Nursing can be hazardous. There are infectious diseases, blood-borne pathogens, chemical exposures and workplace violence, not to mention the fact that caring for patients is just plain exhausting. How can you minimize the job's physical demands? Susan Randolph, MSN, RN, president of the American Association of Occupational Health Nurses, offers some healthy reminders.
Recognize the Risks
You need to be aware of workplace hazards to avoid them. The rate of nurses who get hurt or sick on the job is twice that of workers in other industries. Nurses, nurse aides and orderlies have four-and-a-half times more back injuries and other musculoskeletal problems than private-industry workers, Randolph says.
Put Yourself First
Nurses and other front-line healthcare workers "aren't as proactive as they should be" about preventing injuries, Randolph says. "In the healthcare setting, the focus is clearly on the patient and not the healthcare provider. Care providers don't always think of themselves." Taking care of yourself first benefits patients, because they suffer when care providers miss work due to illness or injury.
Use Proper Equipment and Techniques
In today's fast-paced, short-staffed work environments, you may be tempted to take shortcuts when handling patients. But shortcuts lead to injuries, especially as the number of obese patients continues to rise, Randolph says. Always use the lifting and transfer devices available to you, and call for assistance when you need it. You risk injuring yourself and hurting a patient if you slip and fall.
Some healthcare employers are involving nurses on their health and safety committees, Randolph says. This gives nurses the opportunity to provide input into decisions about purchasing safe, reliable and user-friendly equipment. By getting involved, nurses can encourage their employers to take a comprehensive approach to identifying, preventing and controlling workplace hazards.
Mind Your Legs
Many nurses walk or run countless miles every week. If possible, "try to organize your work so you're not racing here and there," Randolph says. "There is planning involved in how your work is conducted." To ease the strain on your legs, she recommends wearing support stockings that will help move blood back up toward your heart and putting your feet up for a few minutes at home after your shift.
Stay in Shape
Maintaining a proper weight will reduce the stress on your joints, and exercising will prepare you for on-the-job rigors. If you're feeling sore on duty, try some shoulder rolls or arm circles to loosen the tension in your shoulders, back and arms, Randolph says. And keep yourself in shape mentally, too. "If you're fortunate enough to have a break, take it," she says. "Getting away for a little bit does a lot for you emotionally and mentally. You come back refreshed."
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