With Nurses At The Frontline of Healthcare, It’s Time To Stop Putting Their Needs Last

With Nurses At The Frontline of Healthcare, It’s Time To Stop Putting Their Needs Last

Nursing for me is about making a difference — and every day I’m making a difference in the lives of the people I care for. Take a Monday earlier this month. A patient of mine living with cerebral palsy was struggling to complete her therapeutic exercises. Her mother, clearly frustrated, feared her daughter wasn’t making sufficient progress. Dedicated and caring, the mother also worried that she wasn’t doing enough to help her daughter improve and succeed.

But this young woman was improving — slowly, surely, in ways imperceptible to the untrained eye. “Your daughter can now open both of her hands; all of our hard work is clearly paying off,” I explained, as the mother’s face transformed from hopeless to full of hope. “Your daughter just wants to be independent,” I continued, “and she obviously gets this spirit from you.”

Independence – as much as making a difference – is becoming a bigger focus for me in my career.  The freedom to control my schedule. The freedom to control my income. The freedom to care for my three children. The freedom to care for me.

Until recently, I didn’t really have that choice.

For too long nurses have been treated like afterthoughts. We’re burned out and stressed out – from Covid, from our home lives, from feeling like our needs are always considered last. And this not only impacts our ability to perform, it threatens the effectiveness of the entire healthcare systems we’re so passionately committed to supporting. Yet, the working conditions and rigid schedules have not changed with the world around us.

Over my six-year career in nursing, I’ve witnessed both the indifference and abuse that has become too common in our industry. As a result, our community is suffering. Less than half of the 12,000 nurses recently polled by the American Nurses Association (ANA), for instance, believe that their employers care about them – a mere 19 percent for nurses 35 and under. More than 50 percent of all nurses are also thinking about leaving nursing; a figure that rises to 63 percent for nurses under 35. The latter numbers particularly worry me; with so many of my younger brothers and sisters ready to give up on nursing – and a national nursing shortage only expected to get worse – the future of the profession I love has never felt grimmer.

I know what it’s like to be undervalued in the workplace. I’ve been told by nursing agencies to wait in the cold if my patients are running late. Then when they finally do arrive, I’ve been expected to wash their clothes – even though I’m a nurse, not a housekeeper. I’ve been berated by patients for “moving too slowly” and battled with administrators for adequate PPE safety gear during the height of the pandemic. I’ve been made to feel like a number – a body – by nursing agencies just focused on profits and disrespected by patients and family members aggressively insistent I could just “do more.”

But more must be done to consider our needs, too – both by the nursing industry and the community of nurses to whom we all belong. What we seek is to be seen, valued, and supported in ways that matter.  To be listened to if we are struggling during a hard shift. To hear “thank you” instead of being ignored. To give us tools and resources to take care of our mental health because after the past two years, we need it.

I experienced this kind of support unexpectedly when I found connectRN,  a new platform that matches nurses with health care facilities that need our services. The ability to work when I want, where I want has given me the independence I was seeking, and an opportunity to step away if I need to recharge.  As a mother, this flexibility is more important than ever. I can take on shifts that work with my child-care needs, eliminating the stress that usually occurs when making money and being a Mom collide.  This should become an industry standard, rather than a perk from a digital start-up.

One of the things I value most about connectRN is that they are nurse-first and care as much about our community as the shifts they post. When I joined the platform, I was given access to The Beat, a private community of nurses who also work with connectRN.  It is a safe space to chat with your peers about the things only nurses can truly understand – without the fear of reprisal or retribution. We share stories about hard shifts, give each other support to keep going, and often find “work buddies” in the places we work often. As debates rage around the role of nursing unions, hospitals and agencies must understand that a united nursing community is a better nursing community – better equipped, better prepared, and far better focused on the needs of our patients. With my life far more than just nursing – kids (both teens and a toddler), my extended family, a bit of me time – I feel lucky to be part of this community

For me, personally, The Beat proved particularly helpful when dealing with mental health concerns. At the height of Covid, the community offered telehealth therapy sessions through a partnership to use at our discretion.  To be honest, I never considered I might need this kind of help — no one had ever asked me. But the death of a colleague — a young mother who passed away shortly after giving birth — hit me harder than I’d initially expected. I needed help to process how I was feeling and I took advantage of the offer. To have that support – for free –  made me feel worthy and valued.

