Registered nurses (RNs) have a rewarding but challenging career. They take care of people, but they also deal with long and sometimes stressful shifts, deaths of patients, and other difficult circumstances. It can be hard for them to balance their work and home lives.
In short, being an RN is no easy feat — especially amidst a global pandemic. Here’s a look at some of the difficulties of being an RN and ways to cope with these challenges.
Physical Challenges and Workplace Hazards
Nursing shifts can be long and arduous, especially when they are back-to-back 12-hour shifts or on-call or working overtime after an already long day. Nurses often care for a high number of patients each day, trying their best to make them comfortable and use the best treatment plans. Due to the demands of the work, many nurses frequently feel burnt out or exhausted.
RNs may be asked to move or transport patients to and from rooms or beds in the hospital or facility. It’s not always easy to complete this task alone, so they often rely on help from other staff. Because of the physical nature of their job, nurses face the constant possibility of back pain, shoulder or leg injuries, and especially sore feet.
Additionally, nurses face a higher risk of contracting diseases while treating patients. There are all sorts of contagious illnesses that nurses come into contact with on a daily basis, with COVID-19 being the most pressing current threat.
Despite all the protective equipment and processes in place, there is always the chance nurses can catch something from a patient or a visitor.
Mental and Emotional Challenges
Nursing work can be exhausting in more ways than one. Lack of sleep or the chance for a break or even to just sit down during the day can result in mental health problems, such as anxiety, stress, and depression.
These problems can also stem from circumstances in the facilities where nurses work. They get to know their patients personally and care for them during their stay in the health care facility. While that aspect is incredibly fulfilling, it can be emotionally devastating to watch these patients’ health deteriorate or witness their deaths.
On-the-job stress can often carry into a nurse’s home life. Some may find it difficult to separate their home/family life and their work life. For those who can’t turn off their work brains, the stress can lead to loss of sleep or affect their personal relationships.
Nurses also face an enormous responsibility for patient health and well-being. They have to assess each patient and their situation, think of the best way to treat them and then carry out the plan. This requires nurses to think on the spot and be knowledgeable about illnesses, surgeries, medicines, and more.
There are many other pressures that come with the job. Despite the knowledge and certification that nurses have, they may face bullying in their field from more experienced nurses or medical staff and even patients and their families.
Doctors or other medical staff may not appreciate the work that the nurses do and therefore undermine their abilities. Patients or their families may also disrespect nurses by voicing concerns in a rude or aggressive manner.
In some specialties, patient aggression is common, and nurses have to constantly be on guard and ready to protect themselves, their patients, the people around them without hurting an aggressive patient. Such a constant state of alertness is mentally exhausting.
It’s become fairly well-known in the public that there’s a nursing shortage, and the current pandemic has certainly not helped. Recently, health care facilities have been facing high volumes of COVID-19 patients on top of their already busy schedules. Many nurses already work overtime to ensure patients are taken care of and that there’s enough space in the facility for those that need to be treated.
If there are nursing shortages in a facility, it can put additional stress and pressure on the current staff. That reduces the time for breaks or meals during the day. They may not be able to see each patient for a longer period of time or get to know the families involved.
It’s important for nurses to keep up with training so they can learn about new technology intended to make their jobs easier. One such technology is electronic medical records, which enables nurses to access patients’ test results, medications, allergies, etc. easily.
To learn how to use these new technologies, nurses often need to go through training, which can take up a lot of time. This can be difficult if nurses have a lot of patients to see or they’re feeling burnt out or unwell.
Coping With the Challenges of Being an RN
With such a demanding job, it’s crucial for nurses to take steps to deal with any challenges that arise and do what they can to maintain their health and wellness. Here are a few ways a nurse can be proactive in their own healthcare:
- Practice self-care. Schedule in short breaks and meals during the shift if possible. Our bodies need sufficient nutrients in order to function properly both physically and mentally. Another important and vital aspect of self-care is finding a work and home life balance and enforcing it whenever possible.
- Prioritize comfort, health, and safety. RNs should invest in compression socks and comfortable footwear for working long shifts. Wash hands thoroughly, wipe down surfaces and wear masks or other appropriate PPE while dealing with patients. If a nurse cannot lift a patient on their own, don’t be afraid to ask another nurse for help.
- Choose the facility and shifts carefully. Some health care facilities may be able to give nurses shifts that work best for their schedule. For instance, if a nurse chooses to work per-diem nursing shifts instead of being on a full-time schedule, they’ll be able to plan their work around their life and not the other way around.
- Brush up on tech skills. Technology is meant to make a nurse’s job easier and help treat patients with more efficiency. Learning how to properly use the newest technology will not only make the job easier, but it can also expand a nurse’s skills within the field.
- Voice concerns to a supervisor. Any issues that arise with coworkers, other medical staff, or patients should be recorded and discussed with a supervisor or the HR department. Workplace bullying and gossip have huge effects on workplace culture and morale, and that can affect the staff’s mental and emotional wellbeing.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for help. When starting a new job, a newly hired nurse will need advice or support from other nurses or staff. It is never a bad thing to ask for help.