The 57-year-old woman is standing in the hall outside of the exam room. She is agitated. “I’m waiting for the doctor. I’m freezing! My back is killing me!” I note she is pale, unable to stand still, and has a sheen of perspiration on her forehead. She is in withdrawal. I get her a blanket and ask her to wait in her room. The pain clinic nurse is downstairs at the pharmacy getting the patient’s prescription for Suboxone for induction. Induction is the process of starting the patient on medication and finetuning the dose.
An hour later the patient is back in the hall calling me, “Thanks for the blanket!” She is smiling. Her color is back. She is clear eyed, calm, and collected. What happened? Suboxone. Suboxone is a combination of buprenorphine and naloxone that is used to treat opioid addiction. Buprenorphine is a partial agonist of the μ-opioid receptor with a high affinity and low rate of dissociation from the receptor. In English, the buprenorphine molecule sticks to the opioid receptor in the brain, but only partially activates it. Then it stays there for a long time, blocking it from opioids, before dissociating. What this means for the addict is that they get enough opioid receptor activation that they don’t get sick from withdrawal. They can function normally with less of the problematic effects of a full agonist like morphine or heroine.
The addition of naloxone, a full opioid antagonist (blocker), keeps the Suboxone pills from being crushed and injected. Though naloxone has a strong effect when given parenterally (by injection), its effect when given by mouth is negligible because it is poorly absorbed sublingually. Suboxone disintegrating tablets are given under the tongue.
So, what is this wonder drug all about? In 2000, federal legislation (Drug Addiction Treatment Act of 2000) made office-based treatment of narcotic addiction with schedule III-V drugs legal. Until then, the only option for addicts was abstinence-based treatment or methadone clinics. The ever-increasing rates of drug overdose deaths in the United States showed this was not working. At first, only MDs specially approved by the Department of Health and Human Services could prescribe medications to treat addiction. In 2016, President Obama signed the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act allowing nurse practitioners and physicians assistants to prescribe schedule III-V drugs for the treatment of addiction. Previously, they could prescribe these medications to treat pain but not to treat addiction.
What does this mean for the addict? For starters, Suboxone and similar drugs are now more widely available. Until recently, the only way for a heroin addict to keep from getting withdrawal sickness was to use more heroine. These patients were considered toxic to regular doctors because their disease lead to ever-increasing doses, seeking medications from multiple providers, decreasing levels of health, and ultimately death. Now that there is an option other than going cold turkey, the addict without some kind of pain diagnosis can get access to health care whereas before they would avoid it because of the stigma of being an addict. Because Suboxone is a partial agonist with high affinity to the μ-opioid receptor, it decreases the ‘high’ if the patient continues to use narcotics causing the patient to lose interest. It offers the benefit of allowing the addict to function in life, decreases the likelihood of death from respiratory depression, and increases the quality of life because there is no need for the addict to ride the wheel of withdrawal—drug seeking, using, running out, and then seeking again to the exclusion of every joy of life.
What happens when a person starts buprenorphine? After a largish battery of tests, the prospective recovering addict will be asked to abstain from narcotics before induction to Suboxone. How long before the first dose the addict has to abstain depends on the person’s addiction. Longer acting drugs like methadone could be 24 hours. Shorter acting drugs like morphine could be as little as six hours. The person should be in the early stages of withdrawal. The reason for this is the “partial” part of partial agonist. The buprenorphine molecule will muscle other narcotics off the receptor site where it was fully activating the receptor. Now, the higher affinity buprenorphine is sitting there doing half the work that the heroine was doing and this leads to symptoms of withdrawal. Giving a person a drug that puts them immediately into withdrawal will turn them off to it completely. You won’t see that person again. Higher success rates are tied with higher levels of symptoms of withdrawal before induction. Now instead of precipitated withdrawal, the person has relief from symptoms of withdrawal even if they are not getting high.
A person who has been successfully inducted to Suboxone therapy will find almost immediate relief. The terrible body aches, muscle pain, abdominal pain, depression, diarrhea, and cravings evaporate. Our patient might just have found a new way to live, free from the constant need to find more narcotics. She can focus on her life instead of her disease. Most of the clinic patients have jobs. They want desperately to be productive members of society for themselves and for their families. Buprenorphine therapy coupled with lifestyle interventions provided by mental health professionals, self-help groups like Narcotics Anonymous, and patient-initiated interventions (like taking a class or going back to school) are part of the success story of a growing number of recovering addicts.
