Op-ed: Support of nurses’ wellness critical to healthcare

December 01, 2021

By Jennifer Berube, Ph.D.

            Health, wellness and self-care are priorities for nurses. Health incorporates the components of physical and mental well-being. Core skills related to self-care include mindfulness, emotional intelligence, self-compassion and intention. Dimensions of wellness include physical, intellectual, emotional, social, spiritual, occupational, financial and environmental domains. Included in this are aspects related to a healthy workplace environment. As such, it is essential for nurses to engage in health- and wellness-promoting activities, and for healthcare work environments to support health and wellness.

            The American Nurses Association Code of Ethics, Provision 5 states that nurses owe the same duties to self as to others, including the responsibility to promote health and safety. However, according to a recent survey, 68% of nurses reported they put the health, safety and wellness of patients before their own and 82% of nurses are reportedly at a significant level of risk for workplace stress. Prior to the pandemic, nurses had reported suboptimal physical and mental health, and this has been exacerbated related to the effects of the pandemic. The health and well-being of nurses is essential, so much so that the American Nurses Association, in coordination with the World Health Organization, marked 2020 the Year of the Nurse – which was extended through 2021 related to the impact of the pandemic. Two corresponding health and wellness initiatives from the American Nurses Foundation include the Well-Being Initiative and the Healthy Nurse Healthy Nation Initiative.

            As we know, nurses are aware of health, wellness and self-care strategies, but often fail to apply these principles in daily life and nursing practice. Beyond affecting nurses, this is significant because poor health can affect the delivery of health care. Factors such as poor physical and mental health, stress, burnout, fatigue and distress can impact quality and safety. Self-care for nurses and workplace wellness initiatives can address these issues. Self-care for nurses has been associated with positive outcomes such as increased resilience and decreased compassion fatigue and burnout. There is also an association between workplace wellness support and improved health and wellness.

            In addition to nurses engaging in self-care practices, a healthy workplace environment is also essential to promoting nurses’ health and wellness, and fostering self-care activities. A recent survey found 25% of nurses had been physically assaulted at work by a patient or patient’s family member, 9% of nurses were concerned for their physical safety at work, and about half of nurses reported they had been bullied in some manner in the workplace. Important components related to safe workplace environments from the American Nurses Association include safe staffing, health and safety, and ending and preventing nurse abuse, violence, incivility and bullying. The American Association of Critical Care Nurses (AACN) incorporates the following aspects of a healthy workplace environment: skilled communication, true collaboration, effective decision making, appropriate staffing, meaningful recognition and authentic leadership. They report these techniques have led to improvements in quality of patient care, appropriate staffing, intent to stay, moral distress and nurse satisfaction.

            It was recently reported that 67% of nurses have access to worksite wellness health promotion programs. According to the American Nurses Association, health care work settings that invest in safety, health and well-being can improve recruitment, retention and satisfaction, and help maintain a sustainable workforce, all of which are necessities in today’s healthcare environment. There are many strategies to support health and wellness for nurses within the workplace environment. The American Nurses Association recommends that nurses take advantage of what employers already offer and assist in securing more health and well-being opportunities in the workplace.

Jennifer Berube, Ph.D., is an assistant professor in Trine University’s RN-to-BSN program.

Last Updated: 12/01/2021

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