If you interview 100 nurses on why we wanted to pursue this career, almost every single one of us would answer in various ways the same reason: Because I want to help people. Any nurse anywhere, at any hospital, or clinic, as long as they are directly or indirectly working with patients are helping people. So why is nurse retention and satisfaction such a problem? Why are so many experienced, compassionate nurses wanting to leave the bedside or the professional altogether?
I think a lot of it comes down to the fact that we perceive we are unappreciated and the fact that nursing is just plain hard work. We spend upwards of 13 hours (or more!) with our brains being focused in a million different directions. We panic to find the bladder scanner (where IS that thing?!) when we realize our patient hasn’t voided in six hours, all while holding our own bladder for at least the past eight. We have to immediately stop whatever we were doing to raucously stampede down the hall in our Danskos to frequent bed alarms. We wipe butts, we hang countless IV medications, we cry with our patients, we sneak endless saltines, we care, and we save lives.
While simultaneously doing all this, we can sometimes feel unappreciated and downright abused by both patients and management. So why does the occasional pizza party from leadership not entice experienced nurses to stay? Or more importantly, what are the factors that influence great nurses to stay?
I’m not going to lie, we all have to make money to survive, but Frederick Herzberg, a psychologist that developed the Motivator-Hygiene Theory, proved that money is not the top motivator for why people love and stay at a particular workplace. Motivators like shared governance, culture, and great co-workers and management were among some of the top reasons. These are extrinsic factors for workplace retention. What I am more interested in for this article are the intrinsic reasons.
What fills your cup to keep you coming to work every day? How do we, as compassionate and caring individuals reconnect with our why and bring the lightness back into nursing? Here are three tips for you to bring a little love back into your nursing practice and reconnect with your why. Better yet, I challenge you to do each of these things every shift. If you do, make sure to tell me about it in the comments!
Burnout is a real thing, and it can happen to any nurse. It can happen at any point in your career – even for new nurses!
Read one of my other posts with a new tool from renowned psychiatrist, Dr. Heim, to prevent burnout.
1. Truly Connect with One Patient Each Shift
Nurses spend the most time of any other health professional in direct contact with patients. We are the front line soldiers in the battlefield of patient wellness. It may feel like we are too inundated with too many tasks to be able to connect with our patients. It can be hard to spend too much time doing any one thing when you have a call light going off in one room, IV antibiotics to hang in another room, and you haven’t even started assessments yet, but carve out five minutes to spend human time with at least one patient.
While you are doing your assessment, you can simultaneously be assessing cognitive function. When you are helping a patient ambulate down the hall, you can ask them where they’re from.
One question that sparks joy for me, is asking how long they have been married to their husband or wife, especially if it’s an older couple. I take the time to thank them for their commitment to each other and to their love. I like to ask them what their secret is to 60 years of marriage, and the answers might surprise you.
“As an extra challenge, take time trying to connect with the difficult patients. “
You can ask them anything, and if you can’t think of something, it can be as inconsequential as your mutual love of peanut butter (I have bonded with many a patient over peanut butter). For an extra challenge, make the patient you connect with the patient that is the hardest one to connect with. You know the patient that has been on the unit for awhile and people often dread being assigned to – the so called “one and done” patient. These are the people who often need the most love and connection.
On your hardest shifts and with your most difficult patients, it can help to have a positive personal mantra to steady yourself. Read my post with over 20 personal mantras to get you through your most difficult shifts.
2. Help a Coworker
Every charge nurse knows the anxiety of trying to make perfect assignments. We aim to curate fair and equitable assignments so that acuities, ADLs, and personalities all align so that no one has too many Q2 turns, heparin drips, surgical drains or ostomies.
Sometimes, the charge leaves the unit thinking the stars perfectly aligned in the assignments and it would be a great oncoming shift, and then it turns out that Mercury is way in retrograde. Almost inevitably, one nurse seems to have everything go absolutely bonkers.
Check in with this person every time you pass them in the hallway. Don’t just ask them if they need any help. Some people have the ability to actually tell you what they need help with, but chances are most of the time they will say they can handle it. Nurses have a tendency to want to be in control and to know every detail of what’s going on with their patient. This is usually a good thing. But there are things that really anyone can do – like dropping off some fresh water or saltines.
A better thing to say to these frazzled friends is: Tell me one thing I can do to help you right now? This is less vague than just asking someone if they need help and is more likely to get them to actually ask for something.
You’re busy too, I get it, but maybe they just need to hang a new bag of fluid or even just reassure a patient they will be coming in soon. Sometimes they will ask for something more time consuming. If you have time right then, great! Do it. If you don’t have the time right at that second, give them a clear expectation. You can tell them something along the lines of, “I’m going to take my patient to the bathroom and then I can draw those labs in 10 minutes.”
I think you’ll find that helping your co-workers feels just as rewarding as helping your patients. This will also go a long way in creating a more positive and cooperative work environment. As a newbie to the unit being friendly and helpful to your fellow nurses will really help you feel like part of the team and the team will really appreciate all your help. Also, chances are very high that someday you will be the one with the black cloud assignment.
3. Take a Second to Practice Self-Care
I don’t need to tell you that nurses are often so completely focused on helping and giving themselves to others that they very frequently forget to care for themselves. You have heard it over and over again that self-care is important to prevent burnout and compassion fatigue, and it’s so important that I’m going to tell you again.
When I say that you need to practice self-care it is because it’s not always going to be easy, but like nailing your IV sticks it will get easier with practice and dedication. So, you may be staring at this sentence thinking: How the heck am I supposed to practice self-care during my shift?
The outside-of-work self-care like running, date nights, or a big glass of wine are super necessary, but there are practices that you can incorporate into your busy shifts. For example, on the nights that I feel like a door-to-door salesman peddling oxycodone and vancomycin, seemingly unable to even blink between running to the next patient’s room, I focus on one breath.
With one hand on the door handle, I pause to take one deep breath in through my nose and exhale an equally long breath out my mouth. This activates a biofeedback process that allows my heart rate to slow down just a little, and my brain to refocus on the next task. This practice really helps me to not only feel more present, but patients can also sense and feel when we are rushed. That sensation doesn’t make patients feel good.
Another way you can practice self-care during your shift is taking a 30 second stretch break while you are charting. Self-care can be as simple and quick as actually going to the bathroom, taking a sip (or gulp) of water, or handing your phone to a coworker to be able to eat your lunch without triggering your alarm fatigue. Whatever ways you find to take care of yourself during your shift will benefit the patients and others around you more than if you run yourself ragged.
It is so important to dedicate time to taking care of yourself when you aren’t busy taking care of everyone else. Read my other post with tips to maintain healthy habits during stressful times.
Why did you want to become a nurse?
Nursing is hard and it’s especially hard when you are still getting the hang of things and figuring out your flow. There are so many things to focus on and learn that it is easy to forget why you wanted to be a nurse in the first place.
Take these tips and use them to reconnect with your reason for why you became a nurse in the first place: the patients! I challenge you to do each of these three things in your next shift. When you’ve done that, come back and tell me about it and how it made you feel.
What are other ways that you have found that help you love your job and not feel like you need a career change?
As always, I would love to connect on social!
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