Eating Hacks for the Busy Nurse

Eating Hacks for the Busy Nurse

As nurses, and even nursing students, we all know how difficult it can be to balance eating at work. It should be easy to eat, right? You may be a nurse if you relate to any of the following:

  • What’s eating? There is no time to eat. None. Zilch. Zippo.
  • After you cath someone, insert a rectal tube, and empty a fresh wound vac you simply have no desire (or need at this point) to eat.
  • The cafeteria has served the same taco salad for the last four days that you’ve worked. Does anyone else notice that?
  • You wear Invisalign (like me) and have no desire to put your MRSA covered hands in your mouth to remove your retainer or brush your teeth in a hospital bathroom after you eat.
  • The doctors have been next door rounding for an hour and your patient is next (cue the jeopardy jingle).
  • Your favorite hall buddy has been on her 30 minute break for an hour and 10 now. (The jeopardy jingle continues…)
  • Who even has time to pack a lunch when you get home at 8:30 and have to be back the next day?
  • You get full-blown judged by the “normal suit and tie” people when they see you walk in with a cooler containing a breakfast, a lunch, a snack, an afternoon soda, an afternoon sweet, and a partridge in a pear tree.
  • By the time you finally do get to eat at 3 pm you’re as good as drunk and you go for whatever is in sight in the break room: cake, cookies, chips—and topped off with a grilled cheese and tots from the café.
  • Your “normal suit and tie” friends post IG stories eating an Açaí bowl or a fresh Chipotle bowl or a kale salad with their coworkers (who are also wearing the cutest Banana Republic outfits) while you eat applesauce and PB&J in the break room while everyone around you complains about poop.

So, my friends, it’s time to fix this problem. Here’s another list for you, because all blogs are more fun to read in numerical list form, right?

1. Avoid eating in the break room.

Tag team with a buddy and go eat outside. Seriously, it’s amazing what 30 minutes in the fresh air does for your mind. Northern friends: I have no clue what to tell you right now.

2. Meal prep.

Nothing crazy, but keep reading to learn some legit good and easy meals you can make at home and have ready for three in a row.

3. Order takeout once a month.

Not everyone can get on board with the meal prep, so treat yourself to a real meal once in a while if you are eating sandwiches and café food all the time (and even if you are meal prepping!).

4. Plan a potluck.

Best way to celebrate a holiday as a nurse? Potluck, potluck, potluck. All the luck transfers to your patients so it’s a win-win.

5. Plan your breaks ahead of time if you can with your hall mates.

If you have a mate that doesn’t do too great (ah, poet and I didn’t even know it) with coming back on time, suggest that you go first after you finish this and then you’ll be back by xx:xx. Letting your buddy know that you respect her break might awaken her to reciprocating.

Pro tip: Nursing students everywhere, please don’t be afraid to tell your preceptor you need a break. I almost passed out once waiting for my preceptor to finally take a break. You are a student and you are totally allowed to pull that card and take a full 30-minute break. Believe me, you’ll have your days of missing your break and starving.

And finally, some of my favorite “easy to eat” things to meal prep and pack for lunch include:

  • Egg muffins! One of my friends taught me this recipe. Simply mix up some eggs, ham, cheese, tomatoes (or whatever you like), and pour it into a greased muffin pan for a yummy take-with-you breakfast. If I’m bringing breakfast to eat at work, I usually make breakfast burritos and freeze them or simply make a big batch of scrambled eggs, mixed veggies, and sausage to eat! It’s a small enough meal that can be eaten quickly with roughly the same nutrition in some of these super dense granola bars that aren’t always the healthiest.
  • Pasta and veggies. Pasta sauce and mix veggies (spinach, kale, tomatoes, peppers, etc.) go great together and make a super easy lunch. For a healthy mix up, try pairing it with black bean pasta!
  • Sweet potatoes. Every week I make two sweet potatoes, a big bowl of stir fried veggies, and bake two chicken breasts. Mix it up! Shred the chicken and put it over a sweet potato with barbecue sauce and goat cheese…weird, but delicious! Or chop up your chicken breast and make a southwest bowl with mashed sweet potatoes, corn, black beans, salsa, and lettuce. It’s all about finding foods that you can use for multiple things.
  • A salad bar in your fridge is a great way to mix it up as well. Put items like strawberries, blueberries, slivered almonds, pepitas, dried cranberries, hard-boiled eggs, carrot slices, etc. into tupperware and have your lettuce washed and dried in a big container in the fridge. You can pull out the toppings you want and instantly make a delicious salad and save $7. Pro tip: the cafeteria usually has little 2 oz containers you can use to pre-package your salad dressing!

