Why are those working in a caring profession neglectful to themselves?
This cartoon popped up on my Facebook feed today. It made me laugh in recognition but then rather sad.
I am a second year mental health nursing student. I am writing this blog on a Saturday morning whilst on a break from my part-time job. I love my job. It is one of three I have that help me fund my way through university. As much as I appreciate my employment there are some weekends where I would like to be doing other things.
”We are not other students; we are student nurses”
Currently, whilst on a community placement from Monday to Friday, this is impossible as the weekend is the only available time in which to earn money. I live and study in Scotland so I am lucky enough to still receive the bursary. Recently, in England, the NHS bursary was cut to be replaced by student loans like other students receive.
But herein lies the problem. We are not other students; we are student nurses.
We frequently are required, as a crucial part of our learning, to work for weeks as a staff nurse would.
We are bound by timetables that dictate our limited holidays and free time (when compared to that of other students).
We must adhere to the NMC standards of conduct in our personal and professional lives.
So, we are not like other students.
“I do receive a bursary but I have three part-time jobs to make up enough hours to cover my costs”
I do receive a bursary but I have three part-time jobs to make up enough hours to cover my rent, bills, university costs, food, travel, clothes and any other unexpected costs that materialise. When on placement I frequently surpass the European working hours limit, as do many others on my course. It is tiring and sometimes detrimental to my health.
Being exhausted, too busy to relax or see friends is not conducive to positive wellbeing. I am not practicing what I preach to patients regarding a balanced lifestyle and good sleep hygiene. I feel like a fraud when I step on to the ward exhausted and try to prepare myself to face a shift where unwell people will need my attention and sensitivity when all I can think of is my bed.
So this semester, I will endeavour to change these habits.
I will try to be more of a student as opposed to a student nurse. I want to join co-curricular societies at the university, attend exercise classes at the university gym and make the most of what my university has to offer. Essentially, I have decided to be selfish.
“I will go to that gig. And I will read that book that has nothing to do with the coursework”
Selfishness is not a quality that has led student nurses to pursue nursing as a vocation. However, it is essential for self-preservation and therefore crucial to being a good nurse. I will cook for my friends. I will go to that gig. And I will read that book that has nothing to do with the coursework. None of these are anything extravagant, but they should contribute to my wellbeing. And I encourage you to do the same.
Part-time jobs (as well as bills of course) are unavoidable but they do not have to dominate our university experience. Nursing is what I want to do this is what motivates me to get up every morning and work hard for it.
But we cannot forget ourselves. Treat yourself how you treat your patients - with care and empathy. Burnout does not only happen to nurses who have worked for twenty years; even as students we must be aware of it.
Do not lose yourself while caring for everyone else.
Rosa Milne is a current student nurse.