Eye health is essential for your overall health and is especially important for nurses. For nurses who wear contact lenses, keeping your eyes in top shape takes some dedicated effort. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has elevated the importance of contact lens care to create a Contact Lens Health Week which begins this year on August 22.
Contact lens wearers know how much of a benefit the lenses bring, but it’s easy to dismiss some of the basic health guidelines around this convenient alternative to glasses. Nurses, particularly those with long shifts, are especially prone to wearing them for long periods.
Here are a few refreshers on how to keep your eyes healthy while using contact lenses.
Maintain good hygiene
Make sure anything that touches your contact lens is meticulously clean. Wash and thoroughly dry your hands before putting your lenses in or taking them out. Rinse your case regularly with contact lens solution (not water) to help reduce the chances of bacteria contaminating your lenses, and change your case regularly. Follow all instructions for how long to wear the kinds of lenses you have (some are longer-wear hard lenses while others may have daily or two-week lenses). And always remove them before sleeping (this counts if you’re on a plane as well).
Keep them away from water
It’s easy to forget that you have lenses in when they become such a routine part of your life. But if you’re near any water–such as showering or swimming in a lake, ocean, or pool–your contact lenses should be out. Water holds all kinds of germs that are normally perfectly safe for normal use, but can introduce bacteria that can contaminate your lenses and cause a dangerous infection in your eye.
Protect your eyes
Many contact lenses have UV protection, but that doesn’t mean you’re covered. Wear sunglasses with 100 percent UVA and UVB protection when you’re outside to help your general eye health. The sun’s rays, even on overcast days and even in the watery sun of northern winters, can cause eye damage and hasten conditions including cataracts, macular degeneration, or even cancer.
Take a break
There are all kinds of guidelines around the various contact lenses available today. Be aware of the recommendations for how long you should keep yours in your eyes. If your work schedule means you leave your lenses in for long periods of time, make an effort to wear them less on your days off. Ideally one day a week that’s free of contact lens use can help your eyes, but even taking them out earlier than usual (as soon as you get home) is a healthy choice.
Be ready for a change
If you’re at work or doing something fun and your eyes begin to hurt or bother you in any way (a speck of dirt getting in your eye or allergies can cause real discomfort and irritation), be prepared to remove them and use your prescription glasses. Carry a pair of glasses with you when you leave the house so you aren’t forced to leave in uncomfortable contact lenses or to remove them and leave you with uncorrected vision. Leave a stash of solution and a lens case at work and contact lens-safe rewetting drops in your bag.
Don’t skip appointments
See your contact lens provider regularly. They will check for any vision changes and will notice any other changes in your eye. They also perform a regular assessment to see if your eyes are getting enough of the needed oxygen exchange (if contact lens overuse is your fallback, this might be an issue) that keeps them healthy.
While some tips for contact lens care can seem burdensome, getting an eye infection is not only painful and potentially dangerous, but it’s also disruptive. Being mindful of eye safety while using contact lenses will help keep them healthy.
Please tell me a little about your background and how you decided to become a nurse.
When I was in high school, it seemed everyone (including myself) had me destined to become a doctor, so I was lucky enough to participate in a program that let students complete hours shadowing someone in a profession for a partial class credit. When I began my hours at the local hospital, and started learning more about each healthcare role, I really connected with the nurses and knew that was what I wanted to do.
What is your current role and how did your career path lead you to this position?
Currently, I work at the NIH/NIDDK as a research nurse. I help to coordinate clinical trials, which includes recruiting and screening potential research participants, and helping coordinate their care. In my program, we see patients with a variety of endocrine conditions. Prior to this position, I was a nurse at the NIH Clinical Center on the medical-surgical inpatient unit, and that’s where I became familiar with this patient population with rare endocrine conditions.
What kind of academic preparation helped you the most?
After receiving my BSN from Hampton University, I completed the medical-surgical nurse internship at the NIH Clinical Center. This program was a phenomenal opportunity to help me transition into a role as a med-surg nurse, and the patient population at the NIH was so very interesting. I learned so much, but of course what I enjoyed learning the most about was the endocrine system.
How did you learn about endocrine nursing and what about this specialty appeals to you?
While completing my internship program, we were able to attend many in-depth courses to help us learn more about populations often seen on our medical-surgical units, and one of them was a course on the endocrine system. I also really enjoyed working with this population on a daily basis.