Hope you enjoy these tips! Please share your favorite recipes with us in the comments.

How to Create a Nursing Portfolio

How to Create a Nursing Portfolio

Prior to starting my first nursing job, I hadn’t heard of a nursing portfolio. As far as I was concerned, all the important documents representing my nursing career were a mumbo jumbo pile somewhere in between my nursing school books and my long lost social security card on my black hole of a bookshelf. Every time someone asked me for my CPR card it was a five-day task that got moved to the bottom of my to-do list each day. When I started my nursing residency at my new job, I was told i was going to have to create a portfolio. I dreaded this, too. I continued to put everything in a pile on my bookshelf until the week before it was due. While that wasn’t the best idea, the outcome was fantastic. I now have a large binder that is my go-to for anything nursing related.

So what is it, and how do you make one?

A nursing portfolio is a compilation of anything and everything nursing related. The idea is to have everything in one place so that when you apply for a new position, apply for certification, or are asked for a copy of your CPR card, you’ve got it in a second! Some items that I included in my portfolio are:

  • Nursing license
  • College diplomas
  • BLS Card, ACLS Card, PALS Card
  • Letters of recommendation
  • Copy of resume & CV
  • Copy of Daisy nominations
  • Copy of recognitions from coworkers
  • Copy of all certificates for training, classes, etc.
  • A collegiate writing sample
  • Evidence of committee/hospital involvement
  • Thank you notes from coworkers and families of patients
  • CEU certificates
  • Transcripts from nursing school
  • Evidence of community involvement
  • Copies of evaluations
  • Copy of professional presentation posters

Start by gathering items like these. Place them all in a box if you need to, or spread them out over your entire dining room table and drive your family crazy (like I did). Then, start organizing them into sections like professional development, community involvement, education, recognition, CEUs, etc. I strongly recommend organizing your portfolio using labeled tabs so you can easily find something or easily open up to a specific document if asked to do so in an interview. I stuck to six sections total so I wasn’t overwhelmed.

Other hints from my residency director (also known as the lady who knows this stuff inside and out!) include remembering that nursing portfolios are professional—they are not a scrapbook! As tempting as it is to add decorative pages, pretty colors, etc., do keep in mind that this portfolio is to be used as a collection of all of your professional accomplishments. As such, a handy dandy tool for your portfolio are page protectors. I went ahead and invested in a 500 count box and placed several extra at the end when I was finished. When i get a certificate now, instead of throwing it on my bookshelf, I at least put it in a page protector in the back so I can organize it the next time I sit down to refresh my portfolio.

Feel free to add anything relevant to your career, whether it be work-related or not. For instance, if you work on a neuro unit and volunteer with children with spinal cord injuries, you would definitely want to include something about your experience. You can type a simple word document outlining your duties, role, hours spent, etc. and have it in your portfolio. This would be a place that would be acceptable to place a picture or two of your volunteering experience.

Finally, get creative! Think: if everyone else had a portfolio, what would make mine stand out? While your nursing license and college degrees are essential, everyone has these items. Don’t forget the little things that make your career special—notes from families and patients, pictures and articles of you in your hospital newsletter, and so on. These not only make your portfolio more appealing and personal if you utilize it in an interview or professional setting, but also will make it that much more memorable in 20 years when you can look back on everything you have accomplished.

