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One can easily surmise that Nurse Ratched was not drinking kale smoothies, jogging daily, and taking long, hot baths. The facets of compassionate nursing care that Ratched famously lacked, such as kindness and generosity, seldom come from a nurse experiencing a sense of deficit within themselves. A lackluster approach to one’s work is generally the prerequisite for what is now a bonafide medical diagnosis: burnout.  

The old adage goes something like this: you can’t give what you don’t have. This is no less true for nurses than for anyone else. The work of an effective nurse requires the maintenance of a certain level of physical fitness, sound sleep practices, sensible nutrition, and the fortification of a positive and resilient attitude. This is because the nursing model demands not just the carrying out of physical tasks, but a wholehearted relationship with the patient as a human, rather than a set of symptoms. Nurses can best enter into this dynamic with their own health and well-being needs already met. 

More than Full-Time

Although many nurses work a full-time 40-hour workweek, additional overtime and per diem work is common. Because nursing skills are in high demand, it is easy for a nurse to take on more than a full-time workload. In addition, many nurses continue their schooling after being licensed as registered nurses, to advance their career as either nurse practitioners, in leadership roles, or as nurse educators. With these demands, in addition to personal and familial responsibilities, one can see why some nurses let their own health lose priority.

A Picture of the Healthy Nurse

A well-rounded routine of well-being includes the obvious undertakings of healthy eating, regular exercise, and adequate sleep, in addition to the oft-forgotten needs of fun, leisure, social support, and hobbies. Many studies show the importance of these seemingly superfluous features of one’s lifestyle as incredibly important to health and well-being. A rich lifestyle filled with healthy activities and robust relationships may be more valuable than the income overtime generates for many nurses, and for their patients.

Self-care for Caregivers

For the nurse who scoffs at the idea of self-care, consider this — self-care is not an alternative to patient care, but an essential feature of it. Nurses who score higher on happiness index scores are more motivated in their work and demonstrate the enhanced quality of their nursing practice. Furthermore, a well-rested nurse is a more patient nurse, and a fit nurse is a more energetic, capable nurse. Lifestyle balance that allows for creativity, friendship, recreation, and sound physical health help nurses cope with the gravity and sometimes tragedy encountered in their work.  

Each nurse is free to determine for themselves what work/life balance, fulfillment, and well-being mean to them. For some, financial responsibilities may necessitate extra work; however, there is no nursing job worth sacrificing one’s health for.

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Nancy Swezey, BSN, RN, CNOR

Nancy Swezey received her BSN from Columbia University. She now practices in New York City in the operating room where she has worked as a staff nurse, and currently as a care coordinator specializing in head and neck surgery. Nancy is also pursuing her advanced practice degree at CUNY Hunter where she assists the faculty as a research assistant, focusing on nurse education and module development.
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