KeepHealthCare.ORG – Health care for the health professional: Nurses need love too | Fwbusiness
The fast-paced, high-stress environment of hospitals and health clinics can sometimes leave those giving the care in need of care themselves. In order to maintain a level of quality for patients, health-care networks and individual hospitals need to be looking out for their nurses.
The biggest detriment to nurse health, as highlighted by multiple sources, is stress. Each day, nurses come face to face with people at their lowest points and have to make it seem like everything is all right. Sometimes, as noted by Judy Boerger, chief nursing executive for Parkview Health, putting on a brave face can really wear down a person.
“Nurses really serve as the nexus of care,” Boerger said. “They often have patients’ lives in their hands… They are certainly dealing with real life-and-death situations.”
The impacts of stress on a person’s health are not a new concept. A stressful job has been connected to direct and indirect health problems. Boerger said that stress has been linked to high blood pressure as well as poor eating habits which can result in further health problems connected to lack of nutrition.
Some parts of the job in itself are risks to a person’s health, according to Gingy Harshy-Meade, CEO of the Indiana State Nurses Association. In addition to caring for sick patients that could be contagious, a lot of care involves the movement and lifting of immobile patients. Improper lifting techniques or simply overuse of those muscles can cause back pain in nurses.
“Nurses are high on the occupational health-injury list,” Harshy-Meade said. “You see a lot of lower back injuries from lifting. A lot of places have gone to no-lift policies, but we won’t know for years if that’s working.”
Oftentimes, the effects of the job leave nurses as drained mentally as they are physically.
“We see nurses that may be depressed and don’t realize it,” Boerger said. “Burnout can certainly happen. There can be anxiety… the feelings of maybe a lack of self-confidence certainly in terms of job satisfaction. They went into the profession to make a difference so that’s the quandary some nurses find themselves in.”
For first-year nurses, the stress can prove to be overwhelming to the point that they leave the profession altogether. Turnover requires employers to put more time and resources into finding replacements to ensure they have a full staff to adequately meet needs.
Nationally, Boerger said, the average turnover rate for first-year nurses is 22 percent. She added that Parkview’s rate is just under that clocking in at between 18 and 20 percent. Once they get past that first year, though, according to Boerger, the turnover rate drops to single-digits.
Some of this turnover could be due to culture shock. While most nurses are familiar with the theoretical side of the job, Harshy-Meade explained, there is not as much to prepare them for the trials of a full shift working as a nurse and not a nursing student or resident.
“They leave because of stress,” Harshy-Meade said. “When (they) first come out of school (they’ve) taken care of maybe two patients. They have to learn to get organized and think ahead…it takes a while to build those skills.”
In order to better prepare prospective nurses, Harshy-Meade said that nursing programs are trying to give their students a clearer picture of what stresses come with the job and how to better handle them. Boerger referenced Parkview’s “Jump Start” program which puts nurse residencies together in cohorts to allow them to process stressful on-the-job situations.
When a nurse is struggling to cope or begins to second guess his or her own skills, then that can reflect in the quality of care towards patients. Consequently, hospitals need to invest in the health of their nurses in order to ensure the health of their patients.
“As employers, that is a basic responsibility,” Boerger said. “When we treat coworkers well, they treat our patients and families well. In order to do that, we need to be sure our coworkers are cared for and that we understand their worth and value.”
At Parkview, Boerger said, they keep a close eye on the work environment through groups like the nursing clinical action team and the quality of life council. Holistic nursing, respite rooms and forged bonds between teams of nurses, Boerger said, can also allow nurses to feel like they are not going through these hardships alone.
“It’s hard for nurses to give themselves permission to (take care of themselves),” Boerger said. “We all tend to think we are ‘supernurses’ and that we should be able to work through this and that stress is a sign of weakness. But in fact, taking that time for themselves makes them better caregivers for our families and patients.”
On a larger scale, organizations like the ISNA are launching their own initiatives to promote nurse health. Through the Healthy Nurses, Healthy Nation program, the association hosted a self-care conference last year to teach nurses different ways to cope with the stress of the profession and listen to what their health is telling them.
“We’re trying to get nurses to sleep eight hours, trying to get them to eat healthy, exercise and to take time for themselves,” Harshy-Meade said.
Above all, nurses need to know that what they are doing is important, that the day-to-day stresses they face are worth it and are recognized as such. A solid base of assurance backed up by an institution of support can help nurses stand tall and healthy overall.
“Nurses should be treated as a valuable resources,” Harshy-Meade said. “I personally believe everyone should be treated as premiere employees.”