I hope these tips will help you get started. Feel free to comment any other suggestions you have or questions you have for me. Good luck and happy organizing! I guarantee you’ll thank me next time you have to provide your CPR card.

How to Not Miss the Holidays While On Duty

How to Not Miss the Holidays While On Duty

The holidays are a bittersweet time as a nurse. It’s inevitable that at some point during the year all of us will work a holiday. Coping with working a holiday can be difficult, whether it be Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah, New Years, etc. But the holidays are also some of the most important days to be a nurse. To share the birth of a baby, a child’s first ER experience, grandma’s heart surgery, or the death of a loved one on a holiday are all life experiences that don’t stop just because it’s Christmas. This year I’m coming up on working my first Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, so I came up with some ideas to help us get through the holidays.

Here are some tips for not missing the holidays while you miss the holidays.

1. Reschedule your day.

This year my family and I did “Christmas” on the 21st and we’re doing family dinner on the 26th. When scheduling yourself, avoid working the whole weekend unless you really want to. It’s tempting to work 3 in a row and “get them out of the way,” but don’t forget your mental health! Working 3 in a row is tough in general; never mind when it’s the holidays. If it’s inevitable or you were moved around on the schedule (this never happens in nursing, right?!), do your best to switch with someone not working the holiday or pick a day after the holiday to celebrate!

2. Reschedule your day with coworkers.

No one understands working the holidays better than your coworkers and friends. My best friend from nursing school and I designate a day every year to open gifts via FaceTime. Other coworkers and I have been celebrating Christmas since November! Treat yourselves to a wild Monday night dinner party with your coworkers—and sneak a laugh at the “regular” world who has to wake up the next morning for work!

3. Plan a celebration at work.

Based on the sign-up sheet in the lounge, it appears I might be eating better at work on Christmas than I would at home! Potluck meals are a great way to share time with coworkers. We may not have time to pee, but even in the busiest units nurses always manage to make time to eat! Am I right?

4. Be festive.

I’ve been in Target about 20 times in December and i haven’t managed to leave once without a cute pair of socks or a fun Christmas headband. There’s no better excuse for cute, tacky, over-the-top Christmas gear than being a nurse!

5. Do a secret Santa at work.

This year, my unit did a $25 secret Santa that went on all of December! We bought 3 gifts and delivered one each week to our secret Santa. On Christmas morning we will all bring our final gift and reveal our identity. It’s a great way to give and get fun gifts if you’re tired of your mom counting toothpaste and socks as Christmas gifts.

6. Be present.

It’s tempting to check your phone while at work, but avoid too much social media. Your non-nursing friends and family will surely text you and “wish you were there” but saving all that jazz for later helps you to be present and enjoy the festivities that you and your coworkers have planned. Even if you’re not having a great day, the patients aren’t doing well, and everyone else is in a bad mood, take a walk downstairs. I guarantee your hospital has some holiday decor waiting to be enjoyed somewhere. Heck, i even did my Black Friday shopping at the gift shop. Be creative!

7. Decorate your work space.

Target (yet again) has wonderful battery powered lights. The halls may not be decked, but my computer definitely will be. If no one else is taking the initiative, hit the Dollar Tree and go wild with the lounge. A mini Christmas tree, lights, candy canes—the whole nine yards!

8. Decorate your patients. (Note: please don’t decorate your adult patients without their permission!)

Here in the NICU we play dress up every chance we get. I hit up T.J. Maxx and Marshalls ahead of time for all the cute baby Santa costumes and make some of my own designs with crafting supplies. Don’t forget to be culturally sensitive though; make sure your patient celebrates Christmas before decking them out and always ask the parents’ permission.

9. Treat yourself to some time off before the holidays or for the next holiday!

I grabbed PTO as soon as I could for the week after Christmas! If PTO is limited on your unit like it is on mine, make sure to mark your calendar and plan ahead.

