Anyone working in a healthcare setting pays extra attention to infection prevention. With so many different people carrying infectious diseases in closed areas, infection control is a priority.
This week marks International Infection Prevention Week (October 13-19) and highlights the constant vigilance needed to keep infection control in the forefront. Sponsored by the Association for Professionals in Infection and Epidemiology (APIC), the week is a reminder to the crucial way infection control safeguards individuals and larger communities.
There’s more to stopping the spread of germs than simply washing your hands. Although hand washing is extremely important, nurses can also adopt other practices to help stop infections from spreading from person to person (and to avoid becoming a patient themselves). They are also a good resource for patients who can learn good infection control methods and also learn about other prevention methods including vaccinations.
Wash Your Hands
Nurses’ hands require near constant cleaning with soap and water or antibacterial gel. Because nurses touch everything from patients’ bodily fluids to medical devices to food, having clean hands is the top way of keeping infections in check. Nurses know this, but it’s also important for them to share this information with their patients and families. Whether it’s visitors to the nursery or family members who are taking care of wounds or stomach infections at home, this is one activity that cannot be stressed enough.
Protect Clean Surfaces
Everything a nurse touches has the potential to spread germs or infectious illness. Being mindful of the surfaces you touch, whether you are wearing gloves or not, helps you stay healthy and protects your patients.
Staying up-to-date on your own vaccinations helps protect you from preventable diseases and is a key to infection prevention. A flu shot every year, required by some healthcare organizations, is protective as are routine vaccinations to prevent tetanus or pneumonia (if you’re eligible). With the recent explosion of measles cases across the country, you can also help educate your patients on the safety and effectiveness of vaccines to keep serious and potentially deadly diseases out of their own homes and communities.
Know Proper Procedures and Protocol
Some nurses are exposed to extremely contagious and dangerous infectious diseases. Outbreaks of Ebola have caused infectious in the healthcare workers helping patients, for example. Knowing your organizations protocol for handling such cases or for handling outbreaks is essential. If you aren’t sure about the current protocol and process, keep asking until you find out or until a protocol is established. Flu outbreaks are common in the wintertime, but in our increasingly global world, outbreaks of other diseases that have primarily been in other countries can easily jump to any area. Nurses have to be ready to handle whatever might evolve.
As a nurse, infection control is a big part of your responsibility to your patients, but it’s also a responsibility to yourself. Remaining as healthy as possible lets you care for and protect your patients.
No matter how hard you try to avoid it, it happens. The nurse becomes the patient. Whether you’ve given birth, had surgery, or a horrible case of the flu, there are times in life when conditions will send you to the hospital. And being on the proverbial other side of the hospital bed, as Jenny Ang, MSN, ARNP, FNP-BC, an NP in Washington State, says. So how can nurses be good patients?
“When the caregiver suddenly becomes the one who needs care, it’s an extremely unsettling, vulnerable, and helpless feeling,” says Ang. “Nurse can be good patients by showing patience, kindness, and compassion to their caregivers, while trying not to micromanage their health care professionals.”
Over the years, Ang has cared for many doctors and nurses in the ICU for a number of diagnoses in critical situations. She says that, for the most part, these patients have been good ones. But it’s because they had their questions answered, were updated regularly on their care, and understood both the risks as well as the rationale behind what was being done for them. So what is a “not good patient” in Ang’s opinion? “Someone who requires an excessive, grossly unfair amount of time and resources from a nurse, compared to a patient in a similar circumstance,” she says. “I have had only one patient who was a nurse act this way, but countless other non-health care people behave like this.”
Ang says that as nurses, you tend to advocate for the best care for your patients. “When we become the patient, we tend to advocate for ourselves like a mama grizzly bear protecting her cubs.”
What can you do to be a good patient? Ang has some tips:
- Remember that your professional judgement is clouded when the case is personal.
- Remember that you’re in a vulnerable state.
- Don’t lash out at your health care providers out of defensiveness.
- Don’t micromanage your health care professionals. Remember they are pros, and have sworn the same oath to do no harm, just like you have.
- You are a professional. Remember to act like one.
“It makes many nurses defensive when they are suddenly in the position of being the patient. Like in any other field of work, it is not wrong to question a health care professional, but how you ask your question is key. Don’t be accusatory,” recommends Ang. “It is most appropriate to maintain positive, clear communication with the health care professionals caring for you when they come to check on you in your hospital room. Nurse know how the system works.”
The third round of the Nurses’ Health Study (NHS3) promises to reveal information as transformative as the first version of the study. But this time around the revolutionary study is looking to make a change that will resonate with minority nurses nationwide. To better reflect the nation’s increasingly diverse population, the study is especially interested in the participation of minority nurses—both ethnic and racial minorities and also male nurses.
“We need nurses,” says Dr. Jorge Chavarro, the principal investigator of NHS3. Chavarro became involved in the third round of the study 15 years ago, with a special interest in infertility and reproductive health.
