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5 Issues Nurses Face in Their Career
“America’s nurses are the beating heart of our medical system,” Barack Obama, the 44th president of the United States, said in a 2010 address to the American Nurses Association (ANA). “You’re on the front lines of health care in small clinics and in large hospitals, in rural towns and big cities, all across America.”1
As nurses dedicate their lives to caring for others, their own professional and personal needs may fall by the wayside. That’s why organizations like the ANA and dozens of others support and advocate for the more than 4 million U.S. nurses.2 Read on to learn about some of the challenges nurses may face today.
Being short-staffed for brief periods of time is common in most professions, and in many of those situations, it is a minor inconvenience. But in nursing, inadequate staffing can be a matter of life and death.
“Staff shortages brought about by cost-cutting decisions, an aging population, increased patient complexity and need, and an aging workforce place stress on working conditions for nurses and affects patient care and overall outcomes,” the ANA says. “An increasing body of evidence shows appropriate nurse staffing contributes to improved patient outcomes and greater satisfaction for both patients and staff.”3
In a report published with the consulting firm Avalere, the ANA recommends “that staffing levels in a value-based healthcare system should not be fixed, as day-to-day hospital requirements are constantly in flux.”4
The emotional and physical demands of caring for others place another burden on nurses. In an ANA survey of 10,688 nurses, 82% indicated they were at a significant level of risk for workplace stress.5
To help nurses combat stress, the ANA launched the Healthy Nurse, Healthy Nation™ challenge with the goal of engaging nurses, employers, and organizations around improving health in six areas: mental health, physical activity, nutrition, rest, quality of life, and safety.
“Healthy nurses are great role models for their patients, colleagues, families, and neighbors,” the ANA says.6
Safety on the Job
Many factors must come together to create a safe work environment. ANA initiatives to improve workplace safety include:
- Safe patient handling: “Back injuries are always a danger, so ANA mounted a profession-wide effort to reduce them. This campaign includes greater education and training, workplace information on increased use of assistive equipment, and efforts to reshape government ergonomics politics to protect nurses.”7
- Safe needles: One-third of ANA members feel that needlestick injuries and blood-borne infections pose a significant level of risk. “While the majority of sharps injuries involve nursing staff,” the organization says, “laboratory staff, physicians, housekeepers, and other healthcare workers can also be at risk and need protection. ANA is working to reduce those risks through education and legislation: arming health care professionals with the guidelines and resources to prevent injuries; and their employers with the ability to create workplace environments where they can do so.”8
“Healthcare and social service workers face an increased risk of work-related assaults resulting primarily from violent behavior of their patients, clients, and/or residents,” the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) writes in Guidelines for Preventing Workplace Violence for Healthcare and Social Service Workers. “While no specific diagnosis or type of patient predicts future violence, epidemiological studies consistently demonstrate that inpatient and acute psychiatric services, geriatric long-term care settings, high-volume urban emergency departments, and residential and day social services present the highest risks.”9
OSHA, the ANA, and many other organizations are focused on preventing violent incidences through regulations, guidelines, and education. “No staff nurse should have to deal with violence in the workplace, whether from staff, patients, or visitors,” the ANA says.7
This is an issue inextricably linked with the nursing profession.
“‘Care for yourself so you can care for others’ … an age-old adage that is easily forgotten in our jam-packed personal and professional lives. As caregivers, nurses have been socialized to care for others and thus often prioritize their needs as second,” writes Margo Halm, RN, PhD, NEA-BC, in an article published in the American Journal of Critical Care. “Self-care remains vital for nurses to ease the detrimental effects of stress in the constantly and rapidly changing healthcare environment and to prevent progression of those effects to burnout, which can have devastating consequences for nurses and those under their care.”10
A full day of pampering may be unrealistic on a routine basis, but the good news is that self-care can be nourishing and lasting when enjoyed in small bites. Go for a walk or a run, visit with friends, work in the garden, read a book by a favorite or new author, binge a few episodes of a TV show, meditate, or practice a little retail therapy. Grab on to what helps you unwind and make it a regular part of your routine.
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