10. Take time to thank other professions that work the holidays and realize you are not alone.

Remember, you are never alone! There are 25 other nurses that will be here in the NICU with me for Christmas. Instead of focusing on what everyone outside of the hospital is doing, take 5 minutes to have a conversation with a coworker. Have a Christmas morning cup of coffee together instead of using any down time to browse social media. FOMO is real, folks! Also, don’t forget about all the other professionals working during the holidays. Restaurant workers, fast food workers, police officers, EMT’s, firefighters, etc. are all also working hard—so don’t forget to show them some love, too.

11. Save for next year.

What better way to look at the bright side? While all your friends have spent bookoo bucks on gifts so they didn’t show up empty handed to the holidays, you escaped with that much more money in your pocket. Save up for next year. Didn’t have time for that dream ski trip to Colorado? There’s always next year!

12. Be mindful that your patients are missing the holidays, too.

Lastly (and most importantly), don’t forget that your patients are missing the holidays. And they might be missing more than just one. Their families are missing them, too, and they may or may not even be able to all visit depending on your unit. While it seems hard working the holiday, put yourself in your patient’s shoes once in a while. Be their friend, show them love, and help them celebrate in whatever way you can. To all my NICU nurses—YouTube Christmas lullabies are quite the hit from what the babies tell me!

Happy Holidays, friends!

Post Nursing School: The Biggest Obstacle of a New Job

Post Nursing School: The Biggest Obstacle of a New Job

After all that’s said and done, the most exciting part of finishing nursing school is getting hired as a ‘real nurse,’ am I right? Trading in your tuition statements for a paycheck, your non-uniform scrubs in for some Grey’s Anatomy scrubs and Danskos, and actually getting to care for your own patients each day, developing trusting relationships with families and coworkers.

But, what’s the catch? For some it may be the hours. Precepting on nights in nursing school might have been all fun and games, but after the third major holiday you’re stuck working (especially at night), the real world hits.

A substantial amount of new nurses report being dissatisfied with the hours and holiday schedules. Some state that the paycheck was simply not as high as they were expecting, and others are consumed with the stress of being responsible for such significant aspects of care under high stress.

However, a significant amount of new nurses have stated that the hardest part of adjusting to a new job is being so excited, happy, and fresh in the field that our more aged coworkers are quick to ‘take us down’ with their negativity and own ill will towards the profession. Statistically speaking, it is more likely for nurses to be dissatisfied with their job if they are in an inpatient setting providing direct patient care, which is typically the type of job that most new grads are seeking, making us more vulnerable to a stressful environment.

It is not unfamiliar to hear the words “just wait until you’ve been here 20 years,” or “you’re just happy because you’re young, you’ll find out.” These statements are enough to scare anyone into wondering whether they chose the right career path. And for what? Why are these nurses so dissatisfied?

While it is understandable why much of the nursing workforce experiences burnout from many years on their feet, long hours, odd shifts, and missing plenty of family milestones, it is also our right as new nurses to enter a job and feel welcomed in that position. New nurses experience stress in many other aspects, and being surrounded by negativity should not be a normal part of a new career.

The important thing to do when confronted with these statements is to take a deep breath and smile. While it’s easy to feed into the negativity, it’s better to slide past it, acknowledging it and expressing your concern, but staying above it and staying away from it. A key aspect in staying in love with your job that you just recently worked so hard to get is to find out where the negativity is at. Is it specifically in the break rooms? Ask if you are allowed to go downstairs for lunch. Is it before morning huddle? Maybe there’s a free computer where you can begin looking up info about your patients. Be sure to still socialize with your coworkers, but find the best times to do so. Holiday parties, positive action committee meetings, etc. Surround yourself with the nurses that are a positive influence on you and consider asking a fellow nurse to be your mentor to guide you through the tough times and encourage you to stay positive as well.

