Five Ways Nurses Can Achieve Work-Life Integration

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By Leilani Fraley, RN, contributor

March 11, 2014 - Burned out. Drained. Drowning. From the medicine room to the break room, nurses repeatedly echo these sentiments.

How can nurses keep from becoming overwhelmed by the demands of their professional and personal lives? How do they prevent work-related events from spilling into other areas?

In the December 2013 issue of Bold Voices, Vicki Good, RN, MSN, CENP, president of the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses (AACN), suggests a paradigm shift. Rather than grasping for the elusive work-life balance, she encourages a work-life blend.

“Our step forward becomes one that recognizes the inevitable push-and-pull of the spiritual, family, work and community elements in our lives and seeks to blend them so each element brings support to others,” Good shares in “Blend or Balance?

Nurses can take steps to create synergy and be more effective in all areas of their lives, including these practical suggestions offered by nurses in the field:

1. Set reasonable expectations and recruit support. 

Heidy Juneau, RN, BSN, warns against misnomers such as “super mom” or “super nurse.”

“Continue living and working at a breakneck pace and your weaknesses will inevitably reveal themselves,” the critical-care nurse concedes. “If and when support is needed, ask your significant other, family, co-workers, supervisors--anyone qualified to provide that assistance. Just as raising a family is a team dynamic, so is delivering safe, compassionate care.”

2. Carve out a career path that fits your skills and preferences. 

Job dissatisfaction can add to feelings of stress, but there are numerous options to advance your nursing career and find the right “fit.”

“I’d suggest new nurses work at the bedside for a solid five years to hone their critical-thinking and practical skills, then take the opportunity to venture into other areas of nursing [if that’s their goal],” states Juneau, who has also worked as an RN for a major movie studio. “We often have tunnel vision when it comes to nursing, thinking that bedside care is the only career option we have. But there are many gratifying opportunities in addition to bedside nursing.”

3. Monitor personal vital signs and act appropriately. 

“It’s important to recognize when you’re becoming stressed or burned out and try to circumvent the process,” says Susan Grady, RN, BSN, CRRN, an acute rehabilitation nurse at St. Jude Medical Center in Fullerton, Calif.  She emphasizes early recognition of symptoms--such as headaches, insomnia and irritability--may help shorten the recovery process.

“On rare occasions I give myself permission to take a ‘mental health’ day,” continues Grady. “Bedside care can deplete every bit of reserve we [nurses] have. I believe it’s safer and smarter to stay home and regroup than provide care in a compromised physical, mental or emotional state.”

4. Invest in making a difference in your profession. 

Grady also suggests stewarding the evolution of nursing practice through involvement with professional nursing organizations, leadership or shared-governance committees.

“By participating in the grassroots development and implementation of evidence-based tactics to improve the delivery, safety and efficiency of patient care, increase organizational effectiveness and enhance nursing practice, nurses often feel a deeper connection with and are empowered to effect change,” Grady states.  “Reclaim the reins and boldly carve innovative pathways for evidence-based [nursing] practice. It starts with one voice, one action.”

5. Engage in meaningful activities outside of work. 

Juvy Loganbill reconnects with nature, aiding in work-life balance.
The Kaluanui Hiking Trail on the island of Oahu, Hawaii, is one place where Juvy Loganbill, RN, goes to reconnect with nature, allowing her to "refuel" and find serenity.

From the white-sand beaches at Lanikai and Sherwoods to the scenic trails at Kaluanui Ridge and Maunawili Falls, Juvy Loganbill, RN, finds serenity in reconnecting with nature. Fortunately, for the Kailua, [Oahu] Hawaii-based RN, pristine shorelines and sweeping vistas are a stone’s throw from her coastal home.

“I work hard, play hard,” said Loganbill, who works at Castle Medical Center. “I swim, surf, hike or simply turn on the tunes and bask in the beauty of my Hawaiian paradise. Nature is my therapy, my sanctuary, my way to refuel.”

Ruth Benitez, RN, MSN, NP, pediatric nurse manager at White Memorial Medical Center in Los Angeles, suggests scaling back on overtime shifts and thoughtfully considering how that extra money will be spent.

“Habitually working overtime for a single employer or through multiple [nursing] jobs can quickly lead to burnout,” Benitez cautions. “Don’t ‘live to work; work to live.’ Reward your hard work by doing something meaningful with that extra money instead of routinely counting on it to pay bills.”

An avid traveler, the mother of four and grandmother of six rewards herself by regularly taking family vacations to exotic destinations.

“One of the greatest joys of my life was watching the wonder in my grandson’s eyes as we rode through Europe on the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express. Moments such as this are worth every bit of sweat and tears I’ve put into my nursing career, and I’m grateful to the nursing profession for offering me the means to share these moments with my family.”

Not one to mince words, Benitez challenges nurses struggling to achieve work-life integration to question their true motivations for engaging and staying in the nursing profession.

“Staying connected to [the human aspect] of what we do as nurses is imperative,” the veteran RN emphasizes. “The essence of nursing is about staying committed to and passionate about making a difference in our patients’ lives. When this is no longer the case, it may be time to take a break from nursing or leave the profession altogether.”


Related articles:
From the Heart of a Nurse: A Tale of Caring, Burnout and the Path to Self-care
More Employers Helping Nurses Pursue Work-Life Balance 

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