Have I mentioned how much more I am loving my job now since I started working as an emergency room nurse?
A year ago I was a per diem resource nurse who worked on multiple different med/surg and telemetry floors all over our hospital. Being a resource nurse works well for me due to the flexibility it gives me as a working Mom.
But unfortunately, I was becoming incredibly burnt out. Bitter even. I was losing my passion and I started to wonder if I was due for a career change-up.
I even went so far as to interview for a few medical device companies as a Clinical Nurse Specialist (I was a medical device salesperson before my career change into nursing). Needless to say, I am so glad I decided not to accept any of those positions!
Instead, I adopted a new specialty as an RN in the emergency room and reignited my passion for nursing and healthcare. When the opportunity came up for me to interview for cross-training into my own hospital’s level 1 trauma center, I jumped on it. I started my ER journey on Easter Sunday 2017.
I have always thought of the ER as a scary portal into the hospital. We are often overbooked with patients and the load can be relentless. There are sometimes grim patient situations and sometimes patients die, despite every life-saving effort.
You will be hard pressed to find medical professionals who deal with more stress and pressure then emergency room nurses. But I am grateful to expand on my med/surg and telemetry knowledge base and learn a new specialty.
Here are my top 6 reasons that I love being an emergency room nurse:
My IV start skills are so much better.
Since becoming a nurse in the emergency room my IV start skills have gotten so much better.
In an emergency we need to be able to start IV’s fast for testing, various medications, pain and nausea relief, IV hydration and antibiotic therapy, among other things.
Fortunately in the ER, I get the opportunity to start anywhere from 5 or more IV’s in a single shift. So I have the opportunity to perfect my skills frequently on many patients who are difficult IV sticks.
Many of the nurses I work with have been in the ER for a decade or longer and their IV skills are unbelievable. Several nurses are even trained to do ultrasound guided IV starts on patients with hard-to-stick veins.
There is an enormous variety in our patient population.
Every day is an adventure. Sometimes it can be overwhelming, but never boring. I have had patients ranging in age from 2 days to 108 years. Patients have arrived with complaints from hiccups, to every type of accident you can imagine and everything in between.
As one would expect, many of our patients are really sick or critically injured. Our patient loads include: various types of trauma patients, septic patients, elderly patients, organ transplanted patients, patients with cancer or autoimmune diseases, psych patients, and small children and babies, and so much more. There is rarely a dull moment and always something new to learn.
The teamwork in the emergency room is impressive.
The coordination when a trauma patient arrives is amazing. Patients come in to the ER in urgent situations where the cause if injury or disease isn’t yet known. Doctors, nurses, techs, pharmacists and other medical professionals cohesively work together to give fast life-saving medical treatment.
In addition, emergency room nurses often have their own sections but there are also many “resource” nurses on the floor to assist with additional patient care. When a patient arrives with a more serious condition, there are always nurses who come in to help.
For example: we call a “code” for septic, stroke and head trauma patients. It is an overhead call to other nurses in the ER that a particular room needs additional help. Within seconds there are a handful or more nurses in the room helping with triage, initial assessments, IV sticks, blood draws, and many other nurse protocols and procedures.
The emergency room moves fast.
Many call it “organized chaos.” The emergency room is fine-tuned machine with each nurse component working semi-gracefully around one another. From the outside it might look like craziness, but the madness always has a method.
I am constantly learning.
I am a closet science geek. And I love the cerebral stimulation that I get as an emergency room nurse. I have had the opportunity to see more disease states, complex injuries and unusual diagnoses then I ever could have imagined even existed.
It would not be an exaggeration to say I learn ten new things everyday at work. To top it off, I am surrounded by some of the most intelligent people I have ever met. Many of my co-workers have the same drive for helping people I do. They motivate me to keep learning.
I just have to laugh at some of the stuff I see.
Nursing is a work of heart.
Please forgive me for saying this. This may seem inappropriate but it is how I maintain my resiliency.
The emergency room is a very emotional place. Patients never want to be there and usually don’t understand, for example, why they have to wait in the hallway an hour or even much longer until their test results are completed or the medical team decides on a plan for them. They get upset and tired of waiting.
Sadly, sometimes they take out there frustrations on the people working the hardest to get them the medical treatment they need: the nurses.
Sometimes things just get so odd that I can’t help but laugh. There are days when I see people come into the ER saying that they feel like dying, but end up having a diagnosis of constipation. Once I had a college student come in for a temperature of 99 degrees. I’m like, seriously? How do you even get through the day?
