There’s no doubt about it, nurses — it’s the holidays, and many of us feel pressure in our personal and professional lives. So how do the holidays impact you, your mental and emotional health, spiritual well-being, and professional responsibilities as a nurse?
Working During the Holidays
Many of you employed by hospitals, home health agencies, hospices, and other organizations are likely working during the holidays, perhaps even on your favorite special day. As a result, you may miss special moments with family and friends, even while you do your best to spread cheer among your colleagues, your patients, and their families.
Having to show up for work at 7 am on Christmas Day or New Year’s Day is no fun, and working 11 am-7 pm in the ER on New Year’s Eve is no picnic. However, those who don’t work in milieus requiring us to work holidays may forget how our nurse colleagues are slogging away while we tuck into Christmas dinner and open presents with family.
For Jews who celebrate Hannukah, having eight days makes it easier to be flexible with our celebrations, even though most employers pay no attention to Hannukah in their planning. And for African Americans who celebrate Kwanzaa, it can be challenging to ask for time off for a holiday that few people recognize or understand. Then again, Kwanzaa has multiple nights like Hannukah, which can sometimes make it easier, but only occasionally, depending on your work schedule’s demands and your employer’s sensitivity.
No matter how you slice it, the holidays can be challenging enough without the added stress of working odd hours and missing out on the fun and togetherness that others enjoy so readily.
Nurse Self-Care and the Holidays
Self-care is essential at any time of year — and everyone defines that concept differently — but you need to be extra vigilant during the holiday season. Ask yourself some questions:
What can I do to make my holiday shifts easier?
How can I bring more cheer to my workplace, colleagues, and patients?
Can my family be creative about the timing of special celebrations and meals so that I don’t miss out on my favorite holiday activities? (I’ve heard of nurses having Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner the day before or the day after to accommodate work schedules.)
Are there nice things I can do for myself this time of year? Can I take myself out for a pastry and hot chocolate? Can I spend a few hours in my favorite bookstore?
How can I reward myself after the holidays for a job well done?
What gratefulness can I feel and express for the abundance and love in my life?
Nurses are a nurturing bunch, and we can often forget to nurture ourselves. Do you work 12-hour shifts, do all the holiday shopping, cook most of the meals, send all the cards, and show up bright and smiling every day, even when you feel run down and overworked?
Sometimes, there’s something that needs to give, and whether you cancel a social engagement, delegate a task to another family member, or turn down an extra shift, you may need to make some choices that put your needs first this holiday season.
The Presence and the Presents
As Ram Dass once said, “be here now.” The holidays are admittedly often about presents, but they’re also about presence.
How can you be more present during this holiday season? How can you be more mindful? You can be present for your patients, expressing compassion for the fact that, unlike you, they don’t get to go home to their families when your shift ends. You can also be present for your colleagues as they struggle with the stress of the holiday season.
Meanwhile, you can also be present to yourself and your feelings; this time of year can be joyous but also a challenge. Remaining mindful of how you feel can help you choose a course that will keep you uplifted, cajole you into scheduling your self-care activities, and relieve you of the sense that you have to do it all. And if you have to work on the holidays, make a plan to do it with great heart, compassion, and a feeling of gratitude for your patients and the ways in which you can serve their greatest good.
Stay present, enjoy the holidays, take care of yourself, make self-care a priority (whatever that means to you), and give yourself a pat on the back for a job well done in 2022.
Minority Nurse is thrilled to welcome Keith Carlson, “Nurse Keith,” a well-known nurse career coach and podcaster of The Nurse Keith Show as a guest columnist. Check back every other Thursday for Keith’s column.
The COVID-19 pandemic is undoubtedly one of the most trying and difficult things that many of us have had to endure in our lives. Nearly everything we care about was disrupted from child care to going to work to visiting friends and family. Many became socially isolated, even more are dealing with stress and anxiety from the virus. To some degree, all of our economy was impacted, with many businesses still struggling to reopen and many employees cautious about their options moving forward.
With all of the crazy things that COVID brought into the lives of everyday people, it can be hard to realize the even more significant toll it has had on health care providers, particularly nurses. Nurses have been on the front lines of the pandemic since the beginning and most have been put into situations that nobody outside of the profession can imagine. Understandably many are dealing with burnout and ready to leave nursing altogether.
One recent report from Business Insider stated: “Many nurses on the front lines of the pandemic are burned out and mentally and emotionally tired. A significant portion of nurses in a Trusted Health survey said they were considering a new career. Of those who said they felt less committed to nursing, 25% were looking for a new job or planning to retire.”
This high rate of burnout and apathy are concerning and ultimately beg the question: What are hospital administrators to do?
Put Trauma Care Front and Center
Our nurses have seen a lot this past year. Many have been put into positions where hospitals were at capacity and whole units had been converted to treating COVID patients, yet it still wasn’t enough. Supplies became limited and many watched as an uncountable number of patients died without the comfort of family from a disease most people knew nothing about and couldn’t do much to treat.
