CHARLOTTE – Let’s face it, nurses are pretty much wired to take care of others no matter what’s coming at them. They just keep going because they want to stay strong for their patients and their team members.
Their performance during COVID says it all.
But part of the resilience that allowed so many professionals to power through so many obstacles and so much anxiety and loss is knowing when to say: Enough. I need a break.
Just ask Jennifer McBride, who’s has been a nurse since 1995 and spent nearly 17 years of her career as a critical care nurse. ICUs are among the most demanding and draining operations at any hospital and often attract young nurses drawn by the challenge and the action.
But by 2017, she realized she was burning out.
“I just dreaded going in,” she said. “And I didn’t have the patience that I once had. I still wanted to be a nurse; I just needed to get away from the ICU. I was also going through a breast cancer diagnosis at the time. And so, for my physical and my mental health, I knew it was time to leave critical care. Part of resiliency is knowing when it’s time to leave.”
The good news about nursing, of course, is that all kinds of other roles await. Novant Health made it easy for her to find work in another unit, and today McBride is an administrator still putting her skills to considerable use.
“I think in order to be resilient as a nurse, you have to know your limits,” she added. You have to be able to say ‘no.’” She knew her limits, and when the frenzied pace and emotional strain of working in the ICU exacted a toll, she backed away.
Brittany Moore is a nurse manager at Novant Health Presbyterian Medical Center in the hemodialysis unit. She’s in charge of scheduling nurses, among other duties. She makes sure her nurses get “that time away – that they have the ability to go away and come back refreshed,” she said. “We all need that.”
Note to bosses managing a team: She also refrains from contacting nurses on their days off, even when it might help her check something off her list.
Here’s what McBride and Moore said they’ve learned about resilience, and it’s applicable people far beyond the realms of nursing.
You can’t be superhero 24/7. You can’t be the one who’s always saving the day. You and your team members have to take turns stepping up. Sometimes you’ve got to step back a minute and regroup. It’s a strategy that will help you stay strong over the years.
Blessed are the flexible.
For they shall not be bent out of shape. “It’s important to be as flexible as possible,” said Moore. “I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been more flexible during this COVID season than I probably have in all of my leadership career. Between school closures, staff being sick, family members being sick … I’ve had to be flexible with my team.” It’s a good lesson for us all.
Listen to your body – and your brain.
Know your limits. Sometimes, it may be that you need a few days away. Other times, as in the case of McBride, you may need a fresh start.
It sounds so simple, but Moore – manager of a hemodialysis unit – said it really makes a difference for her staff, patients, and their families. “Dialysis becomes your life,” she said. “People are in here every day, and it’s not easy for them. We get to know them and their families well. A smile and a ‘Hey, how are you doing?’ go a long way.”
“You have to have healthy coping mechanisms outside of work,” McBride said. Hers include exercise, especially the kind done outside. Getting outside, reading, journaling, cooking, playing music, other creative endeavors are all healthy ways to take your mind off work.
Know your limits.
“I never felt I had to work more than I needed to,” McBride said. “A lot of new nursing grads were always wanting to pick up extra hours that were available during COVID. And now they’re just burned out. They want to leave. It’s not always about the money.”
Ask for (professional) help.
“Therapy has been so imperative in my life for the last three years,” Moore said. “I didn’t grow up in a household where people talked about going to therapy, but it has been life-changing.” In the short run, take advantage of employee assistance programs which are typically free and offer quick counseling services when you need them.
Cry it out.
“If I lose a patient, I do cry,” McBride said. “I’ll cry in front of the family. I mean, we cry outside of the room, too. I let my emotions be present. I don’t try to subdue them. If I have to, I will subdue them and then just process it later by talking about it with my co-workers.”
McBride sums it up: “Resiliency is what has kept me in the nursing field for so long. I really believe that being resilient and recognizing your limits is what will keep you in the field for a long time.”