Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Nurse Self Care: The Secret Ingredient

In my coaching practice, I talk to so many nurses who seem to burn out and hate their work when they don't put their own needs first. Nurses appear to have an ingrained sense that they must subjugate their own needs to the needs of their patients and loved ones. This is a belief and a practice that must change in order to prevent burnout and increase work-life balance and satisfaction.

Back in the day, the historical perspective on nurses was one that painted a picture of virginal angels of mercy who doted over doctors, tended to patients without complaint, and lived in nun-like simplicity with an eye towards service and devotion to the assistance of physicians. This Old World image of the nurse as selfless servant continues to this day in a variety of guises, and I feel that many nurses have unwittingly internalized this "raison d'etre".

When I speak with many of my coaching clients or potential coaching clients, these nurses often verbalize extremely similar complaints:
  • Not having time to use the bathroom during shifts 
  • Dehydrating themselves at work so they don't have to use the bathroom 
  • Having no time to eat during shifts 
  • Working mandatory overtime 
  • Working as hard at home as they do at work 
  • Feeling like their families and friends ask too much of them 
  • Suffering bullying, intimidation and incivility at work 
  • Feeling like they have no energy or time to care for themselves 
The fact is that many of us nurses are naturally givers, and when we're at home, others rely on us to a great extent because we communicate--either directly or indirectly--that we are available to be relied upon.

 At work, we concentrate, give it our all, and run full tilt through our days with nary a thought for our own well-being. This calculation must change if we are to be healthy, fully functional, happy and fulfilled.

Self care is an unavoidable and undeniable part of being a happy, healthy and functional person, and nurses are often the individuals who ignore their own needs over the needs of others, pushing self care into the veritable background.

When we, as nurses,  begin to focus on our own needs and desires, bringing our attention to what makes us happy and healthy and brings us balance, the ripple effect is often almost palpable.

Nurses can serve as examples, leaders, and models of good self care, and when we teach our patients and clients about self care from a place of personal integrity--and practicing what we preach--we are more believable and effective in our communication.

 Nurses work hard, and we focus our professional (and sometimes personal) lives on the care of others. This is all well and good, but it is the care of the self--body, mind, spirit and soul--that carries us through our days.


Unknown said...

This is great! It's goes along totally with what I teach! Thanks for addressing this issue. I think the more it is addressed, maybe nurses will start to realize how important it is!

Keith "Nurse Keith" Carlson, RN, BSN, NC-BC said...

Thanks for the comment, Joyce. It's just too important to ignore! Let's keep this issue front and center!

Gypsy Nurse, RN said...

I've discussed some of these same issues on my web-blog. Nursing Burnout and a lack of camaraderie are huge issues in the nursing industry. Awareness is the first step toward a successful remedy. Your article is very well written and defines some of the issues behind these problems.

Keith "Nurse Keith" Carlson, RN, BSN, NC-BC said...

Thank you. You're right--awareness is certainly the first step!

Steve Litt, LCSW said...

I'm a Social Worker and therapist who has worked with a lot of nurses in my private practice setting. The need for the message of self care is critical. It seems that's true for all the helping professions. Thanks. Steve Litt

Keith "Nurse Keith" Carlson, RN, BSN, NC-BC said...

Thanks, Steve. I appreciate the comment and encouragement. Do you work specifically with people in the helping professions?

Elizabeth Scala said...

So if I am reading correctly the secret ingredient is modeling the behavior. And I agree. But what then do you suggest to the person that says "I just don't have time for this". I mean, nurses are a difficult bunch. We work 12 hour shifts, come home to care for others, the caring never stops...how do we start to tip the scales in our favor?

Keith "Nurse Keith" Carlson, RN, BSN, NC-BC said...


The first thing we need to do is prioritize are own health and self-care. This is a major paradigm shift for many of us nurses, and simply taking that stand would be groundbreaking for some of our brethren.

It's an old piece of our historical identity that we serve others and ignore our own needs. The scales can begin to tip in our favor if a critical mass of us embrace this new ideal.