The scene has become all too familiar in nursing. Another shift begins and your unit is short-staffed. The floor is in chaos, with call bells going off and alarms sounding. You see certified nursing assistants (CNAs) and nurse colleagues struggling to answer alarms or call bells so patients can stay safe. Often, you'll see a nurse or a tech struggling with so many challenges that they appear distraught and broken. You hear CNAs whispering among themselves, saying things such as, “She's the only one who helped.”
Yet, there are always one or two nurses or CNAs who pass by as though they hear nothing, as though they aren't a part of the ensuing chaos. They watch their coworkers sinking without offering a lifesaver. This type of “It isn't my responsibility, someone else will take care of it” attitude has become an increasing problem in nursing and it begs the question, “Why are we really here?”
The good, the bad, and the ugly
My belief is that there are many issues in nursing that will continue to bring us down as a profession. Some are easily fixed, such as better communication among our peers, whereas others, such as mandatory safe staffing legislation, take more effort. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, nursing is the largest healthcare profession, holding 2.7 million jobs in 2012 alone. We are a group that can be powerful if unified, yet many nurses bicker among themselves, refuse to help each other when in need, and bully each other by gossiping or ostracizing. Instead of receiving guidance, new nurses are torn down and burn out quickly due to ineffective leadership and unrealistic demands.
The positive side is that there are still many of us in the field who want to spread the “love” to others who've lost their way. I've often said that I was born to be a nurse because of the passion I feel whenever I'm at the bedside with my patients. I went into nursing because I've always wanted to help others and render comfort when people are sick or in need.
If you've ever been a patient in a hospital, then you know how difficult the experience can be. Our patients lie in bed all day waiting for physicians, test results, their meals, a drink, and someone to escort them to the bathroom because they're connected to so much equipment. Ultimately, they have to give up control and place it in someone else's hands. They often lose their sense of independence, along with experiencing feelings of embarrassment or shame.
We chose this profession to care for patients, often during their worst times. This includes standards of conduct not only seen in our hospital policies and the American Nurses Association Code of Ethics, but also as something we do that's morally right and good. At what point did so many lose sight of that? Our patients deserve safety and their dignity. Every one of us has a responsibility to not only help our patients, but also each other. I've seen coworkers with a difficult assignment who are left to do things as best they can; meanwhile, another nurse sits by texting or on Facebook, polishing her nails or napping (yes, I've seen all of these being done).
As a team, we all succeed; as individuals, I believe we often fail. Nursing is supposed to be both an art and a science. Although the science grows and is impressive, the art seems to be losing momentum. In my own career, I'm making strides to leave my beloved bedside nursing. My passion for nursing remains high, but my frustration with the lack of caring by some has also risen. I'm choosing to branch off into a different path in nursing, with the hope of fostering and nurturing our future caregivers.
Mindfulness goes a long way
So now that we've looked at some of the areas that are falling short, I'd like to focus on how we can practice being more mindful. One thing to remember is that moment when you knew you wanted to be a nurse. Try to keep that moment near so that when you have a rough shift, you can ground yourself again. Also remember that we took an oath as nurses to provide care to all, regardless of their background or history.
Burnout creeps up on you, so try to be aware of the warning signs, such as lack of caring, negative emotions and negative speak, calling off work, feelings of dread, and feeling tired and stressed. The following are tips for dealing with stress and burnout:
- Get enough sleep. Nurses who take a 2-hour nap before a 12-hour shift aren't doing their bodies or minds justice. Seven to 8 hours of sleep is preferable to do your job safely.
- Realize you only have one life and that you can't get a do-over. Make the most of it, work, but allow yourself a reward such as a day or night on the town, a vacation, or even a “staycation.” It doesn't have to break the bank, but it should be something relaxing to recharge your batteries.
- Step away from the madness when you feel a meltdown brewing. Ask a coworker, your charge nurse, or your house supervisor to support your efforts to handle a stressful situation in a healthy way.
- Find a quiet and private place to regroup; sometimes, just taking deep breaths is helpful.
When dealing with colleagues who don't seem to care anymore, try the following:
- Talk to them. Just the idea that someone is listening makes a difference.
- Get organized, maybe with a nurse support group to talk and destress.
- Involve management in an attempt to find a reason why some nurses just don't seem to care anymore.
- For those nurses who are resistant to change, try to avoid casual interactions because their negative emotions can be infectious, increasing your personal stress levels.
Reigniting our passion
It's my sincere wish that we all take a step back and remember why we went into this field; hopefully, a spark will be lit and feelings renewed. When we get to a point of not caring, I respectfully ask: Why not leave the field? Negative emotions are seen and felt by patients and coworkers, and they have the potential to spread. Civility and decency need to be restored to our profession. Please take a moment and remember why we're here.