A recent study by researchers at the University of California Los Angeles revealed that the number of American registered nurses who smoke didn’t decrease between 2003 and 2007, but it did decrease significantly between 2007 and 2011—a whopping 36%.
The study also found that rates of smoking among other healthcare professionals had also decreased, and those groups that were studied included physicians, dental hygienists, pharmacists and respiratory therapists.
Interestingly, while doctors have the lowest rate of smoking of all healthcare professionals (2%) and 36% fewer registered nurses smoke now than did in 2007, licensed practical nurses have the highest rate of smoking among all healthcare professionals (25%).
Nurses are notorious for not caring for themselves well. To illustrate this, another recent study also shows that a large percentage of nurses are overweight or obese, and many report not exercising while using eating as a means to decrease their levels of stress.
Granted, many Americans are either obese or overweight, and many of us don’t exercise. Still, the fact that so many nurses still smoke is both surprising and discouraging, especially given the facts about the health effects of smoking that are so widely known, even by the general public.
While it’s encouraging that the number of registered nurses who smoke cigarettes has declined in recent years (but not the number of LPNs and LVNs), other studies also demonstrate that we have a long way to go when it comes to nurse self-care and overall health.
As nurses, one of our most important professional responsibilities is to educate our patients and their families in terms of health-enhancing practices. We teach our patients about disease processes, symptoms, diagnostic procedures and medications. We review side effects, encourage our patients to eat well, and we also discourage them from practices that will negatively impact their health.
According to the literature, patients are confused when healthcare professionals engage in practices that are contrary to what they should be teaching to their patients. How can a nurse encourage a patient to lose weight or stop smoking when that nurse is herself an obese smoker?
As a nurse, you know that smoking will impair your respiratory and cardiovascular health and lead to an enormous amount of other wholly avoidable negative health outcomes. It’s a no-brainer that smoking is unhealthy, so why do so many nurses—and especially practical nurses—still engage in such harmful behavior?
Stress is likely to be one of the major reasons that nurses cite for continuing to smoke, and we all know that stress is often part and parcel of a nurse’s professional life.
So, if stress is a main cause of nurses continuing to smoke, then it figures that the combating of stress is likely one of our best tools to improve nurses’ health.
If you’re a stressed nurse who perhaps is also a little overweight and possibly still smoking as well, perhaps it’s time to engage in some stress reduction techniques that will assist you in being happier at home and at work while also improving your health.
From mindfulness-based stress reduction and yoga to coaching and smoking cessation programs, there are so many ways for nurses to improve their health, put an end to bad habits, and instill healthier habits in their daily lives.
The health and well-being of our country depends on nurses. Therefore, our collective well-being also depends on us nurses caring for ourselves as well as we care for others.
So, are you still smoking? Isn’t it time to consider your own well-being, longevity and personal wellness, not to mention your ability to educate your patients in terms of their own health?
It’s time for nurses to walk their talk. And that includes leaving practices like smoking in the dustbin.