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'Should we all be a little more selfish?'

  • Comments (24)

I have noticed something in today’s NHS and it’s something I can only describe as ‘healthcare martyrdom’.

This pervasive culture which has permeated our hospitals makes nurses sacrifice their sanity on a regular basis.

Even before I started my nurse training I would notice staff on the ward missing their lunch break in order to finish some paperwork, or if they were to take a break they would sit in front of the computer with one hand on a sandwich and the other hand on a mouse.

I saw nurses who said that they hadn’t had a toilet break or a drink all day because there wasn’t the time. There were nurses who frequently stayed hours after their shift had finished at 9:30 PM only to be back at 7 the next morning. I’m sure that many students also can relate to this, not wanting to break the status quo and trying to give a good impression.

I’m think that this culture is dangerous and destructive.

So who is my priority? Is it my patients? My family? Or should it be me?

If we continue to put ourselves at the bottom of the list of priorities then we shall end up worn out and broken. We will become ill and tired before our time. We won’t be able to function or care for the patients that are the very reason we entered this profession in the first place.

If we started to put ourselves first on more occasions than I believe we will become more productive and compassionate nurses.

I’m not saying we should all become self-centred. But every day when I see nurses suffering I feel worried.

So take that two minute water break, go to the toilet if you need to and try to eat somewhere that doesn’t remind you of the work you have to do.

Because if you become unwell, who will be left to look after your patients?

  • Comments (24)

Readers' comments (24)

  • Adam I am in absolute agreement with you on this one, and it is a stance I wish more Nurses would take.

    It is about time Nurses realised that it is not unreasonable to want a healthy work life balance, or reasonable breaks so that we are not collapsing, or a fair off duty for the same reasons. It is not wrong to expect that sometimes we put ourselves, and our personal lives before our work. It is not right that we miss birthdays and christmas' and time with family or friends month after month, year after year. It is not right that our health and our relationships suffer.

    Many Nurses give their all when they are on shift, but we all have to realise that this martyrdom is getting us nowhere apart from an early grave and a downtrodden profession.

    Look at the attitudes of some before the recent strikes. 'We will just have to put up with the decimation of our pensions and our pay because after all, the patient must come first!' Why?

    Of course patient care and well being is important, but it is not down to us to sacrfice ourselves because of the failings of the powers that be. I truly think that managers/trusts/government get away with unsafe and dangerous staffing levels, poor working conditions, the general dismissive treatment of our profession, etc et etc, precisely BECAUSE of this 'martyrdom' attitude displayed by many.

    It needs to stop.

    I urge all of you to stop this martyrdom attitude now. Work to rule, and stop staying for hours after your shift has finished. Refuse off duties that are blatantly unreasonable and unhealthy. Demand days off together to get a semblance of a work/life balance. Leave on time, take your breaks. Take action in further strikes and realise that patient care is the responsibility of the management/government too.

    To do so is not being selfish, it is not being self centred, but even if it was, then so what? Look after yourselves first, because noone else will, and as Adam says, who will be left to look after your patients then?

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  • Adam Roxby

    Hello Mike

    Im glad you agree. It is something I see all too often and I thought I should say something about it. Im also glad I made it clear that the patients should be the main focus but there comes a time when nurses (and students) need to take care of themselves.

    Im looking forward to hearing what others think as well. Thanks once again.

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  • Aaron

    I've seen nurses suffer for their patients, missing toilet breaks, skipping food and drink or staying beyond their shift hours. There has to be a limit of course, but surely a certain level of suffering is acceptable on our part? Unacceptable levels of suffering being the point where there is a danger of you becoming a patient or danger to your patients/colleagues? For example, missing your lunch for a day won't kill you, but missing it for a week probably will damage your effectiveness and health. Self awareness is key, awareness of your capabilities and limitations (especially the latter!)

    Mike raises good points, but in the ideal world we'd have enough staff etc to get everything done and still get good breaks etc. We all know that isn't the case, the workload changes constantly and will be good on some days or bad on others, sometimes staff are ill and sometimes the world conspires to make our day a living hell. If we don't push ourselves to achieve our objectives for the day, in the name of encouraging the established authority to rectify our issues surely only our patients will suffer?

