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Balancing Patient Care and Self Care as a Nurse

A Nurse Picture

Should you prioritize patient care or self care as a nurse? While this is a commonly asked question, it doesn’t need to be an either/or answer. With the right skills, boundaries, and expectations, you can thrive as a nurse and as a human being. You shouldn’t have to sacrifice your wellbeing for your nursing role–here’s how to avoid that.

Self Care Isn’t Selfish

First things first: the saying self care isn’t selfish applies to nurses. In fact, there’s plenty of peer-reviewed research to back up the claim that when nurses feel refreshed and happy, they provide better patient care:

  • A 2020 study discussed how nurses who practice self care were better able to serve COVID-19 patients.

  • Nurse leads who practice self care are more empathetic and resilient leaders, according to a 2021 study.

  • Along with individual studies, a 2019 meta-analysis concluded self care was essential to avoid nurse burnout AND provide better patient care.

When you fill your own cup first, you are better able to serve your clients and progress your nursing career. But filling your own cup doesn’t just look like doing yoga or running a bubble bath (as great as those things are!). For nurses, it often boils down to setting boundaries, developing certain skills, and addressing societal and self expectations.

Setting Boundaries as a Nurse

Setting boundaries gives you the space to perform your best and to protect your physical and emotional energy. While boundary setting looks different on a case by case basis, common examples include:

  • Voicing concerns with your nursing manager if your workload is unrealistic

  • Take scheduled breaks–and fully unplug from work

  • Say no to taking on additional responsibilities if you are unable to

An important thing to remember about boundaries is that they are actions you take, not things you ask of other people. While you can (and should) ask your manager or coworkers for help when you’re struggling, that’s not setting a boundary. Instead, boundary setting involves saying what you can or cannot do AND acting in a way that supports those limits.

Developing the Right Skills

Along with learning to set boundaries, there’s a couple other skills that can help you practice self care as a nurse:

  • Time management: nurses have to juggle a variety of patients, medications, and administrative responsibilities in any given shift. Improving your time management skills can help. Check out these free time management tools from UNC Pembroke to get started.

  • Learn to prioritize: you only have so many hours in a shift. Make sure you’re focusing on the most important tasks first through prioritization. Check out this free guide to priority setting for nurses.

  • Seek support as needed: whether from coworkers or online resources, you don’t have to tackle nurse burnout alone. While it might not seem like a skill, knowing when to ask for help is one–and an underutilized skill at that. Check out this free Nursing Times guide to learn more.

If you want to dive into any of these topics further, there’s also free CEUs for nurses on these and similar topics for North Carolina nurses.

Addressing Societal and Self Expectations

In society, nurses are seen as caring figures who sacrifice sleep and their own well-being to provide excellent patient care. However, this can lead to feeling guilty if you’re not providing 110% to your patients (which you don’t have to do to be a good nurse).

Too often, it can be easy to internalize the guilt that you should be “doing more” for your patients or you’re not a “good enough” nurse. When this guilt and shame comes up, shift into a more positive mindset.

Remind yourself that self care supports you AND your patients (remember, there’s peer-reviewed studies to back this claim). Since self care makes you a better nurse, it’s actually an essential part of patient care and something all nurses ought to prioritize.

Assess Your Environment

While it is your responsibility to set boundaries, address self expectations, and develop the right skills, these practices won’t improve self care or patient care in a toxic workplace. If you’ve taken these steps and your work situation hasn’t improved, it’s time for a change.

Luckily, your skillset is in-demand and there’s plenty of free resources out there to help nurses in North Carolina land their dream nursing roles. One such resource is HireMe Healthcare, the free job app that connects nurses in North Carolina with burnout-free, high-paying nursing roles.

Your dream nursing role is one download away. Download our app today.


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