Reflections on 2020 The Year of The Nurse
This months #NurseBloggers2020 topic is ‘Reflections on 2020 The Year of The Nurse and Midwife.
This blog captures some of my reflections from the podcast interviews that I have carried out over the last year documenting nurses career stories. In January 2020 my first blog post for the #NurseBloggers2020 challenge, I wrote about how I wanted to set myself a goal of interviewing a nurse a month for my Podcast Real Nurse Stories to capture their nursing career stories to celebrate and mark 2020 The International Year of The Nurse and Midwife. As a professional coach working with nurses and midwives I also wanted to find a way of sharing nurses experiences on managing stress and burnout so that other nurses listening would not feel that they are the only ones struggling with these issues.
No one could foresee back in January what was to come with the COVID-19 pandemic. All nursing hands were required and there were times when I wondered if I would achieve my target of twelve interviews. It didn’t feel right to place additional commitments on nurses who were doing it tough and needed any spare time to rest and recharge.
Despite these challenges I have successfully interviewed 15 nurses, three more than I had originally planned. Back in January, I was a novice Podcaster and had to learn the skills as I went. I have loved every minute of interviewing nurses and listening to their stories, there have been many moments of fun, laughter, emotion, words of wisdom, and advice for nurses just starting out in their careers.
Who I interviewed
Many of the nurses that I interviewed were nominated through the interviewees who identified that a nurse they knew had an important story to tell. The power of Linkedin and the connections I made through a group of nurses that wanted to engage nurses to use LinkedIn as a professional platform was hugely invaluable. I couldn’t have achieved what I have without their support.
I interviewed male and female nurses. Some nurses were students just starting out in their careers, some were experienced nurse leaders, some were nurses who are just a few years into their careers and some were retired nurses, nurse entrepreneurs and emerging nurse leaders. These nurses worked in a variety of settings including community care, emergency, telehealth, Midwifery, aged-care, rehabilitation, education, and the Department of Health. Most of the Nurses I interviewed worked in Australia with 2% working in the UK.
What did I learn
One of the surprising things that came out of my interviews that was commented on several times was the importance of storytelling and how people resonate with stories. It seems that even in the technological age, storytelling and documenting oral history remains an important communication method.
Some of the nurses generously and candidly shared their personal experience of burnout in their stories spoke about the therapeutic effect of sharing their story. They often said that they felt better for talking about their experiences in a way that helped them to see that they could and had moved forward from where they had been when they experienced burnout.
The value of storytelling
Many of the nurses that I interviewed spoke about the importance of having a platform for nurses to share their stories.
For me, the value in sharing their stories through my podcast went some way towards my aim of helping nurses who may be struggling with stress and burnout to realise that they were not alone in their struggles and to learn through listening to the podcast stories how nurses who had experienced burnout managed this in their careers.
Shame and Stigma
There is still a lot of shame and stigma in the nursing profession around burnout and being able to talk about burnout with managers and colleagues and how we support colleagues who are suffering or have experienced burnout. Nurses who have experienced personal burnout and are willing to share their story helps to lessen the stigma around talking about burnout. It also provides a more realistic understanding for members of the public about the challenges and pressures in the nursing profession.
Leaving a legacy
Many of the nurses I interviewed talked about the importance of wanting to leave a legacy and saw the podcast interview as a good way to do this. Some of the nurses I interviewed had been recognised for their contributions to nursing but often shared this at the end of their interviews as if they were shy of sharing their achievements.
Themes from the interviews
One of the questions that I asked every nurse was “ knowing what you know now what advice would you give to a young nurse just starting out in their career?”
There were some similarities and themes that emerged in my podcast interviews from asking this question.
Many of the nurses that I interviewed talked about the importance of mentorship in providing guidance and support whilst they were training and also when newly qualified. The was a reference to mentorship being the difference between leaving and staying in the profession and also in helping early-career nurses keep sight of their ambitions and goals.