I think what appeals to me the most is that the endocrine system is so complex, and related to every other system as well from the immune system to cardiovascular and more. We were also encouraged to come up with our own research projects and posters for presentation, and that’s when I was first able to present a poster at a meeting of the Endocrine Nurses Society (ENS). I also love the amount of roles present in endocrine nursing, from floor nurses, to diabetes educators, nurse practitioners, university professors, and clinical researchers.
How has your ENS association helped your professional life?
Being a member of the Endocrine Nurses Society has really helped me connect and network with other nurses in this field, and I’ve found great mentors who have helped continue my career development. ENS has also helped me continue to further my knowledge with the many continuing education opportunities. Being able to connect with, work with, and collaborate professionally with endocrine nurses across the world has solidified my confidence in my career path.
What would you like anyone considering an endocrine nursing specialty to know about your job?
Endocrine nursing is an opportunity to work with such a wide variety of patients, in a wide variety of settings. Endocrine nurses work in primary care, hospitals, research, academia, and more. Endocrine nurses can be clinical, scientists, primary care providers, educators, the list is endless. If nurses are looking for a specialty with flexibility, opportunities for growth, and a field with constant learning, I highly recommend endocrine nursing!
If the coming fall season makes you think about someday returning to school or even getting a new certification, then it’s time to start planning how you can turn your thoughts into actions. There’s a lot to consider as you compare programs and courses that will boost your knowledge, move your career forward, and appeal to your interests.
Going to school takes a lot of time and is considered a financial investment in your future, so assess the resources and any available benefits you have to devote and plan accordingly. “I would recommend they find a program that aligns with their career goals and meets their personal needs,” says Lopez. “Oftentimes, graduate students are still working in their nursing careers and balancing a family. A program with full- or part-time options as well as online would provide flexibility and convenience.” In addition, online programs may also be more affordable. For example, UCF’s online programs offer reduced tuition through fee waivers for some campus-based amenities.
Map your route
No matter what your level of education, you’ll find several options to reach your goal in your return to school. In some accelerated degree programs, RNs can pursue a graduate degree without a BSN. The same goes for some nurses who want to pursue a doctorate degree–there are accelerated programs that help them combine some MSN and DNP or PhD requirements so it takes less time to complete the degree. Even some prerequisite courses that nurses will need to complete for a degree program can be flexible. Those courses can often be taken before or during the course of studies. All those details will help you plan how long different programs will take and how much each will cost.
Know your expectations
Most nurses with advanced degrees will encourage others to strive for a higher level of education, but they also advise giving it careful thought. Nurses should do the work to understand their real motivation for wanting that additional degree. Is it for a promotion opportunity or to meet a personal goal? Are they looking for a salary increase and how would they view their efforts without a salary bump? “I would advise applicants to review the policies within their organization first to determine the best path for advancement,” says Lopez, “as some employers have policies about degrees required for promotion and salary increases.”
There’s a lot of information to consider when thinking of returning to school. With careful thought and planning, you can find the right program for you.
Pho, who worked in New York City in the beginning of the pandemic, says the nursing community and his nursing work gave him a purpose through a distinctly challenging time. “You choose a place and you choose an environment to create the most potential for relationships,” he says. “The people and nurses I met are so phenomenal.” And while the pandemic did bring a fear of an unknown threat, Pho says nurses just did their jobs. “When you sign up for nursing, this is what you sign up for,” he says.
Nursing is Pho’s second career; he was in the software industry for more than a decade. “I didn’t want to do that anymore,” he says. “It was the same plot line and a different cast of characters.” Pho was accepted into the Johns Hopkins School of Nursing accelerated BSN program with the intention of returning to the Bay Area and working as a nurse. “But I met my tribe at Hopkins,” he says, and ended up staying to complete an MSN and an MPH there as well, working as an ED nurse and even working with an emergency medical residency program in Tanzania.
After Hopkins, Pho moved to New York City and became an NP at Weill Cornell Medical while also holding a teaching role. A lifelong advocate for LGBTQ health issues, Pho had a casual conversation with a physician who needed someone to develop the LGBTQ section of a curriculum on vulnerable populations and asked if he was interested. That led to a five-year teaching role at Weill Cornell Medical where he taught the first-ever LGBTQ health curriculum for the internal medicine residency program. In 2017, he left the role to pursue his PhD studies at Columbia University which he completed in 2020.
