I am told this year’s Nurses Week theme is “Healthy Nurse.” It is not a term I hear often. Why? Because I am a nurse, and the adage “physician, heal thyself” doesn’t only apply to doctors. Maybe that’s why the more I thought about the theme, the more I liked it.
As a nurse myself, and one who has mentored other nurses, I can tell you we are not trained to focus on our own health. In fact, while in nursing school, the rigorous curriculum we keep to—between cramming for physic, chemistry, microbiology, pathology labs and tests, not to mention the many hours of clinical requirements—there isn’t much room left in our lives for nurturing mind, body and spirit.
And once we become registered nurses, we turn our focus to the health of our patients. We celebrate a baby’s first cry in the labor delivery room. We celebrate when our patient’s fever finally breaks. We celebrate when we get a negative blood culture test result. We even celebrate when our patient has his/her first bowel movement post-op. Laugh if you want, but that is a significant indicator that a patient will recover well from surgery.
I remember doing all of these things as a practicing nurse at the bedsides. What I don’t recall is ever celebrating a healthy nurse after her shift ended, that is if it ever ended on time, which wasn’t often. Nurses often go the extra mile for everyone. We take on extra eight-hour shifts when the floor is short-staffed, just to ensure our patients have sufficient nursing coverage. We often hold our 98-percent-full bladders because a call light goes off at same time we attempt to head to the bathroom. Again, laugh if you want, but it means we don’t drink eight glasses of water daily like we advise our patients to do, just because getting to a bathroom during our shifts is often a major challenge.
Still, as I was thinking about this year’s Mind-Body-Spirit Nurses Week theme, I did find it interesting that is what we are trained to do for our patients. Much of our focus is on their minds and spirits, as we care for their bodies. We hold our patients’ hands when they are scared. We pray with our patients’ families. We touch their foreheads to see if their fever has gone down. Yet we often neglect to do these things for ourselves.
Choosing to be a nurse is a very personal decision for each and every one of us! And it is a demanding life to choose. So how does a nurse focus on these very basic elements? Perhaps for those nurses who often work night shifts, today start with having a full eight hours of sleep. For those nurses who often hold a full bladder, reflect on that one theory we preach to our patients all the time: “You’re going to get a Urinary Tract Infection (UTI) if you keep this up!”
Whatever taking care of your own mind, body and spirit means to you, try to make an effort to heal thyselves this week.
Nurses, you are the silent heroes, but you can’t be anyone’s hero if you aren’t healthy!
Lana McKenzie, RN, MHA, CCM is the Associate Executive Director of Paralyzed Veterans of America, Medical Services. She has been a nurse for 29 years, including 10 years practicing at the Department of Veterans Affairs. She leads Paralyzed Veterans of America’s national health care advocacy and policy efforts, and conducts annual health quality reviews at all 23 VA Spinal Cord Injury & Disease Centers in the U.S. and Puerto Rico. Discover more at pva.org.