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Phoenix Forward

How health care organizations can help nurses live healthier lives

Yawning nurse.

The demands of work, long hours and long shifts make it hard for nurses to practice the healthy lifestyle habits they're taught to promote to patients. Nursing is the most trusted profession in America, which means that nurses are in a unique position to set positive examples of healthy living for their patients.

"Nurses are under a great deal of stress," says Janeen Dahn, MSN, a certified family nurse practitioner and assistant dean of the University of Phoenix College of Nursing. "And the higher nurses are on the staff totem pole, the more responsibilities and the more stress they have."

Charlene Weber, RN, MSN, an 18-year veteran nurse and nursing educator who is currently completing her PhD in Nursing at University of Phoenix, agrees. She says that the on-the-job stress, as well as demanding personal responsibilities, can contribute to bad habits among nurses, which have been documented in scientific studies published in nursing journals. "I see these patterns developing in my nursing students," Weber says. Students are overtired and maintain poor nutrition; they smoke, they don't exercise, and they don't take the time for recreation, she notes. Caring for others, Weber adds, ought to begin with taking care of yourself. With that in mind, the American Nurses' Association is devoting an entire national conference to the subject this year.

I have the same stresses and choices that my patients do, so I don't excuse myself from making bad choices any more than I do my patients.

Seeing her fellow nurses make poor lifestyle choices inspired Weber, a triathlete and healthy-living enthusiast, to make improving nurses' wellness a personal mission — Weber even wrote her dissertation on the subject. "I've developed a 'Sustainable Wellness Model' for nurses," she explains. "Incorporating exercise, nutrition, stress management and spirituality, the model is based upon personal choice." Weber developed the model in hopes that nursing-education programs will implement it to help prevent nurses from developing poor health habits in the first place.

Wellness comes down to making the right choices, according to Dahn. "When I come home from work with all my responsibilities and all my home chores, the more tired I am at the end of the day," she says. "I look at the clock, and I have a choice — exercise or relax? I have the same stresses and choices that my patients do, so I don't excuse myself from making bad choices any more than I do my patients."

In addition to nurses making better choices, organizations that employ nurses must also do more to encourage wellness, Weber explains. "Organizations can spend the money now [on wellness], or spend it later on higher insurance premiums," Weber says. She suggests offering free on-site fitness classes, banning junk food during work hours and adopting employment policies that discourage smoking.

The development of a wellness nursing specialty could offer a solution to these issues. "We need to create a specialty with advanced training in nutrition, fitness, stress management and other wellness modalities to the benefit of nurses and their patients," Weber says. "If not us, then who? Wellness nurses can be the beginning of change that I would like to see in the profession."

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