What’s it like to come off Suboxone? Eh, probably a lot like getting off heroine. Same withdrawal profile or pretty close. Patients wanting to get off all narcotics, including Suboxone, can be weaned off gradually depending on their desired treatment goals. Someone facing a jail sentence or travel overseas that needs to detox from opioids quickly may be on a tapered dose of Suboxone for just a few days or weeks. Other people may decide that the burden of staying on Suboxone is worth not having to go through withdrawal and choose to stay on a maintenance dose for the rest of their life. The addiction specialist will help guide the patient through the decision process. Many patients decide to stay on the medication as a hedge against relapse since buprenorphine has a higher affinity for opioid receptors than street drugs. This coupled with the very slow rate of dissociation means that a person would have to stop the buprenorphine well in advance of restarting heroine or other opioid in order to get high.
What does this mean for health care? For one, at least some addicts who eschewed health care in the past can now get treatment for this disease. At some point, most addicts will desire to get off narcotics. Having a real treatment option available instead of a far-away methadone clinic or withdrawal will work to drive these patients into recovery. Another thing is that it’s possible that some of the stigma of addiction will be lifted, at least slowly, as treatment becomes available and success stories become commonplace. As the DEA and FDA work to get a handle on the 70,000 overdose deaths per year by educating doctors and enforcing distribution laws, these drugs will become harder to get. During the 12 months prior to July 2017, overdose deaths fell in 14 states for the first time during the opioid epidemic, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In the rest of the nation, at least the numbers have leveled off. Greater access to Narcan (brand name of naloxone, one of the drugs in Suboxone), and more treatment options for addicts will hopefully drive these numbers lower over time. It’s not time to celebrate, but at least there is a glimmer of hope. The priority is to keep addicts alive until they can (or they are ready to) get treatment for their disease.
We hope you had a happy Martin Luther King Jr. Day, and maybe even a three-day weekend! The U.S. celebrates it as a federal holiday annually on the third Monday of January, but not every nurse or health care employee in a 24/7 workplace gets that time off.
There were many celebrations around the country to commemorate the life and achievements of this great American leader. Some events, sadly, reminded the nation that we’re still struggling to achieve Dr. King’s dream of racial harmony.
Maybe it’s time for all of us to once again listen and reflect on, Dr. King’s “I have a Dream” speech. His legendary civil rights-era address to the nation is ranked by scholars as one of the greatest American speeches in modern U.S. history. Most of us can easily recognize parts of it, such as this famous line:
“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”
You can hear audio and read a transcript of the entire “Dream” speech that Dr. King delivered in 1963 at the March on Washington, here.
As a nurse, you no doubt hold tight to similar dreams of equality, justice, and compassion for the patients and communities you serve. You might also feel called to lead the charge on social justice issues that impact every level of society. Nurses are caretakers, but they’re often also change-makers at heart, educating and empowering others by sharing powerful, informative, and inspiring messages of healing and hope.
You might have sparked change by taking part in the wave of social and political activity we saw in 2018. As you already know, a record 113 million people are estimated to have voted in the November midterm elections. That’s an incredible number—the highest since 1966, when Dr. King was expanding the campaign for civil rights from the South to the northern cities, like Chicago.
Additionally, a record 117 women won political office in what has been called the “Year of the Woman” and now about one in five members of Congress are women. This 116th Congress is also the most racially diverse, with 42 women of color, including Native American and Muslim congresswomen. These are great advances, but not nearly enough in a nation where women make up over 50% of the population.
Nurses have always advocated on behalf of patients, their families, the community, and the entire nation. Sometimes that advocacy is on the front lines of politics, as we recently reported in a magazine feature, Nurse Legal Rights in the Workplace.
One such nurse, Martese Chism, RN, a Chicago-area nurse had a role model in her great-grandmother, Birdia Keglar, a civil rights activist that marched in Selma with Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and lost her life because of it. Chism felt called to advocacy as a nurse, and with the support of her union, has spoken out about the closure of public hospitals and other health care facilities in minority communities.
