6 Tips for Working in a Hospital with COVID Patients
By Jennifer Larson, contributor
With more than 7 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the United States to date, it’s pretty much inevitable that your hospital or healthcare organization will be caring for someone affected by the disease. In fact, you may have already cared for COVID patients yourself.
The numbers of COVID-19 cases continue to climb, and Anthony Fauci, MD, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, recently told the U.S. House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis that the pandemic isn’t going away anytime soon.
This unrelenting pandemic makes nurses’ work even more stressful than usual. How you approach stress of the job can make a big difference, though, both for your patients and for your own physical and mental health. Here are six strategies to help.
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Six tips to help nurses caring for COVID patients:
1. Stay on top of policies and procedures.
Georgia Reiner, senior risk specialist at Nurses Service Organization, recommends that nurses familiarize themselves with their employer’s policies and guidelines about infection control--and to find out what process to follow if they themselves wind up testing positive for COVID-19. This is especially important if you’re new on the job, either as a permanent staffer or as a travel nurse.
If you’re proactive and do this in advance, “you will already know what the guidelines are and who to get in touch with,” says Reiner.
2. Take your breaks.
It’s tempting to work through your breaks when you feel like you’re drowning in work. But you’re entitled to your breaks, including your lunch break, and you need to take them. Take a break, eat something, maybe even go outside for a short walk.
Getting outside into a different environment and some fresh air can lighten your mood and clear your mind before having to continue your shift.
3. Focus on the present.
Many experts suggest that you embrace mindfulness to help you stay centered. At the root of mindfulness is the effort to remain in the present moment, rather than ruminating about the past or speculating anxiously about the future.
It can be harmful to let negative, or maladaptive, thoughts about the past or the future take over, says pediatric intensive care physician Greg Hammer, MD, author of GAIN without Pain: The Happiness Handbook for Health Care Professionals.
But you can work on focusing on the task at hand, right in front of you, and not letting your thoughts run away from you.
“You don’t have to defer being present,” says Hammer. “You do have to practice it, like you exercise a muscle.”
4. Practice being grateful.
It’s normal to sometimes despair during an intensively stressful time. But you can benefit by recognizing the good things that are happening, too. Research into the science of gratitude has found that gratitude not only increase your happiness, but it also improves your health.
Every day, take a few minutes to think of three good things, suggests Hammer. You could do it when you first wake up in the morning, or right before you go to sleep. You could do it when you’re walking into a patient’s room. Soon, you’ll have a list of things for which you are grateful.
5. Stay on top of documentation.
Even if you and your fellow nurses are stressed, and there are more rigid infection protocols to abide by, don’t neglect documentation.
“When you’re looking at a busy nursing unit, documentation can be one of the first things to fall by the wayside,” says Reiner.
But it’s essential to make sure that you capture all the necessary information in a patient’s record in case any questions arise later—or if there is any miscommunication among members of the patient care team.
6. Leave work at work.
It’s critical to be fully engaged on the job, focusing on your patients’ care and your own safety. But when you leave the hospital, do your best to leave those issues and concerns behind.
Make a conscious effort to not dwell upon work-related issues once you walk through the front door of your home. You don’t want them to encroach upon your time off—the time when you can address your own needs, spend time with your family, and rest.
Granted, this may take some practice. You may have to work on recognizing when you’re fretting about work and consciously think about something else instead. And if you’re losing sleep or feel unable to get past the stress from your job, despite your best efforts, reach out to mental health professionals available through your hospital’s or staffing agency’s employee assistance program (EAP).
Coping Strategies for Nurses: How to Manage Ongoing Stress During COVID-19
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