That kind of trauma is typically reserved for horrific places such as war zones.
Yet our nurses showed up day after day to care for the sick. Some gave up going home to their families for months to protect them from the virus. Others faced prejudice for “risking the lives of others” by going to the grocery store after a shift. Sooner or later, it is all enough to break a person.
One survey conducted by the International Council of Nurses laid out the serious mental and physical health impacts that the pandemic is having on nursing professionals. Perhaps the single best thing that hospitals can do to support their nurses is to provide on-site, free mental health support and treatment. This type of initiative could give nurses an outlet and help them work through some of the difficulties they have faced in the past year.
Assist with In-Hospital Moves
Unfortunately, regardless of the support and treatment options that become available, many nurses have still seen too much and will leave. Though COVID-19 has pushed many strong-willed nurses past the breaking point, a significant number were there already. Even before COVID, there were plenty of legitimate reasons that good nurses left the bedside for other opportunities.
In these instances, it may be possible for hospitals to help keep quality people on staff just in a different position. For example, perhaps a nurse would be willing to stay but in a more administrative role. Moving into something such as medical billing and coding could allow them to continue to serve the community they care about but shield them from the traumas the stress brought on by the pandemic.
Hospital administrators can also help nurses who don’t want to be at the bedside any longer move up into more specialized nursing roles. Some nurses may be willing to stay on staff with the promise that they won’t have to interact with COVID patients and can, instead, focus on specific diseases like GERD and provide the medication and treatment help with them.
Focus on Work-Life Balance
For those nurses who do stay, we can hope that mental health counseling and treatment will be available when needed. We can also hope that there will be a renewed focus on work-life balance from hospital administrative staff.
During the pandemic, many nurses were encouraged, if not forced, to work longer shifts or to pick up extra days. Unfortunately, once again, this behavior wasn’t exactly uncommon before the pandemic. It just became more apparent. Being overworked and underappreciated in this manner can lead to extremely high rates of burnout and ultimately more turnover, a less productive workforce, and a negative culture that permeates the entire workspace.
There are about a thousand studies out there that explain the incredible benefits of a strong work-life balance. These positives can range from significant improvements in personal mental and physical health to increases in workplace productivity, retention, and satisfaction. Though there is an undeniable need to fill a shortage of nurses, treatment of the folks already working should be paramount.
The bottom line here is that our nurses have worked hard to do what they can to protect our nation during a global pandemic. Now, they need help. Changes that hospital administrators can make to help curb the number of nurses leaving are not necessarily small and easy ones, but they are critical to the long-term care of some of the most important caregivers.
Well it has been a while since my last post, due to the “busyness” of life. Often times we let the things in our life take so much of our time, that we forget about taking care of ourselves. As nurses we are focused on taking care of others: our patients, our family, our friends, and sometimes even strangers. We have heard of the saying “Take care of yourself, so you can be there for others,” but how many of us actually practice this? This really hit home after hearing about the unexpected death of two colleagues over the past month. They both devoted so much time to their job and neglected to relax and take care of themselves.
Credit: Leslie McRae-Matthews
We have our plates so full with other people’s issues, cares, and needs, yet there is no room on the plate for us. There has to be a balance between work and relaxation. This is not new information for us—we just need to apply it to our lives. Many of us advise our patients about taking time to relax, meditating, and thinking about things they enjoy to decrease stress. These are some of the same principles that we can use.
When you start noticing that you are feeling anxious, moody, or depressed, these are signs that it is time to step back to refocus, recover, and renew. Many people relax by traveling, but you do not have to spend a lot of money to relax. Engage in simple activities, such as drawing, photography, taking a walk to enjoy nature, riding on a swing, or going for a swim. These activities are not an escape from reality or stepping into a “fantasy world,” but they will help you take your mind off of work or other issues, so that you can refocus. Take care of yourself and find that balance.
This month, many nursing students will be graduating and, soon after, looking for employment. While some may know exactly where they want to work, others might just be ready for a change and want to move across the country.
As a result, it’s good to have information about what states are the best and worst for nurses.
WalletHub came up with their results by comparing all 50 states as well as the District of Columbia “across 21 key metrics that collectively speak to the nursing-job opportunities in each market.”
As for some highlights of best versus worst, WalletHub discovered the following:
“Oregon has the highest annual mean wage for registered nurses (adjusted for cost of living), $83,867, which is about 1.4 times higher than in Vermont, the lowest at $58,810.
Utah has the lowest current competition (number of nurses per 1,000 residents), 8.46, which is 2.4 times lower than in the District of Columbia, the highest at 20.49.
Nevada has the lowest future competition (projected number of nurses per 1,000 residents by 2026), 7.47, which is 4.2 times lower than in the District of Columbia, the highest at 31.49.
