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Every time you fly in an airplane, the flight attendant explains that, in a crisis, you need to put on your own oxygen mask before helping others—because you can’t help others unless you’re taken care of first. Unfortunately, with regard to their own health, nurses don’t follow this type of example.

According to a recent survey conducted at the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC), about 75% of MUSC nurses admitted that they put their patients’ health, wellness, and safety before their own. In fact, they put their own well-being last. And even though nurses have quite a bit of knowledge about nutrition, they eat a 30% less nutritious diet than they should be.

Like they say in the air, you need to take care of yourself before you can truly care for others.

As a result, on June 13, MUSC launched a 60-day nutrition pilot that is designed to help nurses eat better and improve their eating habits with healthier food options. At three locations at MUSC, nurses will be able to increase the amount of fruits and vegetables they eat daily by getting Simply-to-Go foods, which are healthful, fresh, seasonal, as well as locally sourced.

Andrea Coyle, MSN, MHA, RN, NE-BC, Professional Excellence and Magnet Program Director at MUSC, answered some questions about this program.

Why did MUSC decide to do this?

MUSC nurses impact the lives of their patients, colleagues, families, and neighbors every day, so when we were approached by ANA Enterprise to spearhead the first HNHN pilot, the decision to participate was easy. The opportunity to collaborate with ANA and Sodexo Healthcare to offer more quality food options on our campus and serve as a model for other organizations is truly an honor.

The ANA Enterprise and Sodexo Healthcare have partnered, at a national level, to improve the health of America’s nurses through the Healthy Nurse, Healthy Nation™  (HNHN) Grand Challenge. Sodexo made a multi-million-dollar contribution to the American Nurses Foundation in direct support of the ANA Enterprise’s HNHN Grand Challenge.

Where did the idea come from?

Sodexo has operated the foodservice at MUSC for over 30 years, so it made sense that MUSC, which is also an HNHN partner, would be selected to be the first organization to participate in a HNHN quality of life program in the United States. MUSC is the only participant site in South Carolina.

Why do you think that nurses tend to put their health on the backburner?

Nurses have one thing in common; they want to help care for other people. It’s their passion. Often helping others takes priority over helping themselves.

Why do they need to take care of themselves like they do their patients?

At MUSC, our nursing shared governance and nursing leadership has made self-care a priority. One driving strategy in our nursing strategic plan is to integrate healthy living into the nursing culture. If nurses have the tools and support to care for themselves, taking care of the patients and community we serve will reap the benefits of healthy nurses.

The biggest excuse that just about everyone has when it comes to eating better is that they don’t have time to prepare foods. What advice do you give to nurses about making up their own healthful foods/snacks?

  • Plan ahead: whether it’s packing up dinner leftovers to grab on the way out or getting up 10 minutes earlier to pack a lunch, have a plan for what you will eat for the day.
  • Keep better choices on hand: a mix of nuts and dried fruit, low-sodium tuna packs, nut butter, microwavable soups are all shelf-stable options. If you have access to a refrigerator, yogurt or cottage cheese, cut up veggies and hummus. Hard boiled eggs will keep for a couple days.
  • 2-for-1: when you purchase a grab-and-go item, pick up a second option for the next day or take turns with a friend where one person takes time to make the food run one day and you the next.

Assuming that the pilot is a success, is this something that you will market to other health care facilities or to nurses in general?

Absolutely! It would be so exciting to share lessons learned and best practices. Promoting health and wellness is bigger than MUSC; it expands into the community we serve. At MUSC we aspire to build healthy communities.  

What benefits can hospitals and other similar facilities get from using this kind of program?

The biggest benefit of the program is to increase awareness of heathy food choices. Recognizing that fruits and vegetables, smaller portion sizes, and fresh food ultimately creates a healthier workforce.

Why is this kind of program so important?

The answer is twofold: Nurses must turn their passion for caring for others inward and make caring for themselves a priority. Nurses must also be role-models for healthy living and health promotion to ensure our patients and families stay well. This program provides healthy food choices, which is one way to make a difference in the lives of nurses as well as the patients and families that depend on us for health promotion and wellness.

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Michele Wojciechowski

Michele Wojciechowski is an award-winning writer and author of the humor book Next Time I Move, They’ll Carry Me Out in a Box.

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