It’s not an easy time to be involved in the field of healthcare. The COVID-19 pandemic put an enormous strain on the system and pushed out a lot of non-essential procedures, causing a ripple effect that is still ongoing. Additionally, there are more seniors in the United States than ever before as the Baby Boomer generation ages.
New nurses should have no problem finding a job with the demand for health services now and in the future. However, they will face other trials as they enter the workforce and gain experience in the field.
So, how can you prepare nursing students for these realities? Here are a few tips.
Stress and Burnout
Stress is rampant in the medical field. Nurses are overwhelmed and stretched thin. They work long shifts, often overnight, which disrupts normal sleep patterns and makes the problem worse. Over time, this chronic stress and overwhelm can lead to burnout and physical health problems.
When working with nursing students, it’s important to emphasize the need for self-care in the industry. Students should get information on how regular exercise, proper diet, hydration, and clear boundaries between work and their personal lives are essential to preventing burnout and managing stress.
If you can, provide students with actionable tips for fitting in self-care, like packing healthy snacks that are easy to eat, creating a consistent sleep schedule, and using small pockets of time for practices like meditation.
For many nurses, simple burnout won’t be the worst problem they encounter. Some will also develop compassion fatigue, which occurs when a person in a caregiving role takes on the suffering of the people they are helping. Over time, compassion fatigue can lead to depression, a lack of empathy, intrusive thoughts, and an inability to separate from work.
Compassion fatigue has been a growing problem in the medical field for years. The increased secondhand trauma nurses, doctors, and other medical personnel are facing has led to more people developing compassion fatigue than ever before.
Nursing students need to be aware that compassion fatigue can occur. Make sure that they are familiar with the signs of compassion fatigue so they can take a step back when needed. Self-care, talking with a mental health professional, and actively leaving work at work can all help in addressing or preventing compassion fatigue.
Everyone has had a bad boss. In nursing, which is already a stressful job, nurses might struggle with their daily responsibilities and feel overwhelmed if they are not supervised by effective nurse leaders.
Teach your students what an effective nurse leader looks like so that they know when management is exhibiting problematic behavior. In some cases, they might need to contact HR. In other cases, finding another job might be the best solution. You can also encourage your students to become effective nurse managers themselves!
Lack of Autonomy
Some of your nursing students will be content with their roles as they become more experienced nurses. However, some will likely be frustrated by the lack of autonomy that sometimes goes along with the role. Nurses are often expected to work independently, but are not able to provide certain kinds of care to patients or make some types of decisions.
Talk to your students about their options for furthering their education so they can enjoy greater career autonomy. One option is to become a nurse practitioner, which offers higher salaries, exceptional autonomy, and more career opportunities. More nurse practitioners will be needed in the coming years as the demand for general health services increases.
Communication Issues & Discrimination
As the United States continues to become more diverse, there will be some challenges associated with providing patient care. Communication issues due to a language barrier or misunderstandings about a patient’s culture are likely to occur. Discrimination is also still a major problem in the field of nursing, and it can go both ways.
Nurse educators must teach students strategies for effective communication and resources for communicating with patients when there is a language barrier. Nursing schools also need to emphasize culturally competent nursing and provide strategies for tackling discrimination in the workplace.
While the internet can be an excellent educational tool for patients seeking medical information, there is also a lot of misinformation online. Not only that, but healthcare systems in the United States continue to grow more complicated, making it difficult for patients to understand their insurance and other factors of their care.
Nursing students need to understand that one of their roles will be as a health educator. They will need to know how to tactfully educate patients while remaining compassionate, respectful, and non-judgmental. Public health education continues to become more important as devastating viruses affect the global population and spread rapidly. Some nurses even use social media to help people gain health literacy and knowledge.
Nurses will quickly be faced with the fact that health disparities are still a major problem in healthcare. People from vulnerable groups often face discrimination, poor care, and lack of access to basic health services. Compassionate nurses often struggle with feelings of helplessness in the face of health disparities.
While there’s not much nurses can do on the job to prevent health disparities, apart from providing all patients with the care and respect they deserve, be sure to provide your students with ways they can help end disparities when they’re off the clock. Nurses can become passionate advocates for patients’ rights and use their knowledge to lobby for better healthcare for all.
As the number of seniors in the United States gets larger, nurses will likely be asked to take on more and more responsibility.
Like other sources of work stress, staying on top of self-care is important and creating separation between work life and home life is essential. Nurses can’t properly care for their patients if they don’t care for themselves!
Be Honest, But Optimistic
When it comes to preparing nursing students for the future, it’s important to balance honesty with optimism. Highlight both the good and bad of working in the industry. You don’t want to scare your students, but you do want them to be ready for the trials of tomorrow.
Most people who become nurses do so because they love helping people. It’s an extremely fulfilling career—as long as you’re ready for the ups and downs.