Dear Healthcare Leaders: Self-Care is Not the Answer

by Nurse Writing Nook Nurse Writing Nook, BSN

Specializes in NICU (neonatal). Has 17 years experience.

Leadership within hospitals and healthcare organizations needs to step up and get to the root of the problem, instead of blaming us for not caring for ourselves enough.

Nursing Leaders: QUIT BLAMING NURSES!!

Dear Healthcare Leaders: Self-Care is Not the Answer

Self-care has become a band-aid to fix a gaping stab wound. And by gaping stab wound, I mean the work environments we are forced to endure every shift as nurses.

The system is broken. We are not broken

So why is self-care thrown out as the answer to our burnout and stress? Because it’s easier to throw a band-aid on it than to get in and fix the internal damage.

We are sad, exhausted, frustrated, and traumatized. To fix this, we are told we need more self-care. It’s up to us to fix ourselves. To fix our trauma. Not only are we expected to give our best to our patients, while being completely stressed out and working short-staffed, we are expected to fix ourselves, too. If we’re too stressed out, we obviously haven’t been caring for ourselves enough, right? That’s what is shoved down our throats at every opportunity. We are made to feel that it’s our fault for being broken. Newsflash: There are not enough bath bombs, spa days, and Netflix binges in the world to fix all the trauma we have suffered.

When are we supposed to find time for all of this self-care anyway?

On our days off, we’re bombarded with texts begging us to come in. Already worked a dozen straight shifts in a row? Doesn’t matter! I never know whether to laugh or cry when my manager sends out texts needing more staff and then adds, “I’ll throw in movie tickets and coffee coupons!” Really? Honestly, it’s a huge slap in the face. Just throwing this crap at the nurses that are literally working themselves to death and all the “thanks for all you do!”s doesn’t help anything. According to these hospital systems, self-care is OK as long as the self-care doesn’t get in the way of us staffing their mismanaged hospital. If our mental health is in despair, we must still go to work. We must work our regular shifts as well as be guilted into working extra.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t disagree with self-care

I think it’s incredibly important. However, we shouldn’t need as much self-care that’s thrown at us if we didn’t have to endure so much. Also, it doesn’t fit the circumstance. Again, it’s like fixing a major open wound with a band-aid. It’s not appropriate. Leadership within hospitals and healthcare organizations needs to step up and get to the root of the problem, not blame us for not caring for ourselves enough. We all know this isn’t new territory. We’ve been dealing with this forever. The pandemic just added a whole new layer. It added more stress to an already stressful work environment. Instead of helping us, our hospitals told us to take care of ourselves better. We are not OK. We are far beyond needing self-care. We need our trauma acknowledged and addressed, and to stop being blamed for it. This is not our fault.

Fix the horrific staffing ratios to start with ...

Also, support the nurses that build the backbone of your healthcare organization. At the very least, back us up when the patient complains because we didn’t give them their graham crackers right away like they demanded (Stop catering to the patients while kicking us when we’re already down.) And at the other, most critical end of that, back us up when we make a med error or any other kind of mistake that can happen. We are humans. Treat us like humans. It’s like going into a war zone at times with absolutely no support or backup.

We are beyond exhausted

Beyond much hope that things will get better anytime in the near future. The fix to this is not simple. It’s going to take healthcare organizations to look far beyond their bottom dollar. Maybe I’m just too pessimistic and cynical after dealing with it over the years, but I have very little faith in these leaders at this point. Or, maybe I’m just realistic. I hope I’m wrong. Even if it doesn’t happen while I’m still working as a nurse, I hope it’s better for the current nursing students. I want better for them. I want to be able to truthfully tell them it’ll be OK.

FACT: I’d love to be able to speak kindly of our profession, encourage them to become nurses, and really mean it.

I won’t sugarcoat it and I sure as heck won’t tell them to take a bubble bath and put on some slow jazz when they are crying and frustrated.

Joanne, BSN, RN, is a writer that specializes in health and wellness. She has fifteen years of experience as a Registered Nurse in the NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit). Her years working on the frontlines at the bedside enable her to write with a deep understanding of what patients want from their communities.

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20 Comment(s)

No Stars In My Eyes

Specializes in Med nurse in med-surg., float, HH, and PDN. Has 43 years experience. 2,945 Posts


ABSOLUTELY! You are 100% right. Very well written and totally to the point!  I'd like to make copies of this post and send it to every facility's "Healthcare Leaders", Administrations, Board Members....plaster it on every office door! 

Hate to say it, but I'd bet the response would be, "There's nothing we can do about it." But, a number of posts and articles spell it out. It isn't Rocket Science! 

 Are 'they' satisfied with picking their noses and collecting their paychecks? It is disgusting and shameful to blame the care-givers for really caring. But that's why they can take advantage of us. It's a 'war' between Big Business and The Art and Science of Nursing. 

I'm glad I've retired!

klone, MSN, RN

Specializes in OB-Gyn/Primary Care/Ambulatory Leadership. Has 16 years experience. 14,251 Posts

Here's a solution - when you're not working, ignore the texts and phone calls. You're the only one who cares about protecting your down time. Management is just trying to fill the staffing holes. Why did you volunteer to work a dozen straight shifts in a row?

