As our last blog post made clear, the types of health concerns nurses may face are vast and not always easily solved. Whether a nurse is dealing with a concerning amount of physical activity, unsafe environments, lack of sleep, irregular and unhealthy diet, poor quality of life, or some terrible combination, the effects can be severe. This second post will highlight some of those effects – ones that might come to influence your clients – and ways in which they might be addressed.
The Impacts of an Unwell Nurse
Whether a nurse is lacking sleep or is struggling with musculoskeletal pain, the negative effects of a medical professional not feeling well are concerning for three main groups:
- As someone whose profession is to care for others, being a danger to those you want to help is one of the worst possible feelings. Unfortunately, many of the concerns highlighted in our last post can lead to such dangers. For instance, one study found that depression, which is common among nurses, is linked to higher likelihood of making medical errors.The study also found that nurses reporting sub-optimal physical or mental health in general were more likely to report medical errors.Additionally, fatigue from feeling poorly, lacking proper sustenance, lacking sleep can cause lapses in memory, decreased motor skills, and impaired judgment,as we pointed out in a past post on sleep deprivation. If you’re not feeling good or alert, you risk hurting those you are trying to help.
- Ideally, medical teams engage in good communication practices and regard each other professionally and respectfully. However, when you’re not your best self because you’re in pain, you’re tired, you’re hungry, or you don’t feel safe, all of those good practices can be tossed out the window. Irritability, reclusiveness, grogginess, inability to concentrate, and mood swings have nothing but negative impacts on relationships, work or otherwise. If relationships are to remain strong and communication reliable, nurses need to be at their best – which is much harder if they are struggling from a lack of self-care.
- While it may be a nurse’s tendency to worry about themselves last, it’s critical to recognize the worth of your own health, not just for the sake of others. A poor diet can lead to obesity. Sleep deprivation is linked to cancer.Musculoskeletal injuries on the job can lead to life-long pain.And if you feel unsafe or burned out, your quality of life might simply not make being in the nursing profession worth it. Unhappiness and unhealthiness are good for no one, and nurses need to take steps to address these problems not just for those around them, but for their own good.
What Can Be Done to Reduce These Concerns
There are no fast cures for any of these problems; they are largely systemic and indicative of the naturally stressful job of being a medical staff person in the middle of a nursing shortage. However, there are actions we can take:
- Take care of yourself, nurses!Make your health a priority. Don’t make excuses that you’ll “sleep when I’m dead” or “start my diet tomorrow”; make an effort to prove to yourself that you matter. Learn some meditation exercises, stick up for yourself, and make it clear you will not tolerate an unsafe environment. While much still needs to be done at the administrative level, sometimes you have to start with yourself.
- Hospitals can offer stress-reducing interventions.A group of researchers at Ohio State University implemented a study in which they exposed nurses to mindfulness-based interventions.After 8 weeks of mindfulness activities, yoga, and meditation, the researchers found participants had lower stress levels and lower levels of burnout.The success of this study shows the importance of monitoring nurse stress levels, and provides a model from which to create similar programs in other clinical settings.
- Make healthy meals available.If you are a grateful patient, or an administrator with the ability to provide snacks and health menu items in hospital cafeterias, consider giving nurses something to eat that is nutritious instead of caloric. Likewise, if you are a nurse pack nutritionally dense snacks (as in nuts or protein bars) that are healthy, high in protein and can be eaten on the go.
- Build a culture of well-being. Hospitals can limit long shifts and provide easy access, evidence-based resources for physical and mental health, including depression screenings.Having someone on staff specifically to monitor nurse well-being and provide such resources could be helpful too. This can keep nursing staff rates up, nurse health in check, and patients safer.
Self–care can seem hard to justify when other things feel more pressing, but it needs to be a priority. Hospitals and nurses both have an obligation to prioritize staff wellbeing, because responsibility is on both parties if something goes awry.
“Nurses’ depression tied to increased likelihood of medical errors,” Ohio State University, Oct. 24, 2017, https://news.osu.edu/news/2017/10/24/nurses-depression-tied-to-increased-likelihood-of-medical-errors/
Hamblin, James, “No Doctor Should Work 30 Straight Hours Without Sleep,” The Atlantic, Dec. 15, 2016, https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2016/12/no-doctor-should-work-30-straight-hours/510395/
Pietrangelo, Ann, “The Effects of Sleep Deprivation on the Body,” Healthline, Aug. 19, 2014, http://healthline.com/health/sleep-deprivation/effects-on-body
Ngan, K., Drebit, S., Siow, S., Yu, S., Keen, D., and H. Alamgir, “Risks and causes of musculoskeletal injuries among health care workers,” Occupational Medicine, 60(5), May 16, 2010, https://academic.oup.com/occmed/article/60/5/389/1384828
“Ohio State Study: ICU Nurses Benefit From Workplace Intervention To Reduce Stress,” Ohio State University, May 11, 2015,
“Nurses’ depression tied to increased likelihood of medical errors,”