The spring of 2020 was a pivotal time for any nursing student, but for one in New York City, it was working in chaos. But for Pho, it totally cemented his dedication to his profession. Pho worked at Callen-Lorde Community Health in New York City, one of the largest providers of LGBTQ health care in that city.
“We staffed one of the convalescent hotels in Queens, and 50 percent of the patients were COVID positive from the shelter system and the remainder symptomatic,.” he says. “During that time I lived in a third-floor walkup in New York City, and I worked from 8 pm to 8 am while working on my dissertation,” recalls Pho, who also serves as a board member for GLMA: Health Professionals Advancing LGBTQ Equality. “Nursing saved me. It was a horrible time, but my queer nurses–we were together all the time. I think about my nurses, my role, my identity, and how it all gave me a purpose. I know it saved me. We were helping save people who society didn’t want to help.”
Through it all–the uncertainty, the lack of solid information, the severe illness of patients–Pho said a guiding principle made all the difference. “I think about being a nurse,” he says, “and a sense of purpose. I knew this is what I was meant to do. It got me up every day.”
Pho says his career has been paved by taking chances and finding opportunity when he could, and making opportunities when he couldn’t. And each task he completed or each chance he took led him to be in the right place at the right time–and with the right skills–to be able to offer the help that was so needed. “You make your own luck,” he says, a lot of which he says is based on the grind of doing the hard work day in and day out. “It’s important that you show up, not because you think it’s good for your career, but because you are truly passionate about it. The rest will follow. You do it because you want to make the queer universe a better place.”
He remains enthusiastic about nursing and the students who aspire to roles like his. “New grad nurses are so inspiring to me,” he says. One new nurse was having a hard day, Pho says, and he could tell she needed the pep talk he offered. “She said to me, ‘I needed to hear that validation.'” The moment struck a chord for Pho. “I told her, “Don’t think for a minute that I don’t have those days.'” Despite his experience and education, Pho says nurses still sometimes need someone to let you know, yes, you are a nurse and look at all you are doing.
“I started to see my role a little differently,” Pho says. “Sometimes it seems like all the dots seem to connect perfectly, but I’ll tell you it doesn’t feel that way when you’re doing it.” In fact, the way a nursing career progresses is sometimes based on opportunity but, more frequently, it’s something else. “I don’t think it’s predestined,” he says. “You make choices–not right choices and not wrong choices. There’s grace in the work.”
Nursing jobs offer the kind of high salary and job demand that make them especially noteworthy. In the Indeed list, a registered nurse (RN) earned the top spot for its strong salary potential (listing an average base salary at $84,074) and the 34 percent increase in job postings from 2019-22. For every one million job postings in the survey’s timeframe, 619 of those were for RNs. U.S. News & World Report gave an RN role the number 12 spot of best jobs for its low unemployment, longevity of the career, and meaningful work.
A nurse practitioner role, which requires more education, landed in the number eight spot with an average base salary of $128,105 and an impressive 100 percent job posting growth rate over the past three years. U.S. News & World Report gave the second top spot to a NP role (it earned the number one spot in the organization’s Top 100 Healthcare Jobs), mentioning the high salary and the low unemployment rate of 1.2 percent.
The Covid pandemic sharpened an already growing need for nurses, so the growth rate for these kinds of jobs isn’t surprising. It does speak to the job security of a nursing career; nurses often don’t have to go far to find an open position in the field. And if they aren’t able to find the exact job they want, they have many other options to keep them gainfully employed while they continue their job search.
Hidden within the statistics is the potential for nurses to find the jobs that work for their professional goals and personal needs. They may want a job that allows them to move between roles or specialties and to have a career that is relevant on a global level. Nurses are able to move into different units in their local area or find jobs at healthcare organizations in rural areas and densely populated urban centers alike. They can work as a travel nurse to gain experience while also living in varied locations or they can acquire experience to pursue advocacy roles. Nurses have flexibility if they are seeking jobs with scheduling options or if they want to work in particular areas or with specific populations of interest to them.
With a high demand for skilled nurses–in patient-facing roles and in administrative roles–the trend of nursing job growth means nurses are in an excellent position to find the job that suits them best.