3 Ways For Nurses To Take Care Of Themselves On (And Off!) The Job

This article was republished with permission from SCRUBS Magazine.

We are nurses—we care for people and we care about people. But for some reason, our own health often isn’t a priority. Whether I’m working locally or as a travel nurse, I’ve noticed that many of us do not care for ourselves. I can admit it; there have been times when I’ve skipped meals due to a crazy patient assignment. It’s something that happens due to the fact that nursing is unpredictable (which is why we love it). But there are things you can do to help you remember that you are just as important as your patients.

1. Set timers (on your phone) for breaks/lunches. I know, it sounds ridiculous, but the day can get away from you. One admission can tie a person up for hours. You have to set yourself up for success. To do that, you have to organize your time. I set a timer on my phone to eat lunch in one hour. I give myself an hour to tie up all the loose ends. The timer helps me to remember that I need to take care of myself. Whether it’s for taking your lunch or a break, the alarm will remind you that you matter, your health matters.

If that hour passes and I haven’t eaten lunch, I might reach out to co-workers or management for help. I have passed out at work due to not taking care of myself. It happened after an intense code blue. I didn’t eat, did too many rounds of CPR and depleted my glucose stores. It was embarrassing being in the ED for something ridiculous. I ignored myself. I ignored my body. Don’t let that be you. Take care of yourself.

2. Take multivitamins. When my husband had a quadruple coronary artery bypass grafting (CABG), his surgeon explained the benefits of taking vitamins daily. I’m a nurse, but for some reason I didn’t know the true benefits of vitamins. Now that I’ve had gastric bypass surgery, I MUST take vitamins (twice a day). Before I take my vitamins, I often feel sluggish and sore. But an hour after taking the vitamins, I’m refreshed and focused.

You must give your body what it needs. Vitamins will keep your engine running and help you to perform. Working 12 hours is tough enough. Don’t work against yourself. Vitamins A, B, C and D, and iron and calcium never get enough respect. Don’t let the over-the-counter status fool you; they are very important.

3. If you’re going to eat from the cafeteria where you work, pick healthy options. I’ve been in food comas many times at work. It only slows you down and makes you sleepy (thing you don’t want while trying to work). Keep lunch light and healthy. Oh, and stay away from vending machines! The vending machine tends to not have good food or snack options. Try to pack your lunch, and pack a snack or two as well. If you’re in a hurry, hit a convenience store for a pre-made meal or piece of fruit. Do something; try something before selecting the burger and fries from the cafeteria. Your family and body will thank you.

Nursing is caring. Turn that concept on yourself! If my patient were eating an ice cream sandwich at 2AM (like I used to do frequently), they would have been spoken to regarding making healthier selections. Treat yourself like a patient. Care about what you eat and fuel your body with what it needs.

Don’t expect perfection—each of us is a work in progress. But the more you make healthy choices, the easier it becomes. Oh, and being healthy isn’t number- or pound-based; it’s about how you feel and how your body functions. Don’t compare yourself to others—do what works for your lifestyle.

I wish all the nurses out there a healthy and happy life.


This article was republished with permission from SCRUBS Magazine.

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5 COMMENTS

  1. Nursing hasn’t changed much in the 30+ years I have been a nurse, always staffed just to the edge or understaffed. Last night we had one nursing assistant over the “staffing level” so she was sent home. There is never a light day like in other professions. I would recommend compression socks, when did they come out? They are the best to reduce tired achy legs and Pilates!!!!! The best for core and strength, keep your back healthy. I like to hike so keep a clif bar handy and other small snacks, string cheese, banana. Fight back! If your supervisor says you have to take your meal break, do it unless it is unsafe. Go beyond them to their supervisor, or the ceo. It is illegal for them to ask you to lie and alter your time record.

  2. Leave! This is bullying! Nurses do eat their young! Actually there are some good places with good nurses and great DON`s. There should be a way for nurses to have more say so. It depends on the hospital. Nurses must have a way to balance life and work. Start looking. I worked on a floor where one nurse got me in trouble, telling my boss that I was slow and didn’t know what I was doing.(I was one of their best nurses.) Other nurses jumped on board. Luckily, I was able to transfer to another floor where I worked for about 8 years. GOOD LUCK

  3. I can relate to the idea that we take of every one else and tend to neglect ourselves. I was working in a busy ENT office, scheduling surgeries, X-rays, etc. I hadn’t gotten a mammogram in three years. I told myself that I’m always scheduling people for things it’s time I schedule my mamo. It was abnormal, which it had never been before. Long story short my biopsy showed in situ breast cancer. I was lucky, my treatment was a lumpectomy, radiation, and five years on Tamoxifin. It doesn’t pay to put things off. I truly belive God was looking out for me and gave me that nudge to get things done.

  4. What a nice article. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I agree that nurses are poor at self-care. Fortunately it seems newer nurses have this as part of their nursing school curriculum. The saying that you can’t give from emptiness is very true. We need to be healthy for our loved ones, not just our patients.

  5. I agree 110% with each of the ways.
    BUT, #1 says (basically) get help from others; including management; when your break time/lunch time has passed. I work long term care; 2pm – 10pm. The other 3 nurses where I work do help when they can. One of our ADONs wants us to be “self sufficient” (her exact words) with our jobs; and won’t help. The DON won’t help. The DON & ADONs leave at roughly 5pm – 6 pm daily (Mon. – Fri.)
    If we turn in no lunch it is denied by the DON and we’re told we need to manage our time more efficiently. And, if you stay longer than 1 hour past 10 pm without good reason you get a verbal warning. (Accepted reasons = admit; falls; resident sent to hospital due to condition change. Unacceptable reasons = anything else).
    Any suggestions to remedy/change this situation.

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