There are so many ways to affect social justice as a nurse, even if it’s in a small, quiet, and non-political way.
What’s your dream for patients and nurses in 2019? We’d love to hear about it.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), diabetes is the seventh leading cause of death in the United States. Type 2 diabetes is one of the most commonly occurring chronic diseases, which affects about 90-95% of those diagnosed. According to a 2018 study published in Health and Quality of Life Outcomes, there were over 415 million adults between 20-79 years living with diabetes globally. The American Diabetes Association estimates that over $327 billion is the annual cost of diabetes care in the United States alone.
A serious complication of diabetes is hypoglycemia, a blood sugar level less than 70 mg/dL. Hypoglycemia comes on suddenly and patients display symptoms such as profuse sweating, tremors, irritability, altered mental status, loss of consciousness, among others. Hypoglycemia has several adverse effects including cardiac arrhythmias, seizures, and can be fatal in severe cases. The fear of inadvertent hypoglycemia is among the biggest barriers patients face while working towards glycemic control. Hence, one may conclude that frequent hypoglycemic incidents are disruptive to the normal life, and may result in injury, increased medical costs, loss of wages, and the need for constant monitoring by another person.
Real-time continuous glucose monitoring (CGM) may provide an ideal solution for individuals with a high risk of hypoglycemia. CGM measures glucose levels continuously via a transdermal glucose sensor and sends data to one or more monitoring devices. It is configurable to alert the user and/or designated provider when blood glucose levels are too high or too low. In a 2017 study, David Rodbard, MD, demonstrated that the use of CGMs resulted in significant reduction of hypoglycemia risk and improved patients’ quality of life. Since the invention and subsequent improvement of the quality of monitoring and reporting, CGM systems have become very reliable tools for real-time monitoring of blood glucose and prevention of dangerous hypoglycemia. CGM systems also help reduce health care costs and improve quality of life and productivity of patients.
A Brief Introduction to CGM Systems
The first CGM system hit the market in 1999. Early CGM systems were bogged down with issues related to accuracy, delayed transmission, and patient teaching. Rapid advancements in technology have influenced development of highly accurate, versatile, and user-friendly CGM machines. In 2015, the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists and American College of Endocrinology included CGM systems into their clinical practice guidelines. Three medical device manufacturers—Abbott Laboratories, Medtronic, and Dexcom Inc.—have emerged as leaders in today’s CGM marketplace at a global level.
CGM’s Role in Preventing Hypoglycemia and Improving Quality of Life
The main idea behind the introduction of CGM systems was to achieve enhanced real-time blood glucose monitoring of diabetic patients and prevention of abnormal glycemic highs and/or lows and its accompanying complications. Multiple studies have successfully demonstrated that diabetic patients are at a risk of undetected hypoglycemia. According to a 2017 study published in Diabetes Technology & Therapeutics, 22% of sudden unexpected deaths in persons under 40 with type 1 diabetes were due to hypoglycemia. The study concluded that using CGM systems helped reduce hypoglycemia and improve glucose control.
Inadequate glycemic control is associated with complications that lead to reduced quality of life, work absenteeism, increased hospitalization, among others. Fear of hypoglycemia and its associated costs may discourage patients from adhering to a treatment plan formulated by their primary care provider. And yet, the Diabetes Technology & Therapeutics study estimated an annual savings of $936-$1,346 per person in hypoglycemia prevention with the use of CGM systems.
A recent randomized controlled trial published in The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism found that type 1 diabetics on real-time CGM systems demonstrated a marked improvement in glycemic control and enhanced of quality of life in the form of reduced incidences of hospitalization, work absenteeism, and lesser fear of hypoglycemia.
Furthermore, recent advances in wireless and data-enabled cellphones have enabled medical technology corporations to improve the functionality and accuracy of CGM systems. Modern CGM systems can now send information to the patient and designated caregivers when the blood glucose levels are too high or too low. CGM systems help promote safety and efficacy of glycemic control for both type 1 and type 2 diabetics and reduces the risk of hypoglycemia significantly.
The benefits of CGM systems are yet to be completely utilized by health care providers and patients due to lack of awareness, suspicion about the safety, efficacy, and cost of these systems. Using CGM systems may lead to long-term financial savings and improved quality of life for patients. It is up to primary care providers to educate patients and families to benefit from available technologies and improve their health.
