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It shouldn’t hurt to be a nurse!

March 6, 2012

There is no appointment I dread more than a doctor’s appointment. In few other life situations do I find myself volunteering to, and paying for the privilege of, having my personal failing’s identified, discussed and documented.

But this is my experience in the doctor’s office. As I make my way through the “visit”, I hear the clearly called results of waypoints on my journey. It starts with weight – “UP!” and is quickly followed by height – “DOWN”! Than we move on to more interesting measures of my failure in self-care like my blood pressure and cholesterol levels.

The “visit” continues with the all too familiar “review of systems” – a systematic review of organ systems – ear, nose & throat, cardiovascular, respiratory and so on. All goes as expected with the doctor asking the questions and me, rote-like, answering them. That is until we get to the musculoskeletal system review and the doctor begins the question, stops mid sentence, and says: “Oh! You’re a nurse!”

The implication being, that if you’re a nurse, there are certainly issues with your musculoskeletal system – back and joints. And I’m here to tell you that is a truism!

In fact, the Bureau of Labor Statistics lists nursing as fifth on a list of groups having the most missed work days due to injury. And the 2011 ANA Health and Safety Survey identifies the combined effects of stress and overwork as the greatest risks followed by disabling musculoskeletal injury and the risk of infectious disease.  Nursing isn’t a profession for the frail and vulnerable!

But with all the evidence about the risks, there is good news. The ANA study also shows that “healthier work schedules are becoming the norm” (listen to the ANA Podcast). There is a clear decrease in the number of overtime hours being worked and that should have a direct impact on reducing the stress levels and overworked sequelae that nurse’s report.

It shouldn’t hurt to be a nurse, but I’m afraid it often does.

It is imperative that we take every opportunity to create a safer and less risky environment for our nurses. That includes not only focusing on technology to assist and support the nurse in giving care, such as lift devices and safety equipment like safe needle devices to reduce contaminated needle sticks; but attention to workforce management practices associated with staff scheduling.

Even the famous fashion icon Donna Karan has taken a stand in a recent address to student nurses at Kent State University. She talks about the need for nurses to take care of themselves and recounts that among her late husband’s last words was the plea to “take care of the nurses”. And she has committed to do what she can. I think we should all follow that lead.

I think it’s time to care, don’t you?

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