Most importantly, know when you can help your coworkers. If there is a particular coworker in distress, know who you can speak to if you feel they are unsafe in the work environment. If you are doing well and you feel confident, maybe try using your “young” and “fresh” attitude to bring some joy to your coworkers. Gently remind them how honored you feel to work in your position or tell them why you specifically chose this job over another job. Talk about why you enjoy your job. Kindly redirect negative conversations to more positive subject matter.

Lastly, know when it is OK to be negative and with whom you can share those feelings. Finding a buddy or a mentor that you trust and can vent to behind closed doors is something that every nurse should certainly have access to, but do respect your colleagues’ right to a positive, healthy work environment of their own. Ultimately, balancing stress involves staying in touch with your own feelings and your own needs. Journaling, blogging, or just talking with a close friend are good ways to recognize when you are stressed and perhaps feeling negative. As nurses, we cannot provide the best care to others unless we care for ourselves first.

Landing the Perfect Preceptorship

Landing the Perfect Preceptorship

As summer rolls around, August-graduating nursing classes are coming up on preceptor season. The wonderfully unknown and unpredictable season when sleep is lacking and your calendar is changing quicker than you can update it. So how does one land in a specialty area like the ED, NICU, or CVICU as a nursing student who just started an IV for the first time less than a year ago?

First things first. Figure out how your school determines placement—and figure it out soon. You can never be too early. Find out your first semester how your HESI scores, grades, and clinical comments can play a role in your last semester so you can set reasonable, achievable goals for your nursing school career. 

Second, ask yourself, “what is the perfect preceptorship?” This is your opportunity to get a feel for what is a good fit for you. Maybe you want to try night shifts for the first time. Maybe you think OB is your calling, but you only had one clinical day in postpartum. Don’t shy away from specialties. Your preceptorship is a valuable time when you can observe, get one-on-one training, and make an impression on nurse managers.  Be brave. Be open to trying anything you think you might be interested in doing. Do consider the hospital location, shift hours, and nursing staff. If it is a clinical site you’ve been to, were the nurses busy and stressed? Were they helpful and understanding?

Once you figure out what your school requires and where you want to go, the focus shifts to clinical impression and school requirements. Most schools use the HESI exams to determine qualification. At the University of North Florida, the minimum “exit” or comprehensive HESI score is 850. If your school uses HESI, consider purchasing the book titled Comprehensive Review for the NCLEX-RN Examination, which includes an access code with over 700 questions. The NCLEX RN Mastery App (which frequently goes on sale for $14.99) is also an excellent tool for on-the-go. Consider a study goal of one chapter per week and 20 questions on the app per day. The app can be utilized in between sets at the gym, while in line at the grocery store, and even while you brush your teeth. Get creative and spread out your study time. Before you know it, you’ll reach your daily study goal (which the app conveniently records for you).

While you’re at clinical, keep in mind that those around you will remember you if you set the right impression. Introduce yourself to the nurse managers. Don’t be afraid to tell them you enjoyed your experience and your graduation date. Ask for advice on what their unit looks for in a student. While introducing yourself to the nurse manager is an excellent way to plant a seed in the right soil, don’t forget to always be respectful to all of the staff. One of the best conversations I had with a group of nurses was about nursing students who just nod their head yes when the nurse explains something and how the nurses really weren’t sure if they were just nodding or if they were retaining and understanding. Go a step further by asking a follow-up question or repeating the information back to the nurse. Some of the best teachers I found in the clinical setting were the paramedics!

Finally, it would be unrealistic to expect every student to land a specialty position. Know that even if there aren’t adequate spots or you don’t qualify, you still have the ability to utilize your preceptorship to its full potential. This may be the time to try a night or weekend shift. Find out if you can rank the nearby facilities and have a preference of which medical-surgical unit you’re placed on.

Remember, your preceptorship has the potential to result in a job offer that could ultimately become your career. Plan ahead, set goals, be aware, and have a voice. This is your last chance as a student to get experience, ask questions, and get comfortable in the hospital setting.

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