February is American Heart Month — what better time to reassess how well you are taking care of your heart health?
Know Your Risk Factors
As a minority nurse, you probably know certain minority groups have higher risks for heart disease. According to the American Heart Association, African Americans, American Indians/Native Alaskans, and Hispanics have an increased risk of heart disease and its associated problems like high blood pressure, heart attack, and stroke.
Other risk factors include hereditary factors (others in your family have heart disease), smoking, obesity, sedentary lifestyle, and poor diet.
Know the Signs
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are a few heart attack signs and symptoms that you shouldn’t ignore.
If you experience any of these symptoms, call 911 immediately.
- Pain or discomfort in the jaw, neck, or back
- Feeling weak, light-headed, or faint
- Chest pain or discomfort
- Pain or discomfort in arms or shoulder
- Shortness of breath
Women also tend to have symptoms that are different from men and, therefore, aren’t always immediately considered as heart trouble.
Watch for these unusual signs:
- Nausea or vomiting
- Extreme fatigue
- Feelings of unease or anxiety
Heart disease isn’t called the silent killer for no reason. If you feel something is off, whether that’s occasional chest pain with exercise or under stress, heart palpitations, or off-and-on chest discomfort, always be cautious and get it checked.
Reduce Your Risk
If you have risk factors for heart disease, you should monitor your blood pressure, your cholesterol, and your blood sugar. Try to reduce your risk by maintaining a healthy weight, getting enough physical activity, being sure to rest, staying connected with loved ones, and trying to keep your stress levels in check.
With the hectic pace of a nurse’s day, getting any time to bring your stress down a notch is a struggle. But one simple way to help with stress reduction is to step outside. Plenty of research backs up the idea that more time outside is better for your health. A few minutes walking at lunch, parking far enough away in a parking lot, or even just getting a few breaths of fresh air on a break can have huge benefits on your physical health and your mental health. Getting into nature can clear your mind, lower your blood pressure, and help you clear out the mental clutter enough to focus better when you come back to work.
Heart disease is the number-one killer of men and women in the United States, so paying attention to your own heart health is one of the best preventative measures you can take.
February 5 through 11 is a national observance of National PeriAnesthesia Nurse Awareness Week, sponsored by the American Society of PeriAnesthesia Nurses (ASPAN). Nurses who help transition patients pre- and post-procedure are there to offer intensive medical care and equally essential caregiving. They especially want patients to know they are there for them. They are their advocates throughout the process.
If you are interested in a career as a perianesthesia nurse, you’ll find the challenges of the position range from using your advanced nursing skills in urgent situations to incorporating the most basic hands-on comfort skills. Charged with caring for patients at critical pre- and post-procedure points, perianesthesia nurses must be able to multitask, to identify and respond to patient conditions immediately, and to do this all with a calm demeanor to help keep patient stress at bay.
Perianesthesia nurses especially enjoy their work caring for patients before and after procedures that require any anesthesia. Before a procedure, they are the nurses who are there to find out any information that could have an impact on the anesthesia care. With more and more patients appearing with several health conditions, they have to factor in variables like medications, physical condition and limitations, and emotional stability in their patient assessment. While they are assessing and gathering information, they are also providing a calm and unwavering support to help nervous patients know they are in trusted hands.
Perianesthesia nurses are also there when patients come out of anesthesia and are sometimes confused, uncomfortable, or even nauseated or vomiting. Post-procedure, nurses are once again continually monitoring a patient, assessing vital signs, reassessing existing health conditions, and at the same time, offering that hands-on caregiving that helps patients feel safe. Perianesthesia nurses then help determine how a patient can safely move to their next place whether that is to home, another hospital, or another care facility.
Many perianesthesia nurses say they have perfected a way to develop a rapport with patients that can build the trust necessary for completing such a long task list in a short time and under pressure. Once a nurse has identified a topic that helps the patient relax, they can begin conversations about family, pets, schooling, movies, or books that are both informative for nurses and distracting for patients. Many nurses also say they use those nuggets in the conversation to help bring a patient out of a drowsy and sometimes confused anesthesia.
For those considering this branch of nursing, ASPAN offers many resources and is an excellent reference to find out information about certification (through the American Board of Perianesthesia Nursing Certification, Inc.) that must be renewed every three years, scholarships for education, career resources, mentoring opportunities, conferences, and up-to-date anesthesia information.
This week, recognize and appreciate the perianesthesia nurses on your team. Their skills often help the entire procedure proceed smoothly and safely.
With suicide rates rising and an alarming number of teens and young adults at serious risk for suicide, many health professionals are not fully prepared to recognize a patient’s psychiatric difficulties. A team of researchers at the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) recently came up with the ASQ Toolkit, a simple four-question survey for health professionals to help identify and get help for at-risk youth.
