Sunday, October 26, 2008

Nurse, Heal Thyself

The stresses and challenges of practicing as a nurse often seem to preclude something which appears to be ubiquitously foreign to most nurses: self-care. Nurses are notorious for being bad patients, are they not? They work long shifts, spend countless hours perfecting the care of others, give great attention to the details of their patients' care, yet often miss a very important patient---quite well-known to them, in fact---who's just screaming for attention. What's a busy nurse to do?

We all enter nursing for various reasons, but one would hope that the majority are there due to a love of people, a willingness to provide quality care, and a sincere desire to be a participant in the healing of others. Nursing has been espoused to be a "calling" (some of us do indeed hear voices!), an "art", a science, a career, a vocation, and a profession. Bravo to each descriptor listed above, yet nursing can also be defined as a purgatory of stress, a miasma of unmet need, and a mania of martyrdom. To where does the overworked nurse turn?

Self-care is an essential tool in the arsenal wielded by the prudent and self-aware nurse. One must recognize that one's effectiveness in the world---both as a nurse and an individual---is directly affected by one's level of inner satisfaction, healing, and ability to weather the vicissitudes of life. We have all heard stories about nurses suffering from addiction. Whether said nurse has a genetic predisposition to addiction or simply a conscious desire to self-medicate due to stress, that nurse's active healing is paramount to his or her ability to provide optimal care and move effectively in the world.

Whether it be exercise, meditation, gardening, baking, psychotherapy, or blogging, each of us must find ways to nurture ourselves amidst the frequently tumultuous maelstrom of nursing. No matter what aspect of nursing where we find ourselves---university, clinic, homecare, hospital, or research---self-awareness, self-care, and an active role in pursuing optimal mental and physical health is paramount. Sadly, many employers do little to support or encourage self-care, focusing instead on productivity, attendance, and other quantifiable measurements of one's performance. When was the last time your supervisor evaluated you to make sure that you're taking enough vacation time or eating well at lunch? Does your supervisor make sure that you're satisfied and feel cared for at work? Does your annual "performance evaluation" include your employer's sincere desire to ascertain whether your workplace is healthy for you? I would think not. If so, where do you work and are they hiring?

I personally use many forms of healing---both Eastern and Western, orthodox and unorthodox---to continue my own trajectory towards self-actualization and health. With a number of chronic illnesses and personal struggles, my work certainly does impact my life at home, and vice-versa. My many responsibilities seem to bleed into one another, with the "workplace immune system" occasionally invading that of the home, both systems stressed beyond their perceived limits. Exhaustion at work leads to exhaustion at home. Relationships suffer. Personal goals are relinquished. Volunteer activities atrophy. Joy appears to vanish.

So, Nurse Martyr, it's time to focus on yourself. Your employer will not do it for you, and most healthcare institutions will suck you dry and spit you out without a second thought. Protect yourself from the ravages of this most rewarding and exhausting of careers. You deserve it. Your family deserves it. Your patients deserve it. The world deserves it.

Nurse, heal thyself.
Post a Comment