nurse interviewed Martha Dawson, DNP, RN, FACHE, and assistant professor in the Nursing and Health Systems Administration at the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Nursing (UABSON). Dawson is also director for the Nursing Health Systems Leadership (NHSL) Division at UAB. The NHSL division includes nursing administration, clinical nurse leaders (CNL), and nursing informatics students. She is also the historian for the National Black Nurses Association.
Dawson, who knew early on that nursing was her path, earned her doctoral degree in nursing after many of her colleagues encouraged and prodded her to advance her studies. The challenges she faced, the experiences she had and her determination will resonate with many minority nurses.
“As I would mentor younger nurses and encouraged them to continue their education to the doctorate level many would say, ‘But, you don’t have a doctorate,’” says Dawson. “I knew then that I had to be the role model and earn a doctorate so I would not become a barrier to young nurses seeking higher education. I have always enjoyed learning and sharing my knowledge.”
The following is our Q&A with Dawson.
Why did you choose to become a nurse?
Becoming a nurse was just something I wanted do from a very young age because I could help people from birth to end-of-life. I can recall telling my father that I wanted to be a nurse. When he asked me repeatedly what type of nurse, I kept replying an RN—I had no idea about the vast career options at such a young age.
I can recall begging my mom one Christmas for a doll that had a medical kit including syringe, stethoscope, bandages, clutches, and arm and leg casts. Nursing provides me with so many career options from providing hands-on care, teaching, mentoring, research, and leadership, and most importantly paying it forward to help others become nurses. Then, there were the times when I took care of my grandmother when she broke her knee and my father when he burned his back. I can also recall when my brother dislocated his leg and I my big toe—mom reset or aligned them using wood splints without us going to a doctor. I was impressed and hooked on being a nurse.
How did you choose your path?
For me this a limiting question because nursing offers pathways, not just a path. Currently, I guess one would say that I am an educator.
I am a planner and strong believer in career mapping and progression. My current educator role is the result of taking a systematic approach to my nursing career by setting short- and long-term goals. I decided early in my nursing career that I wanted to teach, but only after I acquired the expertise to share both lived experiences and book knowledge—in short, I wanted to walk in the shoes of those I would be educating. Therefore, my nursing career started as a BSN nurse in a cardiovascular open-heart intensive care unit where I provided direct care and worked as relief charge nurse and then charge nurse.
Then, like many nurses, after transferring to a pre- and post-cardiovascular unit, I was asked to step into the nurse manager role with no preparation. Management and leadership came naturally to me, but I knew that I needed business and organization skills and knowledge. Therefore, I completed a dual master’s as a cardiovascular clinical nurse specialist (CNS) and in nursing administration that required completion of a 10-month hospital residency certificate program.
By the time I started the nursing administration studies, I had become hooked on leading and influencing change, plus being a voice for nursing both internal and external to the organization. Nursing administration became my passion, and I committed myself to learning as much as I could. I have held positions at the director level, associate chief operating positions, chief nurse, and executive VP level in practice setting, mostly academic medical centers. These roles provided me with the experience to teach the next generation of nurse leaders. I am still growing and determining the next chapters in my career.
I am a life-long leader and forever a student of our great profession.
What kinds of challenges did you face in your career and how did you overcome them?
My challenges would fill a book. There were very few minority students in my school, and it was rarely that more than two of us would be assigned to the same clinical group. In addition, there were very few African American faculty. During my BSN and MSN studies, I did not have a faculty member of color from any ethnicity. Most of the time, I felt the grading was fair, but then I had experiences where I would receive a B on a paper with no correction or remarks only the letter grade. Yes, I did follow up with the faculty and administration as needed.
My advice, and what helped me, is that challenges are there to overcome and to be used as stepping stones. When someone said that I could not do something or advance my career, I felt that it was my God-given right to prove the person wrong. My faith has made and kept me strong. I really try to set my goals and pathways in life and not allow others to determine my destiny. I know and respect that this approach and mental model will not work for everyone. Therefore, I try to help others find their voice.
Mentoring is important for any nurse, but especially for minority nurses. Did you have any kind of mentoring relationship?