NIMH’s Division of Intramural Research Programs created the free Ask Suicide-Screening Questions (ASQ) Toolkit that can be used in various medical settings. According to the NIMH, the toolkit (available in many languages) is easy to use, making it effective in many settings including emergency departments, outpatient clinics, primary care offices, and inpatient medical/surgical units.
Before using the toolkit, organizations must have a plan in place to have a standard set of effective next steps for patients who do test with an outcome that indicates they are at risk. Whether that is a further evaluation with an on-site mental health counselor or another trained professional, the toolkit isn’t meant to be used without a follow-up plan.
No matter what their area of practice or setting, nurses and physicians can quickly assess patients by asking the four questions in the toolkit. If a patient answers yes to any of the questions, it’s a red flag for the medical professionals to consider the patient at risk for suicidal thoughts and behaviors. From there, the toolkit offers guidance on the next steps that will be most helpful for the patient and will also help them access the help they need.
Gaining this extra knowledge is essential skill to have no matter who your general patient population is. According to the World Health Organization, “Suicide accounted for 1.4% of all deaths worldwide, making it the 17th leading cause of death in 2015.” With such astounding facts, it’s imperative that nurses are able to have the tools to support them in identifying youth who might be at-risk. To help that, the toolkit even offers scripts like this nursing script for emergency room settings or this nursing script for inpatient medical/surgical settings.
The toolkit’s importance is highlighted in the rising numbers of youth who die by suicide. But underneath those shocking numbers are the hidden numbers of even greater numbers of people who are suffering with thoughts of suicide or even attempts at suicide. In fact, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention estimates that for each person who dies from suicide (all ages), 25 more make a suicide attempt. Early intervention by healthcare professionals who can identify the risk and then have the resources to help the patient can be a turning point for the youth.
The ASQ Toolkit is only one resource for nurses to use in helping patients in a mental-health crisis or who are suffering from long-term suicidal ideation. With proper steps in place to help patients who do screen positive, it is also a potentially life-saving tool that healthcare setting and organizations might find worth investigating.
The celebration of IV Nurse Day every January 25 recognizes the work infusion nurses do with and for their patients. Infusion nurses are an essential part of the care team, acting to properly care for infusion needs and collaborating with other members of the health care team.
“Challenges in our ever-changing healthcare system combined with new, developing technologies and complex infusion therapies, afford the opportunity for the infusion nurse to use his/her expertise in infusion therapy to provide holistic patient care,” says Marlene Steinheiser, MSN, RN, CRNI®, director of nursing education of the Infusion Nurses Society (INS), Infusion Nurses Certification Corporation.
Of the primary responsibilities of an IV nurse, acting with the patient’s health and welfare in mind is primary. Celebrated since 1980, IV Nurse Day focuses attention on this essential care. “The infusion nurse acts as an advocate for patients receiving infusion therapy, ensuring that safe, quality infusion care is delivered,” says Steinheiser. “Patient assessment, with particular attention to the patient’s vasculature and prescribed therapy, is important so that the appropriate vascular access device (VAD) is selected to accommodate the treatment plan.”
Steinheiser also says that many infusion nurses also take on leadership roles where they provide education and guidance to other nurses while also continually monitoring for complications and setting in motion effective interventions when needed.
Student nurses interested in the career will find infusion nurses are not limited to specific settings. “Infusion nurses’ roles may vary depending upon the practice setting,” Steinheiser says. “Infusion nurses work in many settings, agencies, and organizations including, but not limited to, hospitals, nursing homes, ambulatory infusion clinicals, physician offices, and patient homes.”
According to Steinheiser, expert infusion nurses can help reduce complications by sharing their knowledge and educating patients, family members, and other healthcare team members and always assessing the patient. “Skilled VAD insertion, prevention of complications and early identification coupled with implementation of interventions, minimizes further damage that can result from infusion-related complications,” she says.
Like any nursing career, this branch of nursing requires continual education to stay current with best evidence-based practices that help prevent, reduce, and treat any complications or challenges. “Due to the invasive nature of infusion therapy, infusion nurses can encounter possible adverse events with any infusion, such as extravasation, catheter malposition, nerve damage, or infection,” Steinheiser says. “The infusion nurse is prepared with advanced knowledge and continuing education to promptly address these situations.”
The INS is an excellent resource for current and future infusion nurses. The organization offers free educational podcasts (available to members and nonmembers) where nurses can learn about and refresh their skills for safe infusion practices. And the learning center provides both virtual education and recorded educational sessions from prior conferences and webinars, and what Steinheiser calls a key resource for infusion nurses, the Infusion Therapy Standards of Practice.
