December 9, 2016

The Emotional Cost Of Being A Nurse


There are many aspects of the nursing profession people prefer not to discuss. One topic on which I've corresponded privately with nurses nationwide involves the emotional cost of being a nurse. I get many messages about this and have found that it affects nurses across the spectrum. It has nothing to do with your institution, work experience, or educational background. It has to do with the profession itself. Each job has its own unique set of issues. But the medical profession has a distinct one - mortality. With each code blue, there is an understanding that the human body can only take so much stress and that the choices we make matter significantly. These are the thoughts that stick with medical professionals and cause an emotional strain for some. We, as nurses, participate in intense moments of crisis and each occurrence has the potential to change us in some way.

When I was in nursing school, I don't recall anyone every considering the emotional aspect of someone dying or becoming permanently injured. These situations were often presented as "interesting" cases during lectures or clinicals. The educational perspective provided a type of distance, which made it fictional on some level. These encounters had your heart racing and curiosity ignited. It was something you observed, but you never truly understood the ramifications of what was happening. I was educated on vital signs, cardiac arrest, and the physiological aspects of death, but I had no course on managing my feelings before, during, or after cardiopulmonary arrest events. There was no seminar on how to approach a wife and explain to her that her husband of 30 years had just died. I, as a nurse, never made this notification. But, I was often the first person to be introduced during the situation. I was the first medical professional the wife saw, the first point of contact. Do you know how hard it is to say nothing when you know everything? It's difficult, beyond words. This patient occupied a brief moment in your life, but he was a spouse and father to others. Decades of relationships and connections existed, to now be lost forever. It's tough to see the destruction of a family and then clock out, go to the grocery store, and get your own family some dinner. It's an odd juxtaposition.

With each encounter, you learn something about yourself, humanity and the human condition. It's sobering and it allows you the ability to sincerely appreciate your life and loved ones. The effects of death don't solely impact the patient's loved ones. It can linger with medical personnel from minutes to years. For all the nurses who struggle with this emotional toll, understand that this is normal. You wouldn't be human if catastrophic events like this didn't stir you in some way. What matters is the overall impact and timeframe of the events that remain in your psyche. Your childhood, history, emotional state, and lifestyle all play a role in this process. If this emotional strain begins to cause dysfunction in your life, you might need professional help from a therapist or counselor. You determine nursing's influence and significance in your life. It can be positive or negative, but only you can ascertain the intention of what you've experienced. We, as nurses, help our community in times of crisis. Don't allow those times of crisis to negativity impact your life and relationships.