When the first Nurses’ Health Study launched in 1976 (and the second in 1989), the scientific focus was to follow women for clues to breast cancer. Specifically, the study wanted to find out if there was any correlation between birth control pills and breast cancer risk, but it also gave more general information about cardiovascular heath and diabetes as well. From there, the information gathered has revolutionized areas of healthcare.
“Interestingly, the nurses’ study has always been defined by an occupation, but it has never been an occupation cohort,” Chavarro says, noting that NHS3 will now include occupational health issues such as heavy lifting, radiation exposure, or exposure to cleaning agents. Study investigators recruited nurses to participate because they were excellent responders who had a thorough understanding of specific medical terms and could participate with less margin of error.
What’s new in NHS3?
- a targeted effort to recruit more minority nurses
- a targeted effort to recruit more male nurses
- a new participation option for Canadian nurses
- a focus to capture occupational exposure concerns and understand how that impacts a nurse’s health
- an entirely web-based participation
“We want to involve as many minority nurses as possible,” says Chavarro, “and it’s the same for male nurses.” Canadian nurses are also welcome to participate, and many of them have already been long-term participants. Chavarro says the team realized it’s not difficult to continue collecting information from nurses who have moved to Canada, and so opening the study to all Canadian nurses is only going to be helpful for study results..
The Nurses’ Health Study collects vast amounts of data on lifestyle, nutrition, exposures, and health events. The study’s history is revealing in itself and shows the vast changes over the past decades. Nurses were the designated cohort after some trial and error in the first study. Initially, doctor’s wives were going to be the chosen cohort in the pilot study as birth control pills could only be prescribed to married women then and most physicians were men.
“The second choice was nurses,” says Chavarro, “and it was the best decision ever. It changes the questions you can ask.” Nurses are going to be very clear about any medical events that happened to them and that makes all the difference in evaluating the data, he says. They can also do other tasks that are extremely valuable and that are primarily unavailable to the general population. For instance, collecting varied biological specimens is something nurses can, and do, perform with ease and accuracy.
Chavarro says nurses who participate are making a change in the health of future generations and that’s often why they get involved. The time commitment is fairly low and the benefits to humanity are significant.
“To continue being impactful, we need all nurses, but especially those who give us a picture of how the US looks as a whole,” says Chavarro. “Nurses are amazing and are the best participants ever. This is a definite opportunity to join this study and make enormous contributions as they have done in the past and will continue to do for many decades to come.”
Find out more information about signing up for NHS3.
On most days nursing is extremely rewarding. At the end of our shift, we feel we’ve done a good job caring for the needs of grateful patients. But occasionally, we encounter patients who test our patience and make it challenging to effectively care for them. So how can we improve the situation when caring for difficult patients?
1. Lend an Ear
No one is at their best when they’re in the hospital, a rehab center, or receiving medical care at home. They may have pain or nausea, or maybe they are still struggling with a change to their ordinary lives as a result of an accident or illness.
Provide them with an opportunity to talk about their situation if they feel comfortable, and make the effort to actively listen. Nurses can get caught up in the endless to-do list on any given day and aren’t always able to take the time to connect adequately with their patients. While listening closely to them, a nurse can learn what a patient’s expectations for recovery are as well as any concerns they may have about their care or prognosis.
2. Body Language Barrier
During a day’s work, our patients are often in a hospital, home bed, or sitting in a chair. When we are talking to them, we’re standing above them, which can make them feel uncomfortable. As often as possible, make the effort to put your body on the same plane as theirs. Avoid crossing your arms over your chest, putting your hands on your hips, or in your pockets, none of which communicates receptiveness and may further agitate someone who is already upset. Face them when speaking to them and modulate your voice appropriate to their hearing ability.
3. Culture Clash
Does your patient have a culture different from your own? Be respectful of any differences and try to learn what you can about their culture. You can learn either through resources available to you or by asking questions, but only if they’re receptive to educating you about their ways.
4. Build a Bridge to the Unknown
Alleviate any concerns they may have about what is unknown to them. Encourage discussion about their health condition, medications, or upcoming procedures. Welcome questions that will allow them to open up. Building a relationship with them can motivate the patient’s own investment in their care and help smooth a rough nurse-patient relationship.
5. Autonomy Can Be Helpful
Many patients express feelings of helplessness in the face of their illness, which can lead to difficult behaviors. Restoring some of their autonomy can go a long way to returning a sense of control within their lives when caring for difficult patients. Allow them control over that which can be allowed: bathing, medication times, meal times, and any other choice that can be accommodated without contradicting their physician’s orders.
Making the extra effort to reach out when caring for difficult patients can often smooth the path to a better nurse-patient relationship.
Overcoming adversity is a demanding task that requires a great deal of emotional resilience and mental toughness. While many people react to such circumstances with a flood of emotions and a sense of uncertainty, others may choose to adapt positively in response to their life-changing situations and stressful conditions. As a medical-surgical nurse, Jamie Davis, RN, understands the meaning of handling adversity both professionally and personally. In this Q&A interview, Davis discusses the importance of emotional resilience and how rising above adversity ultimately shaped her into the nurse that she is today.