As a gay man, Austin Nation, PhD, RN, PHN, understands the health care barriers faced by many lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) patients. As a nurse and educator, he’s working to increase awareness and address the health disparities that continue to exist in the LGBTQ community.
An assistant professor of nursing at California State University, Fullerton (CSUF), Nation lived through the 1980s AIDS crisis, and has worked with many patients in the HIV/AIDS community. While he acknowledges an HIV diagnosis is no longer a death sentence thanks to increased funding and better treatment, Nation has also seen how young gay black and Latino men continue to be disproportionately affected by HIV/AIDS. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report that 1 in 2 black men and 1 in 4 Latino men will be diagnosed with HIV during their lifetime.
“We’re not reaching all of the people we need to reach,” Nation says. “In order to get to zero new HIV infections, we need to figure out how to engage these populations.”
While treatments have transformed HIV into a chronic but manageable illness, many people are not aware of how prevention efforts that use antiretroviral treatment, and pre-exposure prophylaxis (PReP), an HIV-medication that when taken consistently, can lower the risk of getting infected by more than 90%. Despite being widely available, the CDC notes that while two-thirds of the people who could benefit from PrEP are black or Latino, they account for the smallest amount of prescriptions to date.
To that end, Nation has worked to address the tenuous relationship many people of color and members of the LGBTQ community have with the health care system. Statistics from the Kaiser Family Foundation show that LGBTQ patients often face challenges and barriers in accessing health services including stigma, discrimination, the provision of substandard care, and outright denial of care because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
“I’ve led LGBTQ cultural competency trainings to teach nurses and nursing students how to provide inclusive services and care for LGBTQ patients,” Nation says. “By knowing whether a patient is gay, lesbian, transgender, straight, or bisexual, and how to best communicate, nurses can identify potential health disparities and care for their patients more effectively.”
On the CSUF campus, Nation has also been a part of the university’s Faculty Noon Time Talks, discussing health care disparities within the African American community. In addition, he is working with faith leaders to adopt a more inclusive environment for LGBTQ individuals who may be reluctant to come out and subsequently don’t receive HIV testing or prevention counseling.
“I also teach a public health course at CSUF where we discuss vulnerable patient populations including the LGBTQ community,” Nation says. “I try to integrate real-world experiences into the course curriculum.”
Nation believes that all nurses can help to achieve diversity and meaningful inclusion, whether they are part of the LGBTQ community or an ally. “Have a voice and be an advocate,” he says. “One person can make a difference.”
Navigating Cancer Care with LGBTQ Patients
As an oncology nurse and LGBTQ advocate, Megan Ober, RN, MS, BSN, OCN, a case manager at the Palliative Care Clinic at the UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center in Davis, California, often finds herself bridging the gap between providers and LGBTQ patients.
“Many health care providers work under the assumption that all patients are heterosexual,” says Ober. “It’s important to create a welcoming environment for LGBTQ patients in order to educate them on cancer risk factors and ensure they receive preventative screenings.”
Ober says LGBTQ patients often feel they are being judged and are reluctant to share their sexual orientation or gender identity out of fear of being turned away from health care providers. This distrust can lead to some LGBTQ not seeing a doctor regularly for check-ups and screenings, delaying diagnoses and not receiving information on treatments that might help either their physical or emotional health.
Over the years, Ober has given presentations to staff on LGBTQ disparities in cancer care and risk factors that lead to greater cancer incidence and later-stage diagnoses. These disparities include:
- Anal cancer. It’s rare in the general population, but 34 times more prevalent in gay men.
- Cancer screenings. According to the American Cancer Society, lesbians and bisexual women get less routine health screenings than other women including breast, colon, and cervical cancer screening tests.
- Breast cancer. Lesbian women have higher rates for breast cancer including nulliparity (never having given birth), alcohol and tobacco use, and obesity.
- Cervical cancer in transgender men. Since most transgender men retain their cervixes, they are also at risk of cervical cancer but are much less likely to obtain Pap smears and regular cancer screenings.
Resources to Bring Better Care to LGBTQ Patients
For nurses who want to educate themselves further about LGBTQ health topics, the following information can help:
- Lavender Health has held virtual coffee hours for nurses working with LGBTQ populations. Their website offers events, resources, and more to help both providers and members of the LGBTQ community promote wellness.