Over the past two years, I’ve been struck by a newfound respect for nurses as the Covid crisis continues unabated. Patients and families recognize our role at the frontlines of the pandemic and understand the risks taken daily to help their loved ones survive. What’s needed now is a parallel boost in understanding and appreciation from the hospitals and nursing agencies that power our profession. Because fairer pay, added flexibility, stress reduction, and self-care won’t just improve the lives of nurses, they’ll help ensure the positive patient outcomes we all desire. As nurses, we intuitively understand the necessity of these demands; it’s time for staffing agencies and health facilities to embrace this mindset with equally open hearts and minds.

School Days: Successfully Transitioning from Clinician to Scholar

School Days: Successfully Transitioning from Clinician to Scholar

Many nurses are pursuing advanced education. Expanding knowledge is always a good thing—for them, for their employers, for their patients, and for their careers. But what happens if you’re going back to school while you’re also working full-time and raising a family? Perhaps it’s challenging, but it’s definitely doable. These nurses have done it and have tips to help you do it too.

When Catherine Burger, BSN, MSOL, RN, NEA-BC, was asked by her employer to return to school to earn her bachelor’s degree in order to remain in an executive leadership position, you might say that it wasn’t the perfect time. “I was working over 60 hours per week as a nursing leader for a complicated department; we had five kids at home—all with multiple sports and commitments—ranging in age from 1 to 17 years old,” recalls Burger, a media specialist and contributor for www.registerednursing.org. “There is no perfect time to start back to college.”

But Burger and many others made it work, and you can too.

Do Your Homework Before You’re Doing Your Homework

Before you jump right into a program to earn another degree, Simendea Clark, DNP, RN, president of Chamberlain University’s Chicago campus, says

that you need to do some homework. “If you’re thinking about going back to school, do your homework first. Everyone has a different set of circumstances, so it’s crucial to research programs and schools that best fit your needs. Many schools offer online modalities that allow you to take some or all of your coursework from the comfort of your home, saving you travel time to and from school,” says Clark.

Be sure that the educational program you select is something that you love—not just something that will bring in the bucks. “The key for those who want to advance their education is to make sure it is something that drives your passion for nursing,” says Adam Kless, MSN, MBA, RN, NEA-BC, vice president of clinical operations for Avant Healthcare Professionals. “Selecting an educational path for mere money will leave one hollow and disappointed in the long run.”

If it will help you, see if you can spread out your coursework. “I chose to take two classes per semester, including the summers. That helped me stay full-time in the graduate program,” says Valerie C. Sauda, PhD, MSN, RN-BC, MGSF, an assistant professor at Husson University’s School of Nursing. “Although it lengthened my study a little, it definitely helped me maintain the work/life balance. I also feel that I learned the material more thoroughly and was more engaged in the classroom and online group activities. A shorter program may not always be best for learning and life. Enjoy the journey!”

Tell Your Family and Your Boss

Now you’ve found the perfect program for you. What’s next? Your best bet is to tell the people closest to you: your family and your boss.

Your family probably already knew that you were looking into an advanced degree, but if they didn’t, be sure to tell them. You may need their support and the best way of getting this is to be honest and transparent. “Have conversations with the key stakeholders in your life—your current boss, your spouse, and your children. Creating ways for them to give you critical feedback in the moment can save a lot of heartache later. When you are under a lot of stress, it can be difficult to maintain a good communication feedback loop,” says Melissa McClung, MS, LPC, a professional career advisor and owner of LBD Careers, LLC. “Setting this up in advance can preserve your important relationships when there are inevitable conflicts.”

There are many reasons why it’s crucial to tell your boss. “Getting your boss involved will allow you to successfully incorporate your education into your work life by scheduling around class, providing you extra learning opportunities while at work, or benefit from finding a mentor at work who is already doing what you desire to do,” says Kless.

“At the outset, you may need to negotiate with your employer for some flexibility with your work schedule,” explains Divina Grossman, PhD, RN, APRN, FAAN, president and chief academic officer at the University of St. Augustine for Health Sciences. “Solicit the support of your supervisor or mentor at work so that you can have more flexibility in your schedule so you can prioritize your classes, clinicals, or to write papers and projects.”