Minnesota has the highest ratio of nurses to hospital beds, 5.03, which is 2.3 times higher than in District of Columbia, the lowest at 2.22.”
The states expected to have the lowest competition in the field by 2026 are: Nevada, Alaska, Arizona, California, and Washington. Those expected to have the highest amount of competition by 2026 are: West Virginia, Nebraska, South Dakota, North Dakota, and the District of Columbia.
WalletHub also asked some experts about the nursing field. When asked for tips for recent nursing grads about where to live and work, William “Bill” J. Duffy, RN, MJ, CNOR, FAAN, Instructor, Director of Health System Management Program, Loyola University, Marcella Niehoff School of Nursing, said, “All nurses need to find a work life balance. The amount of care needs in our society right now can burn a caring nurse out if he/she doesn’t find that balance. So to answer the ‘where to live’ question I would say go somewhere that will make you happy (as you should be able to find a health employer looking for nurses in that area). If you want to move to the big city, there will be jobs. If you want to travel and do assignments in different parts of the country? There will be opportunities. The key is don’t just work anywhere.
Right now, there are options so you should work and live where you have a desire to be. For work, I would look for a place that is willing to invest in developing you and your career. So many organizations are looking to fill staff vacancies, that they are not looking at why nurses are leaving their organization. Nurses are loyal, caring people, but the organization has to respect and care about them as well. Make sure your prospective employer is interested in helping you and [your] career grow.”
Duffy says that recent grads should ask the following questions of their prospective employers:
Do they have a tuition forgiveness program?
Do they have a tuition reimbursement program for advanced degrees?
Does the organization support flexible work schedules to support school requirements?
How many nurses have been promoted from within?
Does the organization support the use of advanced practice nurses?
When WalletHub asked Janet Rico, MBA, NP-BC, PhD, Assistant Dean, Nursing Graduate Programs School of Nursing – Bouvé College of Health Sciences, Northeastern University, the same question, she responded with, “Seek adventure and challenge. Wherever you practice, you will be challenged, humbled, and incredibly rewarded. Consider less-traditional practice settings such as home care, day programs, and long-term care. You will be able to practice to the top of your license and will grow in your ability to think and act independently and collaboratively.”
Being a parent keeps you extremely busy. Being a nurse keeps you extremely busy. Now combine those two (full time jobs) together, and you have one incredibly busy person, juggling a lot of balls. So how does a parent-nurse do it all? What is the secret to being that amazing parent who is always a reassuring presence in their child’s life, while at the same time being a dedicated nurse to their patients?
Each job requires dedicating your heart and soul to nurturing and caring for others. The key to doing a great job at both of these important roles is striking the balance of not allowing your personal and family life to interfere with each other.
Here are some practical tips on perfecting the art of balancing being a nurse and a parent:
Manage Your Stress
When people are busy, and life gets hectic, one of the first things that often suffers as a result is their sleep. There is so much to do and accomplish that cutting back on sleep seems like the only way to get more done. Not getting enough sleep makes you feel more irritable and increases your stress levels, which definitely won’t help in getting more accomplished. Making sure to get a full night (or day’s) sleep is of utmost importance for everybody, but is especially crucial for those whose job requires increased levels of energy and stamina. By getting adequate sleep you will not only feel great, but you will be able to do your best in taking care of your patients and your children.
Also, we all know that a nurse’s work can be intense at times, often dealing with tough situations. Don’t bring the stress home with you! Before coming home to greet your family it is a good idea to remove your medical uniform and take a few moments to and decompress and relax, allowing the stress from your job to fall away before walking through your door. You can do this by listening to relaxing music on your way home, indulging in your favorite chocolates, or doing deep breathing exercises. Do it for yourself, and do it for your family.
Getting Proper Help
We often want to do it all, not imposing on others for help or favors. Don’t we all feel better when we feel like we can do everything ourselves? Maybe in the short term, but it’s not possible for one person—especially a nurse parent—to do it all. Accepting the fact that you can benefit from help, and graciously accepting the help offered to you will make a huge difference in your life. Whether it’s your mom offering childcare help or your partner stepping in to do household chores or cook dinner, these small acts will make things so much easier for you. Just the knowledge that everything is not on your shoulders, and that someone is sharing some responsibility with you will make you feel so much more at ease.
Shifting the Balance
As the children grow older, and life circumstances change, you may need to take a look at your job and reevaluate to see if any changes are necessary to properly care for your family. You may realize that a shift change is due so you will be more available to be with your children. Whatever it may be, it is important to take the time out every once in a while and see if things are working for the common benefit of everyone, and then adjust things when necessary.
It’s all a work in progress. What works today may not work tomorrow, and what works for one nurse parent may not work for you. So, put your best foot forward and feel proud as you go about and accomplish amazing things as you positively impact the lives of others.