Nurse laughing in a recess

Celebrating Nurses Week: Discovering the Passion for Caring and the Insights We Can Draw for Our Own Pursuits

Nurses Week is celebrated annually to recognize and honor nurses’ critical role in healthcare. It begins on May 6th and ends on May 12th, the birthday of Florence Nightingale, the founder of modern nursing. Nightingale, born to a wealthy British family on May 12, 1820, in Florence, Italy, was best known for her work during the Crimean War (1853-1856), where she managed and trained nurses to care for British soldiers. She gained fame as “The Lady with the Lamp” for her habit of making rounds at night to aid the wounded. Nightingale was a trailblazer in nursing and healthcare reform. She established the first scientifically based nursing school, the Nightingale School of Nursing, at St. Thomas’ Hospital in London in 1860. This initiative marked the beginning of professional education in nursing.

A Passion for Caring

While nursing is a career, it also is a passion. First, the deep commitment to caring for others often reflects a calling rather than a career choice. Then, many who pursue nursing do so because of a strong desire to help and heal, finding profound fulfillment in making a difference in people’s lives and communities.

Furthermore, this passion for caring is characterized by empathy and compassion. Nurses strive to understand patients’ feelings and experiences to provide comfort and emotional support alongside physical healthcare. They dedicate themselves fully to people’s well-being, advocate for patients’ needs within the healthcare system, speak up for patients’ rights, ensure they receive the necessary treatments, and help them navigate complex healthcare pathways.

Lastly, a passion for caring in nursing is not just about performing tasks; it’s about a heartfelt dedication to improving lives, demonstrating empathy and resilience, and continuously striving to provide compassionate and competent care.

The Challenges of Nursing and Lessons We Can Draw for Our Own Passion Journey

However, as with every passion, challenges are present daily in the life of a nurse. Being on the frontline of patient care puts nurses under pressure and stress to the extent of compassionate fatigue and burnout. This challenge is on top of others like physical exhaustion due to long hours standing and helping patients move, administrative overload, long working hours, and understaffing.

And there is no way around it. Learning to overcome challenges like compassion fatigue is critical for nurses to be well while doing their jobs. The question is, what can we learn from their techniques to apply them to our passion journey, especially if it involves caregiving?

Compassion Fatigue

Compassion fatigue is a form of burnout that affects those in caregiving roles, including nurses, due to prolonged exposure to stressful caregiving situations. Moreover, it can lead to decreased empathy and emotional exhaustion. Therefore, to combat compassion fatigue, nurses often use a variety of techniques that we want to share with you, as they might be helpful for your own passion journey.

  • Awareness and Education. Understanding the signs and symptoms of compassion fatigue is the first step in managing it. Symptoms can be:
    • Emotional (decreased empathy for patients or clients, irritability and increased frustration with minor annoyances, anxiety and excessive worry about work, even when not present, depression, including feelings of hopelessness and decreased enjoyment in activities once found pleasurable, detachment or feeling numb towards the suffering of others, overwhelm by routine tasks and feeling emotionally drained),
    • Physical (chronic fatigue and feeling tired despite adequate rest, insomnia or difficulties falling asleep or staying asleep, headaches and muscle tension, gastrointestinal issues like upset stomach or diarrhea, weakened immune system leading to increased frequency of infections and illnesses),
    • Behavioral (withdrawal from others, including colleagues, friends, and family, decreased job performance and professionalism, potentially leading to errors, substance abuse, such as increased alcohol or medication use as a coping mechanism, absenteeism from work or other responsibilities),
    • Cognitive (difficulty concentrating and making decisions, apathy towards work and responsibilities, preoccupation with thoughts of work or trauma seen at work during off-hours, sense of ineffectiveness, feeling like nothing you do makes a difference)

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Addressing these symptoms may require different approaches and support from different healthcare professionals. That is why, recognizing them is so important, to really understand what help to seek. Besides professional help, there are some preventive and everyday measures nurses usually practice.