Edited by klone

Tweety, BSN, RN

Specializes in Med-Surg, Trauma, Ortho, Neuro, Cardiac. Has 30 years experience. 31,501 Posts

I see self-care and stress management tips, diet tips and other tips in our company newsletter and ignore them.  I never thought of that as "blaming".  But yeah, after all the stress they put us through to offer stress reduction tips seems off.

I suppose we have to keep shouting from the rooftops for them to take care of us by having better ratios and work conditions, but also after 30 years, I've had to come to peace with the fact that in 30 years things haven't changed and probably won't for the rest of my working life.   Not sure if I'm a realist or a pessimist.  I do hope the next generation can accomplish what mine wasn't able to accomplish. 

 But after this time I'm also not a victim because I've chosen to stick with it and remain on the front lines.  I don't work 12 days in a row, I don't cry, I don't answer the texts and I enjoy my life outside of work and take care of myself.  it's a tough demanding job that stresses the hell out of me, but I am not jeopardizing my wellbeing for my job.  It's not worth it.  


Edited by Tweety

masscane, BSN, RN

Specializes in Psych. Has 4 years experience. 8 Posts

I used to get stressed out by all the group texts I would get from management begging for people to come in. Now I just tell myself "Staffing is not MY emergency". Staffing only screws me over on shifts where I'm already working.

And when you complain about being understaffed, you'd better believe there's a pizza party in the making. Pizza doesn't cut it for you? Try yoga on a mountaintop.

Emergent, RN

Specializes in ER. Has 29 years experience. 2 Articles; 3,982 Posts

My android phone allows me to selectively mute any number. That way you can just ignore any appeals to come in on your days off. In other words, you can ghost them.



Has 41 years experience. 3 Articles; 16 Posts

Excellent! This should go to every hospital CEO throughout the country. We have been asking for 20 years. Now it is time to demand a change. Healthcare is going through a major transition, and I believe that the new generation of nurses will be front and center with changes for the future.

No Stars In My Eyes

Specializes in Med nurse in med-surg., float, HH, and PDN. Has 43 years experience. 2,945 Posts

When I worked at 'that' agency forever, they knew me, so I could get kind of fresh when I saw their phone number was calling me .... I'd just pick up the phone and say, "No." Sometimes I would sound calmly conversational, but other times my "NO! would be emphatic. Then the CSR would laugh and fake crying and beg me, but I told them I could say no with a clear conscience because many were the times when I DID pull their butts out of fire, and they knew it! 


6,208 Posts

Self care IS the answer--it just looks different than the insulting suggestions employers give. Basically boils down to not taking on others' responsibilities.

Simple. Don't answer the phone. Block/mute the origin of the texts when you're off duty. Don't let magical thinking (e.g. this will earn me some sort of favor) lead you to pick up extra shifts when you are already needing a break.

Don't stress yourself out about the day to day workplace directives, focus on what is going to 1) make a meaningful difference in patient care 2) keep yourself out of legit serious hot water. You are there to do the nursing process you learned in school, nearly everything else is business fantasy-land BS.

Be busy with nursing while at work, avoiding all forms of drama (both major and minor) as much as possible.

Be very selective about what you allow yourself to worry/think about. The patient satisfaction scores are not your problem if you are doing your best. The staffing is not your problem.

Be VERY selective about what you allow to affect yourself emotionally. A lot of things are going wrong in general and people are going to complain and be upset (patients, families, managers, etc.). But is it about you? No. Stop taking personal offense when there is no legitimate reason to be personally offended. This becomes easier when you stop accepting responsibility for others' problems. Example: Pt says, "I've been waiting [15, 20, 30] minutes for [X]!!" That is not a gripe that requires personal offense. It may seem like it's about you, but it isn't, it's about the waiting. Which you do not control. Cooperation and decisions are required from others if "we" collectively do not want patients to ever wait for things.

All of the above is self care, and it is within your power to do it.



1,543 Posts

I agree with the others, I don’t pick up unless I WANT to.  If I want the extra money, I’ll do it, if I don’t, I don’t let those texts bother me.  IT IS within our power to say no or ignore it.  

Self care is 100% important.  Working out is my sanity saver and keeps me in check at work.  Taking 30-60 minutes for me, is very important.  

There are big problems in nursing.  Those need to be handled and dealt with.  I agree with part about catering to the silly demands of patients.  We also need more safety measures in place to protect us.  We also need better staffing.  

But there are things that are in our control.  You are an hourly employee.  Don’t give your job any power over you when you are not clocked in.  You are not responsible for what happens on your unit when you are not there.  

Take your PTO time even if it’s just a day here and there.  Plan a trip, have something exciting to look forward.  Go eat your favorite meal on your day off.  My husband and I have a standing date at my favorite local Mexican place every Saturday.  I look forward to it all week.

Separate yourself from being a nurse.  You are more than that.  Being a nurse is not your entire identity.  It’s a portion of who you are.


Specializes in RRT. 2 Posts

I’m an RT, but I agree 1000000% with this post! I see that self care garbage posted all over the department and other various places. Hospitals need to FIX THE REAL ISSUES!! Also another huge problem are suits being paper pushers that have never worked a day of bedside in their freaking lives have no idea what it’s like for us.  Ugh. 

Michelle Csergei, BSN, RN

Specializes in SNF/LTC, Wound Care, Infection Control. Has 7 years experience. 1 Article; 7 Posts

I agree with this so much. There's so much talk about self-care. I also hear the term "resilience" a lot these days. While these are good things, all the self-care and resilience in the world will not not save you from a toxic environment.