- The National Resource Center on LGBT Aging offers cultural competency training for staff at nursing homes and others who care for seniors. They also have downloadable guides on creating an inclusive environment for LGBTQ seniors.
- The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services offers a free downloadable guide, Top Health Issues for LGBT Populations Information and Resource Kit.
- On a national level, organizations such as the National Alliance of State and Territorial AIDS Directors (NASTAD) has partnered with the Health Resources and Services Administration’s HIV/AIDS Bureau (HRSA-HAB) to launch HisHealth.org, a free online tool that helps nurses and other medical staff learn how to engage HIV-positive young black LGBTQ patients and young black transgender patients by taking a whole-health approach to wellness.
- Organizations such as the Human Rights Campaign and their Healthcare Equality Index can help with training and best practices such as making changes to electronic medical records and hospital paperwork to incorporate sexual orientation and gender identity and criteria that hospitals can use to become Equality Leaders.
- The National LGBT Health Education Center has a free downloadable guide, “Providing Inclusive Services and Care for LGBT People: A Guide for Health Care Staff.” The guide discusses using preferred pronouns and preferred names, understanding diversity and fluidity of expression, making LGBTQ patients feel comfortable, common health issues among the LGBTQ population, and much more.
While it can be difficult for nurses to begin a conversation about a patient’s sexuality and sexual health, Ober says it’s important for providers to ask in order to care appropriately for LGBTQ patients.
“Rather than assuming all patients are heterosexual, I recommend nurses introduce themselves and ask a patient how they would like to be addressed, their chosen name, and their preferred pronoun,” Ober says. “There’s a great training video on YouTube called ‘To Treat Me You Have to Know Who I Am’ that showcases a mandatory employee training program that was launched for health care providers in New York.”
Ober also cautions against assuming the personal info on a patient’s chart is correct. Often, people who are transgender may identify as a different gender than the one listed on their electronic medical record.
“Rather than greeting a patient with a title such as Mr. or Ms., I encourage nurses to ask patients how they would like to be addressed,” Ober says. “Shifting from a heteronormative model to one that is more inclusive acknowledges that patients and families aren’t all the same. The woman sitting by your patient’s bedside may be her wife, rather than her sister or friend.”
Nurses Lead the Way with Change
Caitlin Stover, PhD, RN, chair of the national Gay and Lesbian Medical Association (GLMA) Nursing group says both nurses who identify as LGBTQ and those who are allies can work to create an inclusive environment for LGBTQ patients.
“I’m an ally that joined GLMA and now I’m chair of the organization,” Stover says. “There are so many resources out there that can help nurses become better patient advocates and deliver culturally sensitive care to LGBTQ patients.”
Stover says while many nurses across the country are doing great work in creating an inclusive environment in their hospital units and establishing trust and rapport with LGBTQ patients, there are still many nurses and providers who have not received education on LGBTQ health issues.
“It’s important for nurses to strip themselves of preconceived notions, judgements, and assumptions,” Stover says. “Our job is to provide the best possible care, regardless of a patient’s age, ethnicity, gender, or sexual orientation.”
She cites the Guidelines for Care of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Patients downloadable PDF created by GLMA as a good starting point for nurses who are seeking advice on how to communicate with LGBTQ patients using sensitive language. The document also includes guidelines for forms, patient-provider discussions, and more.
Continued Education Leads to Better Health Outcomes
Learning about LGBTQ patients isn’t a topic that is always covered in nursing school. A national survey conducted in 2014 found that 43% of nursing faculty who taught in bachelor’s degree programs across the United States reported limited or somewhat limited knowledge of LGBTQ health. Between 23-63% of respondents indicated either never or seldom teaching LGBTQ health, although a majority of respondents felt LGBTQ health should be integrated into the nursing courses they teach.
In 2013, Columbia University Medical Center in New York launched the LGBT Health Initiative, based at the Division of Gender, Sexuality, and Health at the New York State Psychiatric Institute and the Columbia University Department of Psychiatry in association with the Columbia University School of Nursing. The goal of the initiative is to bring together research, clinical care, education, and policy to fight stigma and improve the health of the LGBTQ community.