Grossman says that when you tell your boss, you may also be able to streamline your schoolwork by having “your course requirements, such as term papers or special projects, be about topics or issues that you are dealing with at work. This way, you are not only meeting the requirements for your advanced degree, but also are resolving issues in the work setting through your research and projects. Your supervisor will be thrilled to know that you are doing research-based practical work that advances them and you.”

Plan Your Schedule, But Be Flexible

When Sauda was earning her PhD in nursing/education, she planned daily, weekly, and monthly schedules. “I prioritized time for family, time for work, and time for myself, while ensuring that I blocked out time for study and research during the school year. I had to ‘give up’ a few things, including binge-watching TV, checking my social media multiple times a day, and participating in nursing groups as a volunteer,” she says. “Creating and sticking to a daily schedule is crucial for success in an advanced degree program.”

Terri Bogue, MSN, RN, PCNS-BC, a consultant to hospitals and health care through her company, Thor Projects, LLC, planned her time as well when she returned to school. “I scheduled time to study after family dinner and on weekends. I knew that my degree would open doors and opportunities that would benefit my family as well as myself. This knowledge helped me to keep focused on my goal,” she says.

“It’s also helpful to set reminders for assignments and tests on your phone’s calendar as soon as you learn about them. Review your calendar at the beginning of each week and mark down pockets of time when you will study and do the same for spending time with your family,” says Clark.

Besides having a schedule, it’s also important to be flexible. Because, let’s face it, life happens. “The most important thing to remember about balance is that it is constantly about reevaluating and making changes,” says McClung. “I suggest developing a systematic way to check in with your priorities to ensure that you are prepared to flex when you need to. For example, this can be as simple as using a planner and scheduling out time for the important things: work and school obviously, but also family time, meal planning and preparation, exercise, and household chores.”

Have Some Space

Setting up a particular area in your home can help when it comes to doing your schoolwork. “Create a study space that helps you focus. For me, it was one corner of our dining room where I had a small bookcase for my textbooks, all the study materials I needed, and good computer access,” says Sauda. “I also set up a corner in my office at work to house my short assignment work that I could complete during breaks. Whatever you decide, do what works for you and make it a pleasant experience. You’ll accomplish more in the available time that you have.”

Bogue says that she would also set aside both time and a consistent place in her room to study. That helped her to balance it all.

“It is important to have a quiet place to study and complete coursework. A private, dedicated space will allow you to get work done, free from distractions. It is also important to get an early start on assignments, give yourself extra time to complete tasks, and seek help if needed,” says Clark.

Ask for Support

All our sources say that having a support network is crucial when you work and are going back to school. Your network can be family, friends, or even colleagues.

“Surrounding myself with people who were not in the program, but who cared and encouraged me either in person or via email, made all the difference—especially when I went through those difficult courses or when I felt like I couldn’t do it all. It’s the network that made a huge difference,” says Sauda.

Grossman takes it one step further. “You cannot be all things to all people. If you are usually the designated parent for carpool, can your spouse or a friend or neighbor help you out? I learned as a parent that if I can involve other parents in a way that we can help each other, both of us can be successful,” she says. “For example, I can do the morning pick-ups, and they can do the afternoons so that I could attend my classes and do my writing. If I am in charge of cooking meals at home, can I cook in bulk on weekends and freeze the meals or can my spouse help with the cooking?”

If you still need more help, Grossman says, think about hiring someone occasionally to clean or get your kids to help so that your work is reduced.

“Keep your lines of communication open to ask for help when needed and to keep instructors, your boss, and your family informed of any last-minute changes in schedule or areas where you need help,” recommends Clark.

Don’t limit your network to just family, friends, and coworkers. “I was scared when I took my first doctoral class. I had been out of school for over 15 years, and I was afraid that I couldn’t do the work. What I learned quickly was to ask for help, use the learning resources available online and at the campus, and develop a relationship with the faculty. As a faculty member myself, I can tell you that faculty want to help you reach your advanced education goals. They want you to be successful. Asking for help can really make a difference,” says Sauda. “One of my best experiences was in doing a literature search for a paper. I was not getting the articles that I needed to complete the paper, so I finally reached out to the university librarian. Within an hour, I had more than 20 articles that I was able to look at with her support. Not only did it save me time, but I learned the value of a librarian and library services when doing my research.”

