In an ideal world, there will be no stress in nursing. The nurse would arrive to work well rested, would have all of her personal affairs intact so as not to interfere with her work, and she would never need to go out for a smoke break. She would have an ideal body weight with a healthy and consistent diet. The nurse in the ideal world would always have the opportunity to take a lunch break, would be successfully climbing the nursing career ladder, would not need to take prescriptions to help with mood, sleep or stress, and would endure a whole shift without any physical pain. In this imaginary utopia, nurses would watch out for each other and would always be there to assist one another, they would encourage each other routinely, and they would also be immune to being scoffed at, ignored or demeaned by any other healthcare worker.

Sadly, I know nurses that would be tickled to have just two or three of these conditions satisfied! The truth is, most nurses take better care of their patients and their children than they do of themselves or each other.

The American Nurses’ Association (ANA) Code of Ethics has nine tenets. One of these tenets is especially difficult to support in nursing practice.

The Fifth Tenet States:

“The nurse owes the same duties to self as to others, including the responsibility to preserve integrity and safety, to maintain competence, and to continue personal and professional growth.”1

I understand this to mean that the nurse must put as much effort into dutifully caring for herself and upholding herself in consistent, moral character, as she does for the efforts she invests in her patients. This is something a nurse should strive for throughout her career. There is always room left for improvement. We know nurses tend to be very dedicated, devoted and selfless people. These are admirable qualities and virtues. They seem as innate for the nurse toward the patient as a mother toward her child. How many nurses do you see direct as many efforts toward themselves and each other as they do for their patients? 

Nurses experience a range of emotions in their daily work. These can include everything from feeling challenged, stimulated, overwhelmed, anxious, and frustrated, to feeling competent, confident, and rewarded.

There are many strategies nurses can use when coping with daily stress and strain:

  1. Striving to communicate well at all levels.
  2. Trying to be as non-threatening as possible in all dealings.
  3. Developing a consistent reputation of being approachable.
  4. Maintaining a routine of regular exercise and good nutrition.
  5. Continuing in faith practices, which provide a steady focus and centering.
  6. Taking advantage of the mentors or preceptors provided.
  7. Participating in hobbies for recreation.
  8. Guarding against compassion fatigue through self awareness.
  9. Attaining a certification in one’s nursing specialty.
  10. Considering further one's education as a life-long learner. 

Most of these strategies are clear and self-explanatory, but the professional development and further education strategy actually changes us as human beings. We are better informed and equipped as nurse clinicians, nurse leaders, and nurse educators. These abilities, confidences, and competencies cross over into the other areas of life, as they are all integrated. Becoming a scholar gives a new way to look at life in general. All students in every area of study need to be well-read in a variety of topics, but this is especially true of nurses. Professional development and furthering ones education gives nurses greater credibility. The well-informed nurse can substantiate her opinions and views better by using knowledge, research and experience to create convincing communication.

 Self development helps us to grow satisfied with the person we have become. We give back to the community we live in. It is more than just making a salary, it is part of “our calling” to be a nurse. The time we invest in ourselves yields a great return for us in the form of satisfaction and our improved dealings with others. Let us all promise today that we will make a wholehearted, sustained effort to nurture ourselves better to ward off stress in nursing. It's for our own sake and for the sake of our loved ones, our co-workers and our patients.


Reference: M. A. Burkhardt and A. K. Nathaniel, Ethics & Issues in Contemporary Nursing (2nd ed.) (Albany, NY: Delmar, 2002) 396.