I really did not have a mentor(s) early in my career, as I progressed in my career there were leaders that I would say have served as good coaches for me. During my doctorate education, I had my first African American nursing faculty—31 years after becoming a nurse.
Do you mentor young (or new-to-nursing) nurses now?
I mentor everyone that will allow me, from elementary school to doctorate level students. Giving back and investing in others is a personal charge that I have accepted to afford others a smoother path. I mentor nurses, other healthcare professionals and those who aren’t nurses/healthcare professionals. Mentorship is a bidirectional relationship.
However, as a mentor it has to be about the mentee and their career goals. For me as a mentor, the relationship keep me current with professional and society issues, and it improves my listening skills so I can hear and support the mentee. It is key that mentees come to the relationship with a desire to focus and put in the time. Too often, I believe the mentees fail to appreciate the work that will be required of them. However, a good mentor will help mentees step outside of their comfort zones and encourage them to excel beyond the level of the mentor.
True mentorship must include self-assessment, self-reflection, and the willingness to change and reinvent oneself if necessary. It is a learning and growing process that never ends. I encourage my mentees to outgrow me and seek advice from others. In addition, I tell them that if I can only get them to my level of performance, accomplishment, or achievement, then I have failed them because it is not about me, but them. I should help them do more, give more, achieve more, and go further. The mentees help and allow me to sow into their success and support them as I transition into a different phase of my career.
In short, each mentee is a part of my succession plan to ensure that the profession and world are in good hands with the next generations of nurses, nurse leaders, and teachers.
What is the most beneficial outcome of increasing the diversity of the current nursing workforce?
I believe the greatest benefit of having a diverse nursing workforce is the role model and mentoring that can be provided to students of different races and ethnicities to help them enter, matriculate, and graduate from nursing programs. Next, if the profession truly wants to improve population health, then we must have nurses that have lived experiences of the populations we are trying to help.
In the same manner, if we want to create a culture of health, it is important that the owners of culture are engaged on the front end and that the engagers look like them and understand them. There is also a business and economic case to be made that we rarely read about in the literature; nursing is a great profession and one of the few occupations that can continue to earn a livable wage during an economic recession. Nursing as a career can help improve the economic status of families and improve the long-term health outcomes of whole communities for generations. I appreciate diversity at all levels. However, we have to be careful of the global approach to diversity, i.e., where we are counting everything to avoid addressing the real issues of race and ethnicity.
We need more men in nursing but not to just increase the “diversity count.” In other words, I still want to know the breakdown of male nurses by age, race, and ethnicity. Then, we have to address the issue of diversity and inclusivity. Diversity without inclusivity is just a pen, paper, and number game. My motto is that diversity is the quilt that creates a beauty pattern, but inclusivity is like tapestry, many different colors of threads creating a picture. Therefore, an organization has to ask, “Is our vision of diversity a pattern or a picture of interconnectivity?”
What are the biggest barriers for young students of color to become nurses and how can that be changed?
After serving as the principal investigator for two HRSA workforce grants, I am convinced that if we want to increase diversity in nursing and the medical field, we have to start with pre-K through 7th grade.
Nursing is a science-based discipline, and students must be introduced to the profession with the understanding that they have to take the STEM-related courses. The lack of preparation in math and science is the biggest problem facing our students. Prerequisite courses derail many of our pre-nursing students of color. Therefore, they cannot wait to take chemistry, advanced math, anatomy, and physiology, and other related science courses. These courses are needed prior to college entry.
The second major problem is related to high school and freshman counselors. Top performing high school students are receiving information on nursing as a career option. Then many students of color, even some with the GPA, are being mis-counseled and advised against nursing because of the rigor of the program. In addition, many schools of nursing that are concerned about their NCLEX pass rates are growing and holding more and more seats for their “honor programs” thus making it more difficult for that pre-nursing student with an ACT of 20 and GPA of 3.5 to even be considered for the nursing program.
Finally, we still have the issue of lack of diversity among SON faculty. Nursing must become more committed to developing a diverse academic workforce. A great starting point would be to increase faculty diversity to be 10% higher than the state demographic profile because we have a lot of catching up to do.
I still love nursing and think it was the best choice for me. I am not sure what I will be when I grow up, but it will have something to do with nursing. Oh, not grow up, but when I retire.