Be Good to Yourself

To balance work, school, and life, self-care is essential. “Be patient and compassionate with yourself—this is hard work,” says Bogue.

McClung says that you have to make sure that the other areas of your life are good. To succeed, you have to make sure that you also take care of your health, relationships, and anything else that is important to you.

“Eat well, exercise by taking a walk before or after completing an assignment or after dinner with your family, and make sure to get proper rest,” advises Clark.

Grossman adds that, if you’re a parent, you keep tabs on any guilt feelings—and be easy on yourself. “Do not feel guilty about not being there when you can’t be and having your spouse or relative take over for you. This period is time-limited—not forever,” she says. “When my daughter ran track and field, they knew I could not be there for all the meets, but I could be present for some of them. I could do more on weekends than during the week because of my work and graduate school schedule.”

Totally Worth It

While this time may be difficult, it will also be memorable and fun. “The most important strategy for success is our attitude. Give yourself time to adjust to your new role as a graduate student. Like anything new, you will get the hang of it in time. Above all, make the most out of it, and enjoy the experience,” says Grossman.

Clark says to stay focused on both short- and long-term goals. “Be patient with yourself as you ease into becoming a student again.”

“The challenge and personal growth that came with pursuing an advanced degree helped me find my focus for future research and teaching,” says Sauda. “Always remember that the journey to advanced degrees is worth it!”

Be More Efficient During the Holidays

Be More Efficient During the Holidays

During the holidays, one of the biggest things most people lack is time. With so much extra squeezed into these weeks at the end of the year, it’s hard to finish up all the tasks on your list let alone find time to enjoy yourself.

But all that holiday hectic rush can seep into your work day making you feel like you are on a hamster wheel. At work you worry about everything you have left undone on the home front, and at home you worry about all the things you need to finish up at work.

How can you calm this cycle and make your work day more efficient? Here are a few tips to keep you on track.

State Your Intention

As you transition from work to home or home to work, make a conscious choice to refocus your energy. It might sound silly, but stating your intentions for the day out loud can help you shut out all the nagging details of one area of your life to focus on the details at hand.

As you walk into work, you can say, “Today I am going to focus on being the best nurse I can. I especially want to _______ (fill in the blank with your intentions—comfort my patients who are melancholy because of the season, nail my big presentation, mentor the student nurse who will be on the floor).

When you head for home, review your day and then bring your home life to the front. State your intention with a simple, “I am going to give my home life my attention now. I will use my time tonight to ________ (reconnect with myself or my family, enjoy time with friends, focus on my classwork, finish my holiday shopping).

Make a List

Leaving one place behind to focus on the other is a lot easier if you feel like you aren’t forgetting something vital. Keep a list of what you want to accomplish each day, each week, and even each month if that’s possible. At the end of your day, review your list and cross off what you managed to get done. Break it down into an order that works for you. You can accomplish one big task (finishing the unit’s schedule) and five small tasks (booking a conference room for a meeting, checking your vacation balance, remembering to tell a patient a funny story) or you can choose two big tasks. Maybe your day needs to be filled with lots of tiny details that need to get done, but understand that a big task will be impossible to fit in. List even the small tasks like booking a dentist appointment or the long-range ones like thinking about your upcoming annual review. Those are the details that get lost in the shuffle and can cause you to feel less in control.

Use a Timer and a Calendar

Being realistic about what you can accomplish means being able to manage your time efficiently and effectively. It’s unrealistic to devote 30 minutes to shopping for presents and visiting a friend. At work, you can’t expect to write a thorough report in a four-hour block if you have two meetings in the same time frame.

For a while, time how long you spend on a task so you can more accurately plan your time. Have no judgment or expectations about being faster or doing more. Just knowing how you work can make your life easier.

When you have that down, start using your calendar to plan blocks of time when you can realistically get things done. Book specific time to accomplish the smaller things and use your calendar to remind you.

Staying on track and on top of all you have to do at work and away from work can be overwhelming. But there are plenty of ways you can take control and make your life easier. See what works best for you and stick with it.

 

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