Give Nurses A Break

Nurses in the clinical setting work incredibly hard, and a common complaint we hear from nursing professionals on the front lines is that they rarely have time to hydrate, eat, or use the rest room. Are you one of those nurses who has developed a urinary tract infection or kidney stone from becoming dehydrated at work? Is there no support in your workplace for nurses to take a break for self care? Have nurses internalized their martyrdom to such an extent that it’s a badge of honor to not eat, drink, or pee? Well, something has to give, and it shouldn’t be your health, nurses.

Walking Our Talk

As nurses, we educate our patients and their families about self-care and wellness; as health advocates, we teach our patients to hydrate, eat well, exercise, improve their sleep hygiene, take their medications as prescribed, and otherwise do everything in their power to get well.

Imagine being a patient in a hospital bed, receiving education about your wellness and self-care from a nurse; the nurse in question has bags and dark circles under her eyes, her voice is weak, her skin is broken out, and she looks like death warmed over. In the course of her patient education rap, she’s talking with you about proper hydration, nutrition, and rest. As a fellow nurse, you ask her, “When’s the last time you had something nutritious to eat, yourself?” She looks you in the eye, and then looks down at her notes without responding. And when you ask her if she’s had a chance to stay well-hydrated during her shift, she looks uncomfortable and changes the subject. That nurse would, of course, be caught off guard in such circumstances, because she is probably less than optimally hydrated, ate half a granola bar for dinner on the run, and feels like she’s about to collapse from exhaustion.

If we nurses want to walk our talk in terms of self-care, do we work for employers and institutions that actually encourage and allow us to do so ?

Nurse Satisfaction Matters Too

What would happen if all of the nurses on a particular hospital unit decided that it’s time for each nurse to actually have a 30-minute meal break during each shift? What if each nurse began to take responsibility for staying hydrated and eating a healthy meal or snack? What if the entire nursing team created a standard of accountability for nurses to practice self-care, with or without the support of management?

Let’s face the sad facts: workplaces that focus on nurse and employee wellness are incredibly rare. Most healthcare workplaces are so focused on patient satisfaction, they forget that the people serving those patients also deserve some satisfaction, as well. If Medicare is going to tie patient satisfaction to reimbursement, why don’t they also consider employee satisfaction in their calculations?

Nurses, if you want to stay well at work, it’s a sad fact that you’re likely going to have to do it yourself, and it probably won’t be easy; other nurses who have internalized their identity as martyrs will see you as lazy or self-indulgent.

It’s courageous to go against the grain and insist on caring for yourself and others. Find allies who are willing to do it, too; start a “Nurse Self-Care Challenge” in your workplace, and award prizes to those nurses who participate.

Nurses, if no one will give you a break, you may just have to take one for yourselves.


About Keith

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Keith Carlson is a holistic career coach for nurses, award-winning nurse blogger, writer, podcaster, speaker, author, and popular career columnist.

With two decades of nursing experience, Keith deeply understands the issues faced by 21st-century nurses. Keith’s two podcasts, RNFM Radio and The Nurse Keith Show, offer inspiration and practical support to nurses seeking to create meaningful, satisfying lives and careers.

Keith’s message of savvy career management and professional satisfaction reaches tens of thousands of nurses worldwide. Keith can be found on many social media platforms, as well as at NurseKeith.com.