Monday, October 08, 2018

Your Nursing Engine

Whether you're working in oncology, home care, or as a school nurse, fueling your nursing engine is an integral part of making sure that you're not running on empty. So, what does it mean to fuel your nursing engine? This is a metaphor, of course, and we can interpret it in many ways.

your engine
Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash

The Literal "Engine"

Your literal "nursing engine" is your body. How you fuel that engine is cause for thoughtful attention. Many nurses probably don't get time for lunch, so snacking is most likely the way that calories are consumed throughout a shift.

When you snack at work, are you snacking on healthy foods that you bring from home for that purpose, or do you pack unhealthy snacks that you know are cheap and filled with sugar to get you through the day? If you don't bring snacks from home, do you just buy whatever is in the hospital gift shop or the local convenience store or vending machine?

Food isn't just fuel. The quality of the food you eat says a lot about your level of self-care, and if you're gorging on quick fixes like candy bars and high-carbohydrate snacks, you're not really doing yourself -- or your brain -- any favors. A sugar and caffeine jolt may have helpful short-term effects, but the long-term effects are less attractive, and your brain (and your ability to concentrate) will suffer the consequences.

Healthy and nutritious snacks with a balance of protein, carbohydrates, and fats (plus proper hydration) will get you through the day in a much more balanced way (without the highs and crashes of simple sugars on their own), so thoughtful attention in this area can really be a benefit in the long- and short-term.

The Metaphoric "Engine"

Your metaphoric nursing engine is your spirit, or maybe you might call it "the nurse's soul". This part of you needs "feeding" with self-care, kindness, and compassion so that you can be the best nurse (and person) you want to be.

Self-care, rest, exercise, relaxation, leisure, hydration, time with family, your social life, your spirituality, your creativity -- these are all ways to feed your metaphoric engine.

When you're rested, well-fed, hydrated, and have taken time for your own well-being, your work will go better. When you've "fed" your creativity, spirituality, and needs for family, social connection and wellness, your "engine" will run much more smoothly, and various aspects of your life will seem more manageable and satisfying.

Don't Let It Backfire

The backfiring of your engine may manifest in various ways. Physically, if you're not caring well for yourself, your health will suffer, and you may experience frequent illness, susceptibility to infection, fatigue, frequent absenteeism from work, headaches, poor sleep, brain fog, and a host of other symptoms.

Spiritually and emotionally, if your engine is not tended well, you may experience profound mental stress or compassion fatigue, symptoms of burnout, irritability, relationship challenges, and decreased life and nursing career satisfaction. Your life will feel out of balance because it is out of balance.

Feed It Well

Feeding your nursing engine isn't just a choice -- it's a necessity. Whether we're discussing nutrition, hydration, rest, leisure time, or work-life balance, this engine needs you to pay attention, and when you don't, you'll soon run out of fuel, and your quality of life and work will suffer.

If you need help learning how to feed your engine, engage with a coach, nutritionist, therapist, or a supportive colleague to help you get on track. Sometimes we just need to change our perspective (or our ingrained habits) in order to turn things around. In this case, an accountability partner may help us maintain the healthy changes that we're trying to implement.

Feed your engine well, and your increasingly satisfying and balanced life will "feed" you in return.


Keith Carlson, RN, BSN, NC-BC, is the Board Certified Nurse Coach behind and the well-known nursing blog, Digital Doorway. Please visit his online platforms and reach out for his support when you need it most.

Keith is the host of The Nurse Keith Show, his solo podcast focused on career advice and inspiration for nurses. From 2012 until its sunset in 2017, Keith co-hosted RNFMRadio, a groundbreaking nursing podcast.

As of May of 2018, Keith is the host of Mastering Nursing, an interview-style podcast showcasing inspiring, forward-thinking nurse thought leaders and innovators. 

A widely published nurse writer, Keith is the author of Savvy Networking For Nurses: Getting Connected and Staying Connected in the 21st Century and Aspire to be Inspired: Creating a Nursing Career That Matters. He has contributed chapters to a number of books related to the  nursing profession. Keith has written for,, MultiBriefs News Service, LPNtoBSNOnline, StaffGarden, AusMed, American Sentinel University, the ANA blog,, American Nurse Today, Working Nurse Magazine, and other online and print publications.

Mr. Carlson brings a plethora of experience as a nurse thought leader, keynote speaker, online nurse personality, social media influencer, podcaster, holistic career coach, writer, and well-known nurse entrepreneur. He lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico with his lovely and talented wife, Mary Rives, and his adorable and remarkably intelligent cat, George.


GRC - Greg said...

I'm a giant fan of metaphors. You've come up with a great one, AND made it work to make valid & important points about Nursing. Victory on so many levels, for me as a reader anyway. Thanks!

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

Thank you, Greg. I appreciate the comment, as well as your appreciation of metaphor! Glad it worked for you! Cheers!