Janejira J. Chaiyasit, DNP, AGNP-C, an assistant professor at Columbia University School of Nursing and a nurse practitioner at ColumbiaDoctors Primary Care Nurse Practitioner Group, says students at the Columbia School of Nursing receive training on LGBTQ cultural competency as part of their studies.
“We highlight the unique health disparities, risks, and health needs of the LGBTQ patient population to increase awareness, so that our future providers and care takers will offer appropriate care and ask the right questions,” Chaiyasit says.
At Columbia, Chaiyasit has seen how promoting inclusivity and culturally competent care has led to better patient care and health outcomes, and how training staff and students adequately prepares them to care for LGBTQ patients.
“If a patient doesn’t feel comfortable, how can we expect them to divulge their personal health concerns to us, and, in return, enable us to give them the best care?” Chaiyasit says.
And despite progress that has been made nationally, Chaiyasit says there’s a continued need for nurses to learn about the differing health needs of the LGBTQ community.
“LGBTQ patients have a lot of health disparities and changing the preconceptions of health care delivery for this community is a way to close the gaps—reducing ER visits, reducing the time to access health care for medical and psychosocial issues, and increasing the rate of preventative health screenings,” Chaiyasit says. “For example, many health care professionals are unaware of the health needs for trans patients, specifically these patients’ needs for transition-specific hormone therapy care and maintenance to achieve the desired gender features. This is really important as it impacts physical and mental health as a whole.”
In addition to nurses becoming more aware of gender-neutral language, many hospitals have begun customizing their patient intake forms to ensure they are LGBTQ-inclusive.
“At Columbia, we piloted intake form questions, which were ultimately implemented across the Nurse Practice Group, that allow patients to select, or even write in, their preferred gender identity pronouns,” Chaiyasit says. “A complete patient history helps to ensure each patient gets the care and services they need.”
As you probably already know, a cluttered home can lead to alarming levels of anxiety, stress, and feeling overwhelmed. Professional organizers encourage us to clean off a cluttered desk because it decreases productivity. And decluttering the physical environment is a crucial practice for running a well-kept and smoothly operating life.
But, your closet is not the only thing you need to declutter!
You need a way to untangle your messy mind, because nursing is a stressful occupation and nurse burnout is a real thing. A simple “brain dump” is the best decluttering tool for that job. What’s a brain dump? Merriam-Webster defines it as “the act or an instance of comprehensively and uncritically expressing and recording one’s thoughts and ideas (as on a particular topic).”
Here’s why you need to do a brain dump at the start of the new year.
When your thoughts, priorities, and plans are disorganized, it can send you into a state of overwhelm that’s hard to climb out of. New Year’s is the perfect time to declutter your mind and gain some fresh ideas to set new goals and plan new projects in 2019. Like most nurses, you probably have loads to do and as weeks and months pass, your to-do list continues to grow. Your brain is like a computer, and can only store or process so much information before it slows to a crawl or freezes altogether. You may have experienced a human version of the dreaded computer spinning wheel or slow loading progress bar. It may have been a case of mental brain fog (confusion), or total brain freeze (panic!), or a brain on an endless loop of obsessive thought. But there is a way to speed up your own “operating system” when you’re faced with a mile long list of priorities and tasks.
Here’s how to do a brain dump, quickly and easily.
The technique is as simple as taking a notebook and a pen and writing down everything that’s clogging up your mental space. Allow all your thoughts, feelings, tasks, and notions to spill out onto the page, where you can see them. Write quickly and freely. Don’t worry about grammar, spelling, or punctuation. If you like, you can set a timer for 15 or 30 minutes and write as fast as you can to beat the alarm. You might wind up with a page or two, or if you have a lot on your mind, ten pages worth of material.
Here’s what to write about when you do a brain dump.
You can choose a general writing prompt, like “The most important things that happened to me in 2018.” Or you can make a long list of routine to-do’s that are weighing you down. Or vent your feelings of frustration or rage in scrawled red ink. Feel free to explore at length in a rambling, stream of consciousness style, how you feel about your life in a private shorthand that only you can read. The trick is to treat the process like psychotherapy and spill out your thoughts and feelings without censoring them. Let your subconscious mind have its say and give your conscious mind (the nice, orderly, good citizen) a well-earned break.