As with other nursing practices, nurses with the desire to specialize in infusion therapy may study and take the certification exam offered twice a year, says Steinheiser. “To assist the nurse in preparing for this exam, INS has study material which covers the eight core components of infusion nursing,” she says. “Once nurses pass this exam, they are considered infusion nurse specialists and can begin using the credential CRNI®. The CRNI® is capable of an expanded role in directing evidence-based clinical practice, research, and quality improvement activities.”
Infusion nurses care for all patients, providing care that helps many other healthcare processes go more smoothly. “Infusion nurses provide for all patient populations, from the neonate to the elderly patient, and follow them along the continuum of care,” says Steinheiser. “Infusion nurses use their critical thinking skills, perform advanced procedures using state-of-the-art technology, and ensure safe infusion care.”
Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists (CRNA) Week runs this week from January 21 to 27 and is an excellent opportunity for student nurses to find out more about this path in a nursing career.
With more than 52,000 nurse anesthetists and student nurse anesthetists, the career is thriving and attractive for several reasons. Many nurse anesthetists say the patient interaction they have is unsurpassed. They are with patients before, during, and after surgery, so there’s a necessary trust that is quickly established with the skill and care of the nurse.
Nursing students who are considering this as a career have many resources they can reference and various organizations that will help them succeed on this career path. The American Association of Nurse Anesthetists (AANA) is especially aware of promoting health and wellness among the student nurses who seek a career in this branch of nursing. The AANA’s 2017 report Wellness and Thriving in a Student Registered Nurse Anesthetist Population explored the significance of the relationship between student wellness and how well students do in their academic program.
To celebrate CRNA Week, Minority Nurse recently posed some questions to Michael Neft, DNP, MHA, CRNA, FNAP, FAAN, and assistant director of the Nurse Anesthesia Program University of Pittsburgh School of Nursing and nursing student Sara Wilkinson, BSN, RN, CCRN SRNA at University of Tennessee Health Sciences Center. The following are their answers.
Why is the AANA particularly aware of the health and wellness among student nurses looking to enter or actively studying in this field?
Student nurses are the future of the profession, and it is important to cultivate and prepare for a long and healthy career. Students who aspire to enter into nurse anesthesia programs must be healthy mentally and physically. They must have healthy outlets for stress relief, and healthy lifestyle habits that will support them throughout our educational programs.
Nurse anesthesia education programs are required by their accreditation standards to provide education content on wellness and substance use disorder. The AANA actively encourages members, students, as well as educational programs to engage whenever possible in healthy behaviors, whether that includes physical activity or simply reducing stress by encouraging individuals to take time for their loved ones or to engage in an activity they love.
The AANA is committed to providing resources and information about ways to become involved in establishing a healthy lifestyle and even offers fun runs, wellness tutorials and a massage therapy area at many of their conferences.
How does establishing good health and wellness practices now help a student nurse become better? And how will taking care of oneself now carry over once they graduate and are several years into a CRNA career?
Nursing has unique stressors like dealing with patient care situations that require critical thinking, fast decision making, and autonomy is tough. If the student nurse does not have the ability to cope with these situations autonomously, it is very difficult to care for patients. Maintaining both mental and physical health and wellness are at the foundation of successful practice.
Developing healthy lifestyle habits early, helps students handle stress more effectively, set clear goals, and develop a clear plan to achieve them. They also assist students with discipline, good study habits, prepare for clinical experiences properly, and self-evaluate objectively. It also helps to establish diet and exercise plans that can be adjusted as one transitions to practice, to avoid elimination of healthy habits out of inconvenience.
Maintaining a school-life balance is also important to develop a support system and find time for small, pleasant breaks to gives a fresh perspective and recharge. Establishing healthy behaviors and habits early is vital to long-term health, wellness, and maintenance of a successful career.
Do you have any advice for student nurses about considering this field and being aware of any challenges unique to this branch of nursing?
For student nurses considering the field of nurse anesthesia, awareness about the depth and breadth of study is valuable, but is important to be well, so that an individual will have the endurance to graduate. A strong support system and personal discipline are necessary to allow for healthy stress relief and appropriate professional conduct. Anesthesia remains the field with the highest incidence of drug abuse and unhealthy coping behaviors, due to high stress and access.
Think about what you do when stressed. Review your lifestyle habits: exercise, eating, alcohol use, and other substance use. Some prospective students may want to employ a lifestyle coach who can look at a person individually and help one to develop positive lifestyle habits that will set one up for success in graduate school and a stressful career. Good study habits, a healthy respect for one’s self and career, use of study resources, and strong, supportive relationships will be required to succeed and thrive in this field.