by Kimberly Spering, MSN, FNP-BC
It goes without saying that what we do, caring for patients, takes not only an extraordinary amount of knowledge, skill, but also caring. How can we make sure we’re up for the task of working in our roles? One answer: caring for ourselves… first and foremost. Doing things to “regenerate” our spirit.
It’s been a long summer and early fall season with patients. For whatever reason (full moon, superstition, eclipse, etc.), patients’ needs have seemed exorbitantly… needy lately. There were more phone calls and demands on my time than usual. I get it – in my palliative role, I may see 3 – 4 patients per day (at 40 minutes to 3 hours each), then chart later. The time I spend is nowhere near the amount that I spent working in an Internal Medicine office.
Or, do I, really?
In the office setting, I had my allotted 20 minutes (really, 10 minutes after patients were roomed) to determine the most pertinent issues that needed to be treated. Repeat by 20-plus patients daily. In my home-care palliative care world, I will spend as much time as needed to determine what is needed – whether this is new medications, family counseling, consultations with other offices, goals-of-care discussions, etc.
The numbers may be less, but the situations are often more crucial… the outcomes more perilous, and often, long visits are needed to determine patients’ needs and to coordinate care.
Can one put a time frame on these critical issues? No, we can’t. However, no matter if we see 20 – 30 patients (or more) per day, or three… caring for patients in any role takes a toll on all of us as providers.
So, what do we do to “regenerate” ourselves?
Is it taking time off (whether we travel for a fabulous vacation, have a stay-at-home vacation (also known as, in my world, doing things around the house)? Is it spending time to recoup our losses in medicine (oh, yes, we have losses – patients who die, “rules” we must follow by the so-called administration, services we could not get patients qualified for, etc.)?
Or is it something that we make time for in our busy schedules: working out at a gym, going for a walk, getting a massage, spending quality time with a friend, etc.?
I daresay, regeneration can take place in any or all of those areas.
So why is it that many of us feel the pull to martyrdom, trying to “suck it up” without paying attention to our own needs? I’d bet that most of us have counseled patients, who were frustrated about the lack of time, lack of self-care, and we probably blithely said, “well, you have to take care of yourself first.” Or, “you need to recharge your own battery if you want to care for others.”
Well, now. That’s just great. If only we followed our own advice.
I’m guilty as anyone—putting the needs of family, home, dogs, and patients before my own self-care.
I fully believe that if we are to take care of patients – in any realm – that we must be mindful of the need for our professional & personal self to regenerate. Taking time to see out of our own world-view. Taking time to care for ourselves.
Don’t feel guilty about it. We OWE it to ourselves and our patients to practice good self-care – so we can care for others… be fully vested… and fully able to help them.
In August, I relaxed on vacation, in a private lake community in Pennsylvania, with my husband’s family. It was different from past years, as my sister-in-law died on January 31st. It was great to see how the cousins all connected, sharing in comradery, as only cousins who see each other a few times yearly can do. Our family needed that week of restoration… of healing.
I recognized that I needed time in solace and meditation. While reading eight books, including studies in the metaphysical, religion, and yes, “beach reads” with no requirement for “real” thought… I found my time to regenerate.
My taking vacation won’t adversely affect my patients. I have my co-workers to rely on to manage those issues. Purposefully, I did not log onto our hospital system to see what transpired while I was on vacation.
And you know what? The universe didn’t collapse. My patients’ needs were met by my co-workers. Life kept going on.
And when I looked out on the lake, lost in thought – or thinking nothing at all, threw a ball for one of my retrievers to fetch, spent time with my family… all was right in the world. I was regenerated to do this work for another day.
I encourage you to make time to “regenerate” in your own way. The only way we can continue to do our work is to care for ourselves first. Give it some thought. Make the time to care for YOU.
Kim Spering has been a nurse for over 25 years and worked as an NP over the past 15 years in Family Medicine, Women’s Health, Internal Medicine, and now Palliative Medicine. She serves as an editorial board member of Clinician 1 and submit blogs to the website, with a goal of highlighting both the clinician and patient experience in health care.
Disclaimer: The viewpoint expressed in this article is the opinion of the author and is not necessarily the viewpoint of the owners or employees at Healthcare Staffing Innovations, LLC.