by Deborah Swanson
While more than half of all registered nurses work in a hospital, there are many other roles available to an RN with a nursing degree. Occupational health nurses, public health nurses and even traveling nurses are just some of the careers that could have you working outdoors or in hot weather. Since your role is to assist others and care for patients, you must make sure you are comfortable and healthy while working in a warm environment. In addition to wearing lightweight cotton scrubs and taking plenty of breaks, the following tips will help you feel great while you fulfill your healthcare duties.
1. Stay Hydrated
It is always important to stay hydrated as a nurse, but it is even more critical to keep track of your water intake when you spend time working in warm temperatures. The average adult needs between 11.5 and 15.5 cups of water per day, but more may be necessary when you are hot or sweating. To avoid dehydration, nurses who work in hot weather should drink at least 16-20 ounces of fluids in the one to two hours before they start work. After their shift starts, especially if they are outside and active, it is recommended to consume between six and 12 ounces of fluid every 10-15 minutes to prevent dehydration.
Since you will need to consume a lot of fluids each day, it is helpful to carry a reusable water bottle. A flexible, lightweight bottle or flask will fit into a backpack, pocket or fanny pack. Some nurses like to wear the water bottle waist packs sold at sporting goods stores and athletic supply shops. When you want to mix things up, eat fruit with a high water content or drink a healthy beverage.
2. Recall the Signs of Heat-Related Illness
Nurses are trained to know the signs of a heat-related illness such as heat exhaustion or heat stroke. Before you start your new role outdoors, give yourself a refresher of the most common symptoms. A heat rash may start to sting and make your skin red, while heat cramps feel like painful spasms in your muscles.
Common signs of heat exhaustion include excessive sweating, rapid breathing and a weak pulse. If you feel any of these symptoms, be sure to alert a fellow nurse or call 911 in the event of an emergency. It does not matter how trained a healthcare professional you are because it is essential to receive care before the condition turns into a life-threatening heatstroke. Prevent heat cramps and heat exhaustion by drinking fluids, staying physically fit and checking with your doctor about how prescription medications can affect your health outdoors.
3. Eat and Drink Smart
To avoid fatigue or nausea in hot weather, eat smaller meals. A modest-sized salad consisting of hydrating foods like lettuce, cucumbers and strawberries can help you to stay full and energized. Other smart choices include kale, broccoli and cantaloupe. A handful of almonds or a spoonful of peanut butter can give you the energy you need without making you feel weighed down. Mix things up by infusing your water bottle with mint leaves, lemon or pineapple. You can also freeze a full water bottle before you leave for the day so it will defrost as you work.
At the same time, you should steer clear of dehydrating beverages like coffee, alcohol and protein shakes. Soda and sports drinks may taste good, but they will not help you cool off and stay hydrated. A healthy diet at home will keep your body fit, which will make it easier to work outdoors, no matter the temperature.
4. Carry Helpful Accessories
Other helpful accessories for nurses who work in hot weather include a hat and sunglasses. A hat with a wide brim and some neck protection is always best for sunny outdoor worksites and avoiding sunburn. It is also essential to wear sunscreen on your body and face. Dermatologists recommend using SPF 30 and above, which helps to block up to 97 percent of harmful UVB rays from the sun.
A smartwatch or smartphone can help you keep track of the outdoor temperature or locate a place to get a drink. A medical bag or tote helps to keep stethoscopes, protective gear and medical devices secure while you examine a patient or enjoy some shade. Along with these tools, athletic shoes and moisture-wicking socks will help to keep your feet cool and comfortable while you are on the job. The best footwear for nurses working outside combines a slip-resistant grip with breathable material and a flexible feel.
5. Wear the Right Scrubs
Now that you have the right accessories and footwear, it is time to complete your look with stylish nursing scrubs. Outdoor nurses and traveling nurses tend to prefer cotton scrubs over other materials because cotton is breathable, soft and durable. It also tends to soak up sweat, which allows for heat to escape the body and keep you cooler. Cotton uniforms are available from the top scrub brands, so you will easily find the patterns and colors that you like best.
Some of the most popular styles for warm weather include short-sleeved, V-neck cotton scrub tops and cotton print scrub hats. Wrap tops, drawstring pants and jogger scrub pants are also popular. When cotton scrubs are impractical or unavailable, it is fine to choose a cotton/polyester blend.
You may not be able to control the environment in which you serve the public or care for patients, but you can take steps to stay healthy and cool. Think about your clothing, nursing accessories, meals and fluid intake to make your day more productive and focused. The habits you adopt while working outdoors will be beneficial for serving your patients.
Deborah Swanson is a Coordinator for the Real Caregivers Program at allheart.com, a site dedicated to celebrating medical professionals and their journeys. When she isn’t interviewing caregivers and writing about them, she’s gardening.
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.