Phew! You should feel much better now that you’ve untangled your mind and cleared some space for fresh inspiration.
Here’s to a happy and healthy New Year for all you superhero nurses out there!
Working as a nurse can be tough. Because they are so focused on patients, they may not see when they’re experiencing burnout—and that can lead to problems with themselves or with being able to properly care for patients.
But there are ways to recognize it and to counteract it. Sarah A. Delgado, MSN, RN, ACNP, a Clinical Practice Specialist with the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses says that there are ways to identify burnout as well as ways of coping with it.
What are some tips for nurses so that they can prevent burnout?
The first step with burnout is to recognize when it’s happening. Some signs of burnout include:
- Feeling that you have to drag yourself to work, and that tasks at work take more energy than you can muster
- Feeling irritable, critical, or cynical with coworkers
- Having physical symptoms such as headaches or stomach pains or trouble sleeping
Nurses may try to dismiss these symptoms, especially in the busyness of the holidays, because they feel compelled to power through, no matter what. The truth is that recognizing and addressing burnout can actually be energizing; just realizing that you deserve to feel better is the first step toward positive change.
Coworkers can help each other call attention to burnout. If you notice someone is struggling, it may be worthwhile to check in and ask how they are doing. Burnout can be a team problem if it is pervasive on a unit because it’s hard to come to work when the people you work with are dissatisfied, short tempered, or unable to sense the value of their work. So recognizing the symptoms and checking in with colleagues is an essential strategy.
Burnout is a complex phenomenon and while there are self-care actions that nurses can take to address it, factors in the work environment contribute to burnout. Worry that patient care is compromised by an inadequate staffing mix, feeling that administrators are not responsive to clinical issues, and poor communication among health care team members are examples of issues in the work environment that can led to the mental, physical, and emotional exhaustion of burnout.
Issues in the work environment are not insurmountable but a single member of the environment cannot address all of these issues alone. If you are a nurse working in an unhealthy work environment that contributes to burnout, maybe create a New Year’s resolution to talk to your colleagues about it. If you find that they share your feelings, there may be factors beyond your control contributing to the problem.
Consider forming a group and seeking support from management to identify specific steps toward a healthy work environment. The American Association for Critical Care Nurses has resources including the AACN Standards for Establishing and Sustaining Healthy Work Environments and an online assessment tool that units can use to evaluate their environment and identify ways to make it healthier.
What are the best action steps they can to take?
There is some evidence that mediation and mindfulness practices can significantly reduce anxiety and worry. There are resources online and applications to help learn these techniques. The National Academy of Medicine provides a list of resources.
Attending to the basics—sleep, exercise, and nutrition—also helps with the physical, mental, and emotional exhaustion of burnout. Sometimes, it is easier to advise others on self-care than to take the time to do it for ourselves. The American Nurses Association initiative Healthy Nurse, Healthy Nation provides a structure for nurses to think about their own self-care and develop healthy habits.
When you find yourself feeling relaxed and rested, think back to what you were doing at that time. Were you talking to a friend, exercising, drawing, spending time with family, reading a novel, or watching a movie? Being deliberate in engaging in the activities that bring joy can reduce the stress of burnout.
What kind of self-care should they do?
I think a key antidote to burnout is satisfaction in your work. There are some shifts that are so frustrating and so exhausting! Then there are also moments when you comfort a frightened family member, catch a change in a patient’s condition, or hear “thank you” from a colleague—moments when you know your actions have a positive impact on someone else. Those moments are priceless. Keep a log or a journal by your bed or create a note in your phone with a list of your priceless moments as a nurse, and take time to re-visit them from time to time. The way you felt in those moments is as real and as powerful as the negative emotions.
What else do they need to be aware of?
Leaders and organizations in health care are increasingly taking action on the issue of burnout. As mentioned, the ANA launched the Healthy Nurse, Healthy Nation project. The Critical Care Societies Collaborative, a collection of four professional organizations, also identified burnout as a priority issue. Information and videos from their summit on this topic can be found here. Finally, the National Academy of Medicine created an online resource, the Clinician Well-Being Knowledge Hub, that offers individual and system level strategies to combat burnout. I think this website can be validating; it is important to recognize that you are not alone in feeling burnout as a member of the health care workforce.