Nursing school is a lot like boot camp. The student nurse is pushed to his or her limits, personal resolve is continually tested, students bond in their misery, and the majority come through the other side with new skills and a new career, perhaps a little worse for wear. But are they fully prepared---to care for themselves?
Many discussions have been had about whether student nurses are truly prepared for the rigors of the nursing profession and the healthcare industry once they graduate from nursing school. In terms of pathophysiology, pharmacology, patient care and disease processes, most are relatively ready for the real world and can fill in the gaps of their knowledge with on-the-job training and mentorship (if they're lucky to get it) and the excellent teacher that comes in the form of experience and trial and error.
What I often wonder (being the nurse coach that I am) is if there are any nursing schools that spend any time at all on self care and how to remain balanced and healthy as a nurse. My guess? Maybe there's one program out there that pays some heed to this issue---or perhaps pays at least a modicum of lip service to the notion of self care---but most focus strictly on the training and education of nurses with no thought whatsoever as to how they'll survive once they're released from the metaphorical nest.
Back in the day, I was a lecturer for an LPN program at a local community college. My job was to cram as much information into my students' heads as possible each week, testing them mercilessly and trying to cajole them into comprehending what at first seemed mostly incomprehensible to most of them. Pathophysiology and pharmacology ate up most of their time, and I watched the stress of school, work, parenting and other obligations take its toll on many students, some of whom came to me for advice and support about how to handle it all.
These students, many of whom worked full time and were parents of small children (or caregivers of their own parents), struggled to balance the demands of home, work and school and made valiant efforts to keep it together as best they could. Some fell ill with the flu or frequent colds, and some simply seemed stressed almost beyond capacity most of the time.
I talked to my students about rest, nutrition (their own, not their patients'), exercise and self care, but they seemed to subsist mostly on junk food, fast food, soda, coffee, too little sleep, and the constant flow of adrenaline and cortisol in their veins. Some smoked cigarettes (although often fewer than I would have expected), and the younger ones seemed to drink a lot on the weekends.
So, when students graduate and enter the workforce, they are faced with massive challenges, stressed colleagues, and very little institutional support as they wade into the waters of their new careers. For some, they skip the frying pan altogether and are thrown right into the fire (or if you prefer another equally apt metaphor, they are thrown to the wolves or sharks).
Few facilities are making strides in fostering nurse self care and stress management, although The Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania's "Center for Nursing Renewal" in downtown Philadelphia is a recent example of a proactive institution actively caring about its nurses.
With Nurses' Week coming up soon, I assume some facilities will have bouquets, hearts, flowers, teddy bears and coffee mugs for their nurses, but will any truly make sincere and concrete steps towards fostering true self care and burnout prevention?
And as these newly graduating nurses emerge from the hallowed halls of nursing schools and burst upon the profession with their enthusiasm and new knowledge, will any facilities, managers, supervisors or colleagues take them by the hand and give them a strict talking-to about how to care for themselves amidst the stress of their new career?
I know that the answer to the above question is an unequivocal "no" almost across the board, and I worry for the new nurses and nursing students who aren't aggressively educated about how to be a healthy nurse. We all can hopefully acknowledge that healthy, happy and balanced nurses are key to improved patient outcomes and happy, healthy patients, but why don't we actually band together and foster health and balance among nurses?
My hope would be that coaches specializing in nurse burnout recovery and self care (like myself!) could be essentially put out of business by an enlightened nursing educational system that values nurses' self care as much as nurses' knowledge and skills. However, I can see by the writing on the wall that progress is slow, and that my services to assist nurses in caring for themselves amidst a satisfying yet stressful career will be sorely needed for decades to come.
Nursing students, remember to care for yourselves, because most colleagues and managers won't remind you to do so. Your health and well-being is your own bottom line. Make it your priority.