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Nursing: Sustaining the joy

I suspect everyone remembers their first job. For me, that job and those that followed have an abundance of positive memories, from fantastic colleagues to life-altering interactions with patients. There was also stress — at times more than others. Over the course of my career, one lesson I’ve learned is that stress is part of the package. Whether you’re a direct caregiver, educator, manager or administrator, there are aspects of any job that stretch our capacity and skills. After four decades in the nursing profession, I have developed some strategies to help me meet my commitments and enjoy the work. Here are some of my lessons learned.

First, find a trustworthy colleague to rely on when you need to talk privately about a tough experience or share a concern. In my case, I really appreciate not only someone I can trust, but someone to laugh with and lighten the load. We work hard and take our work seriously, but let’s not take ourselves seriously, too.

Next, be open to new possibilities. It’s OK to have dreams of a set career path, but I encourage nurses to stay open to new directions. A major part of my professional growth came from stretch assignments. In my case, I was serving as the clinical adoption executive for our Epic electronic record rollout. (My colleagues found great humor in that. I’m not known for my digital skills.) However, the experience taught me about complex system work, consensus building and change management. And it reminded me of the importance of going where the work is happening and engaging those doing the work. During each new challenge, my team members stepped up to assume many of my everyday work activities. I appreciate that more than they will ever know.

Another way to address stress is to speak up. Many nurses have concerns and fears related to the potential for violence in the workplace. We have heard you, and this is a key priority for UnityPoint Health. As a nurse, finding a workplace that values your safety is vitally important. Violence is a very real and scary part of many nursing jobs. While we want to create an exceptional patient experience, we don’t expect staff, or other patients and families, to tolerate disruptive behavior.

With the day-to-day tasks, it’s easy to forget taking time away for rest and relaxation. Some people are sprinters. They work hard and fast and sprinkle in a day off here and there. Others are marathoners, like me. I work hard for a long period of time, and then I take more extended time off to disconnect and recharge. People know when I’m gone, I’m gone. When I return, I’m refreshed from spending time with my family and in nature.

Remember, self care is an important way to have a long and enjoyable career. When you are at work, seek out the aspects of your job that bring you joy. Nursing is inherently rewarding. We just need to make sure the joy doesn’t get lost. Then, when you head home from the day, take time to think about all the good you were able to accomplish, and the lives you touched. Leave the list of things you wanted to do behind. Instead, focus on the people served and the team positively impacted. If you do this, I guarantee you will feel better when you walk in the door at home.

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Mary Ann Osborne is the Vice President of Care Transformation and the Chief Nursing Executive for UnityPoint Health.