Nurses Are Setting A Healthy Example For The Nation


By Pamela F. Cipriano, PhD, RN

While nurses are committed to caring for their patients, unfortunately, many struggle to take care of themselves.

As America’s most honest and ethical profession, nurses assume many different and unique roles—caregiver, teacher, patient advocate, and a listening ear. Now, nurses are taking on an even greater role helping their patients, families and communities lead a healthier life. Every day, Americans are making lifestyle changes, and many are looking to nurses and other health care professionals to educate them on how to prevent illness and injury, facilitate healing and alleviate suffering. That’s why a new initiative designed to transform the health of the nation by improving the health of America’s 3.6 million registered nurses, is so vitally important.

While nurses are committed to caring for their patients, unfortunately, many struggle to take care of themselves. In fact, in a number of significant indicators, nurses are less healthy than the average American. Nurses are more likely to be overweight, have higher levels of stress and get less than the recommended hours of sleep. In addition, hazards such as workplace violence and musculoskeletal injuries are contributing factors to poorer health. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, nurses and health care workers experience the highest rate of non-fatal occupational injuries and illnesses of any sectors, including construction.

The very nature of health care delivery, which requires 24/7 support, plays a critical role in the health of nurses. Health care is, after all, people caring for other people, and that comes with a certain amount of stress. In fact, a recent survey identified stress as the top work environment health and safety risk. Shift work, often part of a nurse’s job, can also impact their health. But what shouldn’t be part of the job is the debilitating pain and often career-ending injuries nurses suffer every day from manually lifting patients—an estimated 3,600 pounds per shift. Safe patient handling and mobility (SPHM) programs, if properly implemented, can drastically reduce health care worker injuries. Eight overarching SPHM standards of care have been identified to help nurses, other health care workers, and health care facilities address these challenges.

But even with advances in technology, these challenges are not going away. And they are being addressed by engaging nurses and the patients and communities they serve in the Healthy Nurse, Healthy Nation Grand Challenge. The idea is pretty simple: any clinician who is healthy themselves is more likely to talk to their patients about how to get healthy, and will be more credible when promoting those behaviors. If we support nurses in getting healthy, they will model these habits for their patients, family members, friends, colleagues and communities.

Healthy Nurse, Healthy Nation aims to do just that by providing nurses with resources to support them on their wellness journey. Through Healthy Nurse, Healthy Nation, nurses will improve their health in five key areas: physical activity, rest, nutrition, quality of life, and safety. It’s important that each nurse develop a plan that fits their individual lifestyle, and there are many ways nurses and employers of nurses are incorporating important lifestyle changes.

The Nebraska Nurses Association, for example, is sponsoring a 5K fun run/walk and offering yoga sessions; the Mayo Clinic Arizona is partnering with its bedside nursing staff to encourage them to “change your number,” whether it’s related to weight loss, stress, rest or medical conditions; and VCU Health in Virginia, has set up six “Watson Rooms,” quiet spaces for nurses to decompress or relax after experiencing stress on the job. Each room has a massage chair, soft lighting, aroma therapy, and calming music.

Nurses are on the frontlines of health care, and their well-being is critical to the health of the nation. We welcome anyone to join the challenge!


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