Not only do you know all the rules when it comes to staying healthy, you also spend much of your time enforcing them with patients. But still: you find yourself getting sick a lot. It’s no wonder, considering where you work. Caring for patients shouldn’t come at the expense of caring for yourself, but we know that for many CNAs, nurses, and doctors, it sometimes does. Learning to prioritize your own health is important. Here are some tips and tricks to staying healthy while working in the healthcare industry.
- Take breaks Long shifts on your feet are taxing. Make sure you take short breaks periodically throughout your shift to catch your breath, clear your head, and rest your body. Pay attention to your body when you’re tired.
- Eat healthy meals Consider bringing your own food, so as to avoid the high calories and empty carbohydrates that accompany most prepared meals.
- Get enough sleep We all know that getting at least seven hours of sleep helps your immune system perform better. While this can be difficult in a profession that often requires odd hours, get creative about ways in which you can get enough sleep: take naps and work your schedule so as not to shortchange yourself in the sleep department.
- Wash hands frequently We know you know this one, but it still bears repeating. Additionally, follow protocol for proper personal protective equipment (PPE) so bacteria and viruses stay a safe distance.
- Get regular checkups Just because you work in a healthcare facility doesn’t mean that good habits automatically rub off on you. Practice what you preach by getting regular checkups and scheduling appointments when you suspect you may need some medical attention.
- Avoid Injury Make sure to use proper body mechanics when repositioning patients or moving heavy objects. Lifting more than you’re safely able to is one of the primary ways that healthcare professionals injure themselves on the job. Ask for help or utilize the heavy lifting equipment that the hospital has available.
Taking care of others in emotionally taxing situations will take its toll on you, too. Be especially aware of burnout, compassion fatigue, and stress.
In 2015, the Mayo Clinic reported that more than half of all healthcare workers experience at least one sign of burnout. They may feel excessive fatigue, an inability to perform normal work/life functions, a dissociation with their patients, or extreme depression. Part of this is due to the nature of the work. As the Patient Safety Network states: “Characteristics of the healthcare environment, including time pressure, lack of control over work processes, role conflict, and poor relationships between groups and with leadership, combine with personal predisposing factors and the emotional intensity of clinical work to put clinicians at high risk.” Be aware of these factors, and watch for signs of burnout in yourself. If you find them, it is important to seek help in order to care for yourself and your patients well. You also might consider lessening your workload.
- Compassion Fatigue
Because you’re often surrounded by patients experiencing very emotionally taxing diagnoses, and sometimes tragic outcomes, you will probably fight some compassion fatigue. Here is a quick list of ways to help you handle the emotional weight of your work:
- Keep a journal
- Become part of a support group
- Utilize hospital meditation or relaxation rooms throughout the day
- Set firm emotional boundaries
- Educate yourself on the signs
The nature of the job means that you’ll often fight stress. Make sure your work/life balance is healthy to stave off stress. Being active in a hobby you enjoy, exercising, and nurturing personal relationships are all important means of destressing.
Most hospitals are able to offer preventative care programs to help employees maintain healthy lifestyles. For instance, the CDC reports that 83% of hospitals provide workplace wellness programs, in contrast to only 46% of employers overall. Look into the different programs your workplace offers so you can take advantage of all the perks.Specifically, you might inquire about health screenings or biometrics (63% of hospitals offer); health coaches (31% of hospitals); stress management programs (56% of hospitals); and smoking cessation counseling (55% of hospitals). Many offer fitness centers, too!
Finally: if you do get sick, don’t go to work!
A recent survey in The American Journal of Infection Control showed that 4 in 10 healthcare professionals don’t stay home from work when they’re sick with flu-like symptoms. This number is wildly high and puts patients at risk. Why don’t doctors and nurses stay home if they’re not feeling well? Some reported not being able to find coverage; others noted a lack of paid time off or a feeling of professional obligation. Regardless of the reason, however, it is important for all healthcare professionals to stay home if they are experiencing symptoms of a cold or flu. It not only prevents the spread of illnesses, but it helps keep you maintain healthy boundaries and limits.