  • Self-Care. Nurses are encouraged to engage in regular self-care practices. This includes adequate sleep, nutrition, exercise, and engaging in enjoyable activities outside of work. Prioritizing one’s physical and mental health is crucial to preventing compassion fatigue. And while it sometimes seems difficult to allocate time to self-care, or easier said than practicing it, here is a tip that can help you:
    • Create a self-care routine; what it would look like, what would it include.
    • Plan. After that continue by planning your day or, even better, your week. Think about the things and tasks you need to do every day. You don’t have to be extremely detailed about them. Then see where your self-care routine will fit, this should include time for physical activity (may vary daily depending on your schedule), preparing your healthy meals and snacks, and ensuring a good rest. Also, it is suggested that you include time for meditation and relaxation, which can improve mental clarity and enhance emotional resilience.
    • Be flexible, you don’t have to have a fix time for your physical activity or your meditation. If planning for a routine imposes additional stress then it is not helping.
    • Don’t overdo, see what is feasible and realistic, plan for something you think you can achieve, so you do not get frustrated if you don’t do it.
  • Professional Counseling. Seeking support from mental health professionals helps nurses manage the emotional demands of their jobs. Counseling provides a safe space to discuss feelings and learn coping strategies. Consider if professional help will be of help to you.
  • Setting Emotional Boundaries. Learning to set boundaries between oneself and patients is critical. While empathy and compassion are important, it’s essential for nurses to protect their emotional wellbeing by not over-identifying with patients’ suffering. In your everyday life, setting emotional boundaries may require you to:
    • Define Your Limits. Start by identifying what you’re comfortable with and what you aren’t. Knowing your limits is key to setting boundaries. Consider aspects of both your personal and professional life where you feel your limits might be pushed and define clear boundaries around them.
    • Communicate Clearly. Once you know your boundaries, communicate them clearly and directly to others. Use assertive communication to express your needs without being aggressive or passive. Be straightforward about what you expect from others and what they can expect from you.
    • Practice Saying No. Learning to say no is a fundamental aspect of setting boundaries. You don’t need to justify, argue, defend, or explain your decisions to say no. Saying no helps prevent feelings of resentment and burnout.
    • Tune Into Your Feelings. Be aware of how you feel in different interactions. If you feel discomfort, resentment, or exhaustion after spending time with someone, it may indicate that your boundaries are being tested. Recognizing these feelings can prompt you to strengthen your boundaries.
    • Give Yourself Permission. Allow yourself the permission to set boundaries and enforce them. This might involve internal work to overcome guilt or anxiety about seeming selfish. Remember, setting boundaries is a practice of self-respect.
    • Be Consistent. Consistency is key in setting boundaries. Enforce your boundaries consistently. This helps others learn what to expect from you and reduces the likelihood of boundary violations.
    • Adjust as Needed. Regularly reflect on and adjust your boundaries as needed to ensure they continue to serve you well.
    • Respect Others’ Boundaries. Just as you wish your boundaries to be respected, ensure you are respecting others’ boundaries. This fosters mutual respect and understanding in relationships.
  • The Role of Community and Support Networks. The support of a community, whether professional or personal, is invaluable for nurses. Professional networks offer a platform for sharing knowledge and experiences, enhancing professional growth, and fostering a sense of belonging and also supporting wellbeing. These networks can be formal, such as professional nursing associations, or informal, such as workplace groups or online communities.
    • Mentorship programs: These provide guidance, support, and encouragement, helping nurses navigate their careers and personal challenges.
    • Peer Support Groups. Joining peer support groups helps nurses share experiences and coping strategies that can be highly beneficial. These groups provide emotional support and validation, which are important in mitigating feelings of isolation and stress.
    • Team collaboration: Fostering a collaborative environment within their work environment help enhance job satisfaction and improve patient care.
    • Family and social support: Maintaining strong personal relationships with family and friends helps balance the high demands of nursing with personal well-being.
Nurses at work Nurses Week

After going through the techniques nurses use to cope with one of their biggest challenges, compassion fatigue, what are the ones you think can be of benefit for you in your passion pursuit? What are the insights you got from the article? Reflect on them. The practice of self-reflection is critical to become more aware of the aspects we want to work on and how we can address them. And remember, as with everything in life, there is no one size fits all, we encourage you to try the techniques above, dig deeper into them and adjust them to your needs.

List of Resources

These are some resources available for nurses. If your passion is around caregiving, these resources can be of support for you too. We especially recommend the Happy Nurse podcast as it addresses current topics of interest:

1. American Nurses Association (ANA): This organization provides a wealth of information on professional development, standards of practice, and advocacy issues.

2. National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN): This organization offers resources for licensing, continuing education, and professional development.

3. International Council of Nurses (ICN): This is a federation of more than 130 national nursing associations that provides information on global health policies and nursing standards.

4. Nurse.org: Features job listings, educational resources, and articles on various aspects of nursing life.

5. AllNurses is an online forum where nurses can connect, share experiences, and seek advice from peers.

6. The Happy Nurse: Focuses on mental health and well-being resources specifically tailored for nurses, including podcasts and wellness programs.

7. Emergency Nurses Association (ENA): This organization offers resources specifically for emergency nursing, including education, practice resources, and advocacy.

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