Jamie Davis, RN
How did you become a nurse?
In 2006, I attended college in Michigan with a major in cosmetology. I met someone who was working as an LVN at the time who asked if I needed a job. During that moment, I did not have any intention of working in the health care industry. But during the interview however, I was asked, “how would you feel if you were unable to help someone you were caring for?” Surprised by this question, I simply responded, “I would feel horrible, but in the end, I would do everything in my power to assist them and make them feel better as a person.” It was at this moment that ultimately began my journey as a future nurse.
Why did you choose the specialty you currently work in now?
In 2007, I received a distressing phone call from my parents informing me that my brother was admitted into the ICU. After hearing the news, I booked a flight to California and headed straight to the hospital where he was staying at. When I walked into the room, I saw my brother lying lifeless in bed with machines hooked up to him. At that moment, so many memories rushed through my head and I began to have all these endless questions – What am I going to do if he doesn’t come out of this bed? How are we going to move on? How are we going to make it through this? Luckily, my doubts and fears went away when he began to improve so I decided to fly back home.
A few months later around Christmas time however, I received another troubling phone call from my mother telling me that my brother got readmitted again to the ICU but this time with worsening complications. As I rushed to the hospital, I distinctly remember seeing all the tubes hooked up to my brother and the nurses working tirelessly to save him.
Unfortunately, the following morning, I received the phone call that nobody ever wants to hear – my brother has passed away. It was a life changing moment that my family and I will never forget, but ultimately inspired me to become the nurse that I am today.
Therefore, although I currently work on the medical surgical unit, my dream is to one day work in either the ER or ICU settings to one day help those patients who are also in critical need.
How has your brother’s passing impacted the care you give for your patients?
Although my brother’s passing continues to affect me each and every day, I’ve learned to keep his memory with me every time I come to work and care for my patients. Despite his unexpected death, I’ve learned to understand that being resilient is learning how to not only live with those painful memories but also deal with it in a positive way.
What kind of advice would you give our readers on how to overcome tragedy as a nurse and develop resiliency?
One piece of advice that I would like to give the readers on how to overcome tragedy as a nurse is understanding that overcoming adversity is a personal journey. It’s okay to grieve from time to time, but it’s also important to take your sadness and create something positive out of it. Because of this, I have learned to become a more vocal advocate for my patients and their loved ones in times of need. By doing this, I am able to honor my brother’s spirit through my work as a nurse.
Do you have any parting words of encouragement for those interested in pursuing a career in nursing?
To anyone else who may be going through a difficult time, please don’t give up. Regardless of how difficult and emotionally challenging life can seem, personal success all depends on how you choose to deal with your given circumstances. Therefore, I am a living example that no matter what life puts you through, your dreams can become possible if you believe it.
Every April, the sponsors of National Minority Health Month call attention to the prevalent health conditions of minorities. But the month is also about spreading information to improve the health of these communities.
This year’s theme for Minority Health Month is “Active and Healthy,” and brings a focus on how an active lifestyle can reap true rewards in overall physical and mental health.
As a minority nurse, the information is personal. You can take a look at your own lifestyle and any inherited or existing risk factors you have in your own life to make changes. But you can also use that information and your own experiences to help your patients who might be struggling to have a healthier life.
Luckily, helpful information is plentiful and easy to find. You can work with your patients to find a plan that is achievable for them. Making small adjustments and changes that they are willing to implement is the first step.
Through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Office of Minority Health and Health Equity (OMHHE) or the Department of Health and Human Services’s Office of Minority Health, minority health disparities become clear. Minority populations disproportionately suffer from high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, and higher rates of obesity. Because of cultural taboos or attitudes in some minority communities and combined with a lack of nearby high-quality care, mental health struggles go untreated. All of these things can lead to a decline in health and contribute to lifelong, serious diseases.
An active lifestyle impacts both physical and mental health in all populations. After treating many patients, however, any nurse knows you can’t just tell someone to start jogging and enjoy the benefits. You have to fine-tune your approach, taking into account their existing health conditions, so they will be motivated and can do what you are suggesting. Remind them that any activity is good. A sustained and consistent active lifestyle is optimal, but even small changes can make a big difference.
Here are some ways to encourage your patients (and yourself) to get active:
- Walk whenever you can
- Take the stairs – if you can’t do three flights, just do one
- Stretch when watching TV
- Take a couple of laps around the mall when you go
- Think of all the ways you move – cleaning, gardening, walking the dog – increase it
- Walk in place when talking on the phone
- Meet a friend for a walk instead of meeting for a coffee
- Do activity that is fun—dancing, swimming, hiking, yoga
- Think of “active” as just moving and move more whenever you can
Getting active feels good (maybe not at first!) and can prevent or help many health conditions. Encouraging your patients to get moving and finding a plan they can manage is a great start.