It’s 8 am, you’ve just finished a twelve-hour shift (if you’re lucky to get out after 12 hours), you made it through 2 codes, but one of your patients did not, you’ve probably walked 8 miles total, been berated by countless number of unhappy patients and family, managed to eat two bites of your lunch and 6 cookies out of the industrial-sized box that one of the doctors brought in, your back is twisted in knots, your feet are numb and your head is pounding. And, if one more person asks you for a boxed lunch your head will explode. Now… ready to go hit the gym? Yeah, I didn’t think so, believe me, I have been there. This is an all-too-classic scenario of nurses working today – caring for patients leaves you too little time to care for yourself. It is irony in its truest sense that in many cases, nurses are just as unhealthy, if not even more so, than the patients they are caring for. Now, before I start getting hate mail, let me say that this is not a blanket statement over the whole of nursing, I know some pretty fit RN’s. But, I have been in the healthcare game for almost 20 years and still can’t believe what I see sometimes. So why is it, you ask, that nurses can be some unhealthy? How can some of those who are entrusted with the health and well-being of our loved ones seem so hypocritical? Well, it’s not something that most do purposefully or even consciously. Let’s face it, nurses must deal with a lot – between the sick patients, unrealistic family demands, the fact that one mistake can be fatal and emergency departments do not shut their doors. It’s no wonder that in a 2011 study by the American Nurses Association, RNs listed “chronic and acute effects of stress and overwork as their number 1 concern.” A 2012 ABC News report from a study at the University of Maryland found that 55 percent of the nurses surveyed were obese. As I see it, there are three clear dangers to sabotage a nursing career: poor diet, lack of physical condition and exercise and stress. I am not going to stand on my figurative soap box and cast shame on all nurses for theses bad habits, Lord knows I have been guilty of them myself. But like anything else, once you start to recognize the problems you can commit yourself to real solutions. This is a big part of why I started Fit Med Pro, to be a resource for those who want or need help with taking better care of themselves, so they can take better care of others. So, let’s look at each of these individually.
There is no excuse, nurse or otherwise for anyone to not understand how much diet can affect your health these days. Working crazy shifts can really mess with your diet, but if you are smart, you can make it work. And for God’s sake, stop eating crap from the vending machine or ordering from whoever is running to the closest fast food joint! The key here is in the preparation. Most nurses know their schedule at least four to six weeks in advance. With that in mind, you know what days you will be off and this allows you to do some food prep that can make a huge difference in the long run. Buy in bulk and cook for an army, then freeze meals in containers that are proportioned correctly. Amazon sells these great bento boxes that are cheap but can make preparing meals incredibly easy. Does having your food prepared make it any easier to sit down and eat when you are understaffed? No, but even then, having small, readily handy healthy snacks to curb the hunger can make the difference. Instead of reaching for the donuts or digging in the community bowl of candy, why not stop and grab a pre-cut vegetable platter for the crew? Nurses will most often eat what is readily available so give your team a healthier option. Oh, and one last thing, bring a water bottle to work with you or store it in your locker, refill that thing as many times as you need and stay hydrated.
Look, I can write a thousand articles on all the different ways to keep in shape and all that but the point is that if you are not engaging in some kind of exercise at least 3 times a week, you are doing yourself a serious disservice and jeopardizing your career. A nurse’s job can be physically demanding, so why not put some effort into training yourself to meet those demands? Nobody is saying you should become a powerlifter or run ultramarathons (but hey, if you do, good for you!) Think of it this way: If you take the time to build strength in your muscles, they will be better prepared to handle those morbidly obese patients without sustaining some type of injury, and even then, you are far better-equipped to come back from an injury in better shape if you were in shape in the first place. And while we are speaking on occupational injuries, I cannot say this more emphatically: Learn how to lift properly. Nursing schools spend maybe a day talking about how to lift with good body mechanics, and every nurse has at least seen an assistive lifting device. Maximize your resources to minimize your chance for injury. There are a ton of exercises that can translate directly into the bedside, for example, deadlifts, squats, kettlebell swings – these movements can strengthen your posterior chain which in turns makes you safer at the bedside. Pay attention to how you are lifting and really emphasize proper body mechanics. How may old nurses do you see who are not walking around with some sort of back issue? My old Physics teacher used to say, “Work Smart, Not Hard,” and that statement could not ring truer for our profession. Ask for help, use lifting devices and plan ahead if you can.
I believe the term, “burnout” may have been invented by a nurse (don’t quote me, but I think so). To say that nursing is a stress-filled job is an understatement, but there are some things that you can do to help mitigate some of the stress. As corny as it sounds, meditation and yoga can make a big difference, trust me, I know this from personal experience. You cannot always control what comes through the door but you can try and have some control over how you handle yourself when the you-know-what hits the fan. Find positive outlets when you are away from work. For me, it’s my family and my kids, spending time with loved ones and occasionally squeezing off a few rounds down range. Many of the most educated nursing scholars view nursing as a holistic approach, so why not view it the same way for caring for yourself? In the end, if things are just too stressful, maybe consider other options in your profession. One of the great things about nursing is that there are so many opportunities in so many different areas without having to go back for additional schooling.
This is not an exhaustive list by any means, nor do I claim to be the total authority on all things nursing and wellness. But, I know what has worked for me over the past 20 years, I know what I see every day in the faces of my coworkers and hear their stories and complaints. If you take the time to focus on making yourself a healthier person, there can be no other result than you being a nurse that can better take care of their patients because they took the time to take care of themselves.