Show Up On Your Own Radar
If you want to be a nurse, graduate from nursing school and pass NCLEX. If you want to be a nurse for a long time, learn how to show up on your own radar.
One of the many misconceptions about nurses is that we are selfless, half-angelic creatures who live to meet the needs of others at our own expense. We can juggle twelve acute care patients, answer phones, monitor scary post-ops, give back rubs, hang IVs, order missing tray items, track down lab techs, provide coffee for all the visitors, clean up the messes that housekeeping refuses to deal with, call in prescriptions, transfuse blood products, and dance a jig in the hallway, all without benefit of so much as a sandwich or a potty break.
This is bunk. (Feel free to substitute a more colorful word.)
On any given day, we can do some of these things. We may even be able to do many of these things. But we won’t be able to keep this pace up for long.
Why not? Because we’re human. It’s really that simple.
Nurses who don’t respect their limitations as mere mortals are likely to run smack dab into their own mortality. If you push yourself day after day, you’re going to run out of gas.
Am I saying nurses shouldn’t be able to handle working on a busy unit? Not at all. But if every day is crazy-painful busy, the staffing is probably inadequate. Unlike appliances, people can’t always function at top speed, and even machines have off buttons and maintenance schedules.
Like money, energy operates according to balances. If you spend more than you have, you’ll end up overdrawn. A nurse who works on a fast-paced unit that drains her account on a regular basis is going to find herself in trouble if she puts in a lot of overtime, can’t rest and recuperate properly, and/or faces serious family demands at home. Even if she can keep up with a punishing schedule for a time, what does it matter if all of the pleasure goes out of her life?
How can we keep from depleting all of our resources?
1) Refuse to compare yourself with anyone else.
Only you know your energy level, how outgoing you are, your health status, your family’s needs, etc. Others who look like superheroes might have few responsibilities outside of work, or they have more tools to help them juggle their lives, or maybe, just maybe, they aren’t doing as well as appearances suggest and it will all come crashing down at some point.
2) Talk with your partner and any kids who are old enough to understand.
Decide what’s most important to all of you and act accordingly. Expect everyone to pitch in to achieve family success. Teach pre-teens and older kids how to cook. Show everyone junior high-age on up how to do their own laundry. You don’t have to feel guilty—these are essential life skills!
3) Let go of things that cause snags.
Skip china and flatware for holidays and opt for disposables that let everyone enjoy the occasion. Decide whether it’s more cost effective to make kid clothes or work overtime. Give gift cards that delight the recipients, even if you don’t get the thrill of searching out the perfect present.
4) You have only so many hours available to you.
If you want to (and can) avoid overtime when the kids are young, do it. In fact, if part time works for you and it’s an option, give it a try. Don’t let anyone make you feel like a slacker. If part time were an option for business people, you can bet a lot of them would jump at the chance.
5) Teach your kids how to economize.
Show them cool things at the library. Pick a weekend day (not the one you work, obviously) and have everyone pitch in to make meals for the rest of the week. Trade games, books, DVDs with another family (do make a list of who is borrowing what). Visit resale shops. Buy or sell on eBay.
6) At work, do what you can without agreeing (even tacitly) to skip your breaks.
I know this can get you pegged as a trouble-maker, but it’s illegal to treat workers this way. At the very least, if you miss a meal, insist on being paid for the time. Encourage your co-workers to do this, as well. Harsh employers would make you pay for the privilege of working for them if they thought they could get away with doing so.
7) Take PTO days when you need to.
Employers who allow you to accrue PTO hours but never let you use them are dead wrong. Contact your state labor department and find out what recourse you have in this situation. If you can take time off, do it when you need to. It’s better to schedule a mental health day than to have to call in sick when your brain or body says, “Enough!”
8) Be matter of fact when someone asks you to dance on the ceiling (take on more than you can safely or sanely manage).
Don’t become flustered or offended. Just say, “Sorry, I’m not able (or willing) to do that.” If you get upset, you let the other person rattle your cage. Stay calm, and let them rant and rave. Just keep presenting a placid demeanor and watching them snit and snort. You don’t want to get in too much trouble at work, but you also don’t want to be the path of least resistance. If you are, they’ll always come to you before trying anyone else.
9) Do not do to yourself what you would not want done to your spouse or best friend.
Our limitations show where others leave off and we begin. Without these boundaries we would be used up and, in short order, disappear and cease to matter.
10) Take inventory periodically.
What works today might need tweaking two months or two years down the road. Be good to yourself. Register on your to-do list. Show up on your own radar. You’ll be able to work as a nurse (and survive as a person) much longer than if you become a martyr to the cause.Last edit by Joe V on Apr 18, '16
Dec 10, '11The nurses I work with never take lunches or breaks. I am dead serious that they walk down the hall gulping quickly a cup of soup. Never ever have I seen anyone eat. There is not time. All the HUCs have been let go so there is no one to answer phones or call lights anymore (nurses have to do it). Therefore no one eats. I have put on about 40 pounds d/t working in the southeast US. Remember, no unions and it is true that the hospitals think they are doing you a favor by just giving you employment. If you make a stink you will be let go and that is what happened to me at my last gig. By the end of next year I will be completely out of nursing God willing if the economy turns.Dec 11, '11How sad. Even so, you can take comfort, as you are doing, by telling yourself that your days in nursing are numbered. If they weren't I'd encourage you to look for a new job or to check out a new area of nursing.
People just aren't meant to function at full tilt for days on end. And when they are asked to do so, they start having physical problems or anxiety-related s/s.
I hope the economy loosens up a bit and that upper-level corporate executives start seeing that treating staff members like appliances costs them more in the long run than being decent.
One can hope.Dec 11, '11Beautiful. I love how these tidbits are not only professional in nature, but personal as well. Thank you for posting, this will certainly not be the only time I read it.Dec 14, '11Dead on pro-active advice.
New nurses will do well to print this article out for handy reference. Learning to say no, when work spills over into your personal life by trying to invade it like kudzu, is the single best word a nurse can use on a daily basis. Don't be a lonely old nurse in a hospice wishing she/he spent more time with family than on hospital overtime.
Thanks for laying the truth out there rn/writer.Aug 31, '12In 35 years of nursing, I've rarely missed a lunch break. Sometimes it's at 10 AM or 3 PM, depending upon what the day looks like. Sometimes it's 7 minutes and occaisionally it's been 45. But I've found that there isn't much that cannot wait long enough for you to take a break and eat your lunch. CPR can't wait, obviously. If you don't take care of yourself, you won't be able to take care of anyone else.
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