Mentors were often seen as being important for nurturing ‘self’ and others especially at the start of a nursing career. Nurses also described how Mentorship empowered early-career nurses in being able to say that they don’t know how to do something. There was an acknowledgement that not being able to admit this in the early days of a nurses career increases stress and eventually burnout as early-career nurses feel that they are expected to know everything.
“Finding your community is more important than finding your clinical Niche, this has made the difference in my nursing career”
Expanding horizons and broadening nursing experience was also a recurring theme. Moving around and trying different roles to then find what it is you really want to specialise in was something that many of the nurses I interviewed gave as advice. Nurses described the notion of “not getting too comfortable” or becoming “complacent” in your first role as this can hinder your growth and development.
Finding my why
Nurses used the terms “finding my Ikigai” or “finding my why” or “doing what you love” as something that had helped them to cope with the challenges and demands of modern-day nursing.
“ If I was starting out again I’d spend more time on understanding who I was a nurse, why it mattered to me and to think about what else was important to me. I think this way I would have avoided burnout in nursing”
Self-determination was a recurring theme during my interviews. Many nurses spoke about “being determined”, “not giving up” or “not taking no for an answer”, “enjoying every minute of your career” “Seeking and taking opportunities as you never know where they will take you” and “being adventurous and courageous” and “keeping a growth mindset”
Taking care or yourself
Taking care of yourself as a nurse was a common piece of advice that the nurses interviewed wanted to give to an early career nurse. Some of the advice given was to “Learn to keep your resilience pot full”, “Watch your inner self-talk”, “practice gratitude”, “develop your emotional intelligence early in your career”, “don’t give too much of yourself, always keep a bit back for you”
All of the nurses that I interviewed had personal strategies to help them manage the challenging demands of a modern nursing career. This ranged from finding a little quiet time at the start of the day by making a conscious effort to get up early to ensure that this happened. Others started the day with a positive affirmation for example; “today is going to be a good day”. Debriefing and practising reflection was also a common theme along with mindfulness and gratitude. Morning coffee and the Morning pre-shift huddle,” knowing who is on and where they are makes a shift easier to get through, especially when it is a tough shift”.
Singing, dog walking, getting enough sleep and life experience that has strengthened personal resilience were also strategies that nurses described as coping mechanisms.
One nurse described what in NLP coaching terms is called an ‘anchor’ where she carries a small pebble in her pocket on every shift. The pebble was given to her by her daughter and every time she is facing a stressful situation she reaches into her pocket and touches the pebble and it takes her right back to her walking on the beach and her daughter finding and giving the pebble to her as a gift.
Making time for you
For newly qualified nurses the advice was to always make time for yourself and to keep life and job separate, enjoy your time off and learning how to leave work at work, learning from role models who do this well.
Throughout these stories, there was a candour about how some nurses recognised that they hadn’t always prioritised their self-care and that they had learnt the hard way as a result of experiencing burnout. Their messages were as a direct result of their personal reflections on their journey and what they would do differently knowing what they know now.
Life long learning
All of the nurses interviewed identified as life long learners. Many described moving every few years taking on new roles and challenges and acquiring the development of new knowledge and skills as a result. Many cited the importance of asking questions in order to learn and particularly emphasised this to students and newly qualified nurses. Having a growth mindset and seeing the importance of self-awareness and self-development was also seen as important advice.
I have really enjoyed interviewing and listening to the stories of nurses both here in Australia and the UK. I feel very privileged to have met so many positive advocates for nursing along the way and makes me proud to call myself a nurse.
There are many things that as a profession we can learn from sharing nurses stories about their careers. Despite the challenges of 2020 with COVID-19, long hours, stress and exhaustion, a rapidly changing health care environment, each story is a testament to the dedication and passion that exists within the nursing profession.
2020 has been an extremely challenging year for nurses globally. Despite this, their Ikigai (the reason for being) is there loud and clear in their stories for all to hear.
If you would like an opportunity to share your story in 2021 please get in touch firstname.lastname@example.org