    I don't think that taking care of yourself on duty is selfish at all, but making reasonable sacrifices for your clients is honourable?

    I think teamwork plays a big part here, being able to recognise when a co-worker is approaching the danger zone?

    I'm only a 1st year student, and only just finding my way in the world of nursing; but it seems to me that until nurses get more power in how the money budgeted to the NHS is spent we'll remain far away from achieving that ideal world. Until that world arrives, we have to make do with what we have.

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  • Here in the States, it would help if the ones who consider it such a badge of dedication to skip meals and stay late wouldn't look down their noses at those of us who prefer not to treat our personal needs with disdain. I, for one, can think better and be less impatient if my stomach isn't growling and I'm not resisting the urge to hold my crotch because my bladder is about to pop. Seriously...taking care of our needs at work means less burnout and better patient care...being a little more selfish about our needs just benefits everyone. Well said, Adam.

    Jessica Ellis

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  • Adam Roxby

    Hey everyone

    As usual, I love reading the responses I get from my articles.
    Aaron – I would agree that a certain amount of suffering should be expected that if it is a fine balance. I think the answer to most of the problems that I raise it in my articles is more staff but has that is unlikely to happen other solutions have to be sought.
    I think you make an interesting point about empowering nurses they have more control over budgeting but I wonder as to whether that would just add another managerial aspect to a job that is already weighed down by paperwork?
    Anyway, I was once again for your comment.

    Jessica – I don't think I have knowingly responded to a comment from the US so that's quite exciting. I'm also pleased to see that you agree with me, thank you.

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  • Anonymous

    Once again you bring up an excellent debate, only this time it is dear to my heart.

    In local government we face the same issue, the job always comes first and I strongly believe that this should change.

    As servers of the public we are abused and exploited into doing extra work because of our conscience. By missing breaks/annual leave or working extra hours we are covering up the fact that there is not enough staff to provide the service that is being asked of us. This behaviour really needs to stop as it is giving the government the wrong message and is not flagging up the real problems with the NHS/Local Government.

    If we continually take on extra work we are replacing much needed extra staff and setting ourselves up for stress related illnesses this in turn puts more pressure on those left to do the work.

    Sadly, our conscience is our worst enemy as the public/patients will need to suffer before anyone addresses this issue.

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  • Adam Roxby

    Hello anonymous

    I think you have highlighted of a vicious circle that we seem to have got ourselves into. We create the illusion that the system is working and it is an illusion that is only sustained by the hard work and sacrifices made by the staff. While the recent strikes may have been about the pension pay, is not hard to see more disillusionment in the public sector because of working conditions, pay and public expectations.
    Thanks for your comment.

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  • Aaron, you are confusing a 'certain level of suffering', which some may deem as normal hard work or the very occassional sacrifice to help a colleague which I agree is a good thing, with the institutional and quite frankly poor conditions and practices imposed on us that are at the very least unhealthy and unsafe, and should almost certainly be illegal in the large part. Suffering with these sacrifices is not honourable, it is stupid and ultimately self defeating.

    Anonymous | 6-Dec-2011 5:08 pm well said.

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  • Adam Roxby

    Everything in moderation as I like to say. You should just know what your limits are and be sure not to put yourself at risk.

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  • Anonymous

    I put this comment into 'Recognise and reward the moral code of nursing' by mistake but found I could copy and paste it here.

    Anonymous | 8-Dec-2011 12:29 pm

    on the last ward I was in contact with the nurses always left on time even if it meant leaving a patient in the lurch. they said that if they didn't look after themselves they were unable to look after their patients.
    this is very different to the attitude we had where patients always came first no matter how late you had to stay, even though our bosses (following a directive from above - ie the coffee drinkers in the top floor offices) said no as there was no overtime payment, which we didn't expect anyway. they failed to understand that our aim was our patients and colleagues and not extra pay. despite this we could not envisage leaving a patient or a colleague in the lurch so we arranged among ourselves to sometimes take the extra time off if and when possible to make up for it, usually at weekends where there was a long shift overlap but this was not planned in advance we just did it if the ward was particularly quiet and we were not on take in.

    however, the new bosses who replaced the old because the autorities put them there considering them more efficient or better puppets and pushed the good old style ones with whom we had a good working relationship out, tried to stop this as well so it had to be done covertly.

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