Nursing News

Conference Spotlights the Importance of Nurses’ Own Health

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By Jennifer Larson, contributor 

 June 14, 2012 - Nurses are educators, care providers and advocates. They are also role models.

But that’s the part that can get tricky. So often, nurses have devoted so much of themselves to caring for others that addressing their own needs get pushed pretty far down on the “to do” list.

“We are often so busy caring for others…that we get too busy to take care of ourselves,” said Suzy Harrington, DNP, MCHES, RN, director of the American Nurses Association’s Center for Occupational and Environmental Health.

Last fall, the center, which oversees efforts and initiatives like the Healthy Nurse initiative, hosted a small conference that focused on health and wellness for nurses. It was so well-received, Harrington said, that the ANA decided to think bigger.

The result was a one-day conference held June 14 that focused on helping nurses learn more about healthy lifestyles and finding ways to incorporate some of those strategies into their own lives. Approximately 450 people registered for the event, which featured fun break-time activities like “salsa in your seat” and healthy snacks.

And since the theme was “Nurses as Models of Wellness in Action,” the conference also dealt with the role that nurses play as role models to their patients, families and the larger community.

How much influence do nurses have? Take the numbers of nurses in the current workforce: 3.1 million. Harrington noted that if each of those nurses influences only one person, that’s 3.1 million people. And of course, nurses are in contact with dozens of people each day on the job--and even more in their personal lives.

It’s important for nurses to focus on being healthy so that, among other benefits, they can be good examples.

But work remains to be done on that front. A 2011 article in the International Journal of Nursing Practice titled "Registered Nurses' Beliefs of the Benefits of Exercise, Their Exercise Behavior and Their Patient Teaching Regarding Exercise” explained that many  nurses may not be modeling good behavior when it comes to exercise. And their attitudes toward exercise matter beyond their own health because nurses who believe in exercise are more likely to promote it to their patients.

During the conference, featured speaker David Hrabe, Ph.D., RN, discussed energy management and the importance of meeting the body’s needs. It’s an important issue for nurses because many of them take pride in the hard work that they put in on their shifts. They may resist acknowledging that they need breaks, and that they need time to recover, he pointed out. Then, they find themselves suffering from fatigue, which can affect their work.

“We see in the studies of fatigue and nurses the problems that begin to occur after eight hours, after 12 hours, and the error rate just continues to rise,” said Hrabe, who is the executive director for academic innovations and partnerships at The Ohio State University College of Nursing.

These situations may sound familiar to a number of nurses who need to manage their energy better in order to perform their jobs at their optimal level.

Hrabe said that recognizing that the path you’re on is not getting you where you want to go is the first step toward change. You should ask yourself: How is your physical health? What is your diet like, your activity level? How are your relationships? Where do you stand, and what needs to be improved?

He called this process “facing the truth,” a process that he went through a few years ago when he realized that he needed to improve his own health. It was a process that took time, though.

Hrabe recommends that nurses take a look at their priorities and where they expend the most energy. For example, do you say that you value your health but never exercise and eat a lot of junk food?

“That’s one of the first things to take a look at: how your values align,” Hrabe said.

He would like people to take stock of their situation before they experience an actual health crisis that may force them to make changes.

“What we need to do is have a turning point way before then and turn around,” Hrabe said. “And with hope and with joy…be able to say, ‘You know, I can do this, and I am going to head in a different direction.’”

Harrington said that she hoped that nurses left the conference with inspiration to make positive changes, too.

“I hope they recognize the power that they have to make a difference,” she said.

© 2012. AMN Healthcare, Inc. All Rights Reserved.