As a nurse with 30 years of experience – the last 10 of which were in cardiac care – I know a thing or two about resilience. When patients would come in for a stress test, we’d monitor them while they walked on a treadmill at an increasing intensity. Once the test stopped, we’d continue the monitoring until their vitals returned to normal. Recovery time would vary a bit from person to person. In general, the less healthy the patient, the longer it would take. Recovery time told us a lot about the patient’s overall health. It was just as important a measure as how the patient endured the stress test.
It’s a fitting metaphor for the nursing workforce right now. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, nurses have experienced immeasurable trauma, and bouncing back hasn’t been easy. Many have decided to leave the workforce. I find this both heartbreaking and alarming, considering that the nursing shortage in the U.S. is predicted to intensify within the next 18 months.1
If we want to avoid this outcome, one of the most important things we can help nurses do is become more resilient. While there’s no single path toward achieving that, here are 3 practical strategies that can help.
1) Lean into what you love.
No doubt you’ve heard the saying ‘once a nurse, always a nurse,’ and I truly believe that nursing becomes core to your identity. But in order to stay in the profession and build a successful, fulfilling career, I believe it takes much more than just becoming a nurse. My own version of this adage is “once you fall in love with nursing, you never fall out of love with it.” Over the years, I’ve watched nurse colleagues walk away from a profession they loved, saying things like “I’m done with the good fight… this isn’t what I signed up for.” They’d fallen out of love with the stress of the work environment, perhaps. Or maybe they had fallen out of love with teammates or leaders. Maybe they were mourning the loss of the way things used to be (especially before the pandemic) and were disenchanted with new processes or technologies.
But I am quite certain they hadn’t fallen out of love with nursing. They never stopped caring for people; never ceased in their desire to be the healing hands that patients would reach for during their most vulnerable moments. At some point in their careers, most nurses come to this crossroads and must choose to continue serving in a profession they love, or depart because of what they’ve found painful or challenging about the nursing experience. When I found myself there, I reminded myself that I love nursing.
Specifically, what I’ve always found incredibly rewarding, is patient education. I love that I can extend my impact on patients’ lives infinitely when I teach and empower them to care for themselves.
Thus, I leaned into this love and transitioned into a role at Avidex (formerly TeleHealth Services) in which patient education is one of my key focuses. Leaning into what you love looks different for everyone, so it doesn’t necessarily mean that a nurse needs to leave her role or organization. Many can find fulfillment right where they are, by joining a committee, leading an improvement initiative, or serving as a mentor or preceptor.
Lean into what brings you joy, and you’ll find that it counterbalances the more stressful and challenging parts of the nursing experience. If you’re at that crossroads, I challenge you to think about what you really, truly love most about nursing, and what you could do to lean into it.
2) Tell your story.
Nursing is one of the few professions in which you can witness the beginning of life, the end of life, and everything in between--all in one day, all under the same roof. The gamut of emotions that nurses experience leaves them on a perpetual merry-go-round ride of celebration, then grief, then celebration again, and more grief. It’s an inevitable part of the nursing experience and can morph into compassion fatigue and burnout if we don’t learn how to manage it.
Every nurse needs to tell their story, though it’s surprisingly hard for some of us to do. Our instinct is to protect others from harm, so some of us avoid sharing our struggles with others for fear of it being burdensome.
Even when it feels like a listening ear is out of reach, it’s imperative for us to open up. My colleagues who have built long-time, successful careers in nursing have been able to do so largely because they’ve made a habit of talking regularly about their nursing experience. We all can--and should--open up to trusted people in our lives, or to a professional therapist, or even to the pages of our journals.
Tell your story; the one you’re writing every single day of your nursing journey. It will help you process what you’re living through so you can better make sense of it. It will hold meaning and will matter to those who care about you. And it will help you find the beauty, wisdom, and purpose in the things that weigh heaviest on your heart. Most importantly, it will help you build emotional resilience.2
3) Use your resources.
It’s one of the first things we learn in nursing school and persists as a mantra in our everyday duties. Nursing is a demanding job. No one expects you to do it without help. You have resources all around you – so use them!
The American Nurses Association’s (ANA) Well-Being Initiative (https://www.nursingworld.org/thewellbeinginitiative) has a wealth of free tools and apps specifically designed for helping nurses become more resilient. The ANA itself is a tremendous resource to support you in your nursing career through advocacy, networking, professional development, and more. Joining the ANA, or your specialty nursing organization, helps you tap into one of the most important resources you could have--a peer community.
In your everyday duties, don’t forget about the resources your employer provides to help you stay resilient, such as your spiritual care department, professional development, and your EAP program. Don’t forget that your work team is an amazing resource. Throughout my entire nursing career, I’ve regularly leaned on my team for physical and emotional support. This has always helped me feel connected and more confident in my role. I also encourage you to think about the equipment and services your hospital outsources. For every such vendor-supplied tool you use, there’s likely someone like me--an outcomes manager or client success representative-- who is available to help you make the best use of your equipment or services, overcome any hurdles to using it, and support you in achieving goals and improvements.
When I held a patient care role, it was music to my ears whenever someone said they could help me save time, make a bigger impact, or just plain make my life easier! Now, I get to say those same words to my clients every day as I coach them and support them in using my company’s solutions. It brings me so much joy to know I’ve been able to help a fellow nurse solve a problem or overcome a challenge. The satisfaction that comes from the work we’re doing together, I truly believe, goes a long way toward helping both of us become more resilient.
I encourage you to think about the following: How do you build resilience? How do you support nurses in strengthening their resilience? Are you making the best use of your resources… or do you need some help with identifying what and where they are?
If you are an Avidex healthcare client, please email your Outcomes Manager with the subject line Resilience. Or Get in Touch with us by visiting our interactive patient solutions page and sending us a message.
We look forward to hearing from you.
Have a Happy Nurses Month!
About the Author
Donna Taylor, MSN, RN, has 20+ years of experience as a nursing and cardiovascular care leader. Her expertise includes innovative practices for improving patient care, as well as design and delivery of patient and provider education. She received her Masters of Nursing from Grand Canyon University and has been published in peer-reviewed nursing journals. Donna is the clinical subject matter expert for Avidex’s Client Outcomes team and is excited about helping hospital clients achieve their goals for improving health outcomes and patient experience.
1 Kreimer, S., 2022. Nursing shortage looms large and projected to intensify in next 18 months: report. [online] Fierce Healthcare. Available at: <https://www.fiercehealthcare.com/providers/nursing-shortage-looms-large-and-projected-intensify-next-year-and-half-report> [Accessed 2 May 2022].
2 Louise Grant & Gail Kinman (2014) Emotional Resilience in the Helping Professions and how it can be Enhanced, Health and Social Care Education, 3:1, 23-34, DOI: 10.11120/hsce.2014.00040