“Could you take a look at this? It really itches, and I don’t know what to do.”
“Here’s a picture of my foot. I think I got a spider bite. What should I do?”
Ask any nurse, and you’ll find that even off the clock, we are on the clock. Friends, family members, and neighbors often count on us for medical advice. Most nurses I know have stopped at the scene of a car accident they’ve passed just to make sure no one needs medical attention.
Even off the clock, we don’t stop being nurses. That’s part of the reason that a recent Gallup survey finds that once again, nurses are the most trusted professionals in the United States, with respondents rating nurses highest for ethics and honesty. The research group surveyed 805 adults and gauged respondents’ attitudes toward a number of professions, finding the top five most trusted professions are:
- Medical doctors
- Police officers
As respected as we might be, our work is difficult, and we face serious physical, mental and emotional risks on the job.
A Dangerous Profession
According to surveys by the Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), annually there are more than 35,000 back injuries to nurses serious enough to require missing work. Unfortunately, no federal laws protect nurses from injuries related to patient care. Injuries from lifting patients aren’t the only risk factor for nurses. Needle sticks, being assaulted by patients, and exposure to dangerous illnesses, medications, and chemicals all put our nation’s most trusted professionals at risk.
Want to show your favorite nurse you care? Advocate for the Nurse and Health Care Worker Protection Act that, if passed, requires a national safe patient handling, mobility, and injury prevention standard to reduce injuries to patients, nurses, and other healthcare workers.
As any nurse knows, physical illness and injury aren’t the only risks nurses face. Psychological dangers that are associated with nursing include stress, compassion fatigue, bullying, and incivility in the workplace. Every nurse I know has a patient she lost whom she can’t forget. Mine? A mom of three who left our psych ward seemingly in good spirits, with tons of coping skills and resources in place. She ran her car into a tree a week later, killing her instantly. Nurses frequently struggle with compassion fatigue – a form of burn out experienced by those who care for others. Symptoms include anger, irritability, restlessness, fatigue, poor concentration, and high job turnover.
Preventing compassion fatigue isn’t easy, but there are steps you can take to minimize the risk. Find a mentor with more experience who can provide a sense of perspective and support. Take time for hobbies and interests that aren’t work related. Cultivate relationships with friends and family members.
Shift Work Blues
I’ve worked third shift for years, and I love it. The rhythm is different, the workload is different, and I have more autonomy. But one of the things I hate the most is that long drive home in the mornings. Most night shift nurses can relate to nearly falling asleep on the way home. Sleep-deprived car accidents aren’t the only risk to working nights. Our bodies weren’t meant to work these hours, and night shift workers have increased risk of heart disease and several different types of cancer. The statistics aren’t great, but you aren’t powerless and you can make choices to help protect yourself. If you are stuck working the graveyard shift, then follow as many guidelines as you can from the Mayo Clinic: avoid stimulants such as caffeine or nicotine within a few hours of the end of your shift, make healthy exercise and eating choices, and above all, make sleep a priority, Create and stick to a sleep schedule that provides you with the most rest possible.
An Important Resource
Our jobs are hard. Between charting that never ends, code browns, staff snafus, and the general chaos of the unit, there are days I am counting down the minutes until I hit the time clock. But some days, I get an appreciation note from a colleague or patient, or I feel the satisfaction of catching and managing what could have been a medical crisis, and I realize there is no other job in the world I would rather do. For the chance to do what I love, I am grateful, and I celebrate each one of you!