I have had so many “I couldn’t make this stuff up if I tried” experiences in the emergency room to last me a long time. But that’s one of of the reasons I like being in the ER versus other parts of the hospital. It can get weird, but I’m always learning. And I’m so grateful for the opportunity to keep learning.
Are you an emergency room nurse? Have you always worked there? Have you tried any other specialties? I would love to hear your thoughts.
Sarah, Mother Nurse Love
On October 1st, a single shooter sprayed bullets into the crowd at a country music festival in Las Vegas killing 59 people and injuring over 500. This was the largest U.S mass shooting in modern history.
My heart hurts. I can’t imagine how a single shooter can be capable of murdering and injuring so many people.
One of my goals over the next few months is to find a way to get more involved in assisting in any way with implementing gun control laws. I can’t have my children growing up in a world where mass casualties by automatic weaponry is normal and occurring repeatedly.
However, at the present moment I want to focus on the individual acts of heroism and acts of compassion that are coming about as a result of the Las Vegas massacre.
There are always helpers.
Here are just a few acts of compassion that occurred this week:
#1. Thousands of people stood in line for hours to give blood.
#2. Ride shares and taxi companies offered free transportation to blood donation centers and hospitals.
#3. Leaders from many religions held vigils and encouraged giving.
#4. Hotels donated free rooms to people traveling to Las Vegas to help victims.
#5. I personally know people living in Las Vegas who have graciously offered their homes to the family members of victims who are coming from out-of-town.
“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “look for the helpers. You will always find people helping.” -Mr. Rogers
How you can help now:
1. Donate to the Las Vegas Victim’s Fund. As of today the campaign has raised almost 10 million dollars since the shooting. Their goal is 15 million.
2. Visit Show Me Your Stethoscope’s campaign to support the nurses and first responders caring for the victims of the shooting. You can send money to local hospital staff in Las Vegas, who are working so hard to help save lives and care for the over 500 people who were injured during the attack. Many of the injured are still in critical condition.
As an ER nurse who works at a Level 1 Trauma Center, I am not looking forward to a time when we have a catastrophic event like the Las Vegas massacre. Yet, I am so grateful to hear about the acts of compassion of the staff at the hospitals who are working tirelessly around the clock to save lives and heal the injured. At times like this, I am so proud to be a nurse.
Were you affected by the Las Vegas shooting? Please share your thoughts!
Sarah, Mother Nurse Love
(This post may contain affiliate links. My disclosure page is super boring but you can find it here.)
Many nurses are very good at encouraging patients to follow a regular exercise routine and at teaching ways to manage stress for optimal health. Taking their own advice about healthy lifestyle behaviors though, well, not so much.
As an emergency room nurse who has worked as a resource nurse on various units all over the hospital, I see first hand the outstanding care that is being given to our patients. The nurses I work with bend over backwards. At times they even risk their own health and safety to care for total strangers.
The work can be back-breaking, literally. Most days are very physically demanding with little rest. Over time, the work is depleting to an RN. Sometimes even resulting in permanent injuries (hello, chronic back pain!), extreme burnout or even depression.
How much work does it take to be a nurse?
Being a nurse in the hospital demands a lot on the body. The job often requires moving non-stop for grueling 12 hours shifts (or longer). It can include lifting and turning patients several times throughout the day. In addition to physical stress, nurses are often multitasking multiple patients with unique medical issues and making clinical decisions in potentially life-threatening situations.
Yoga can help nurses take better care of themselves.
To say that being a nurse causes wear-and-tear on the body is an understatement. As a result of years of heavy lifting many RN’s are suffering from chronic back problems. I know several who have had to go out on disability and sadly still suffer from permanent chronic back pain.
In nursing school we are taught “proper body mechanics” that are supposed to prevent back injuries while moving, lifting or turning patients. Recently however, there is new evidence suggesting that their really is no safe way for nurses to lift patients.
In addition, being a nurse often requires walking up to 15,000 steps or more in a single shift. A study found in the National Library of Medicine reported that many nurses walk up to five miles in an average 10 hour shift. However, in the Emergency Room and on many other units, I would argue that we actually walk much more then that. In fact, I wear a pedometer at work and I have logged up to 35,000 or more steps in a single day. That is the equivalent of walking 14 miles in a single shift!
The emotional and physiological drain of being a nurse can be overwhelming.
Being in the hospital is stressful. As a result, sometimes patients or families take their stress out on the people they are in contact with the most: the nurses. Yet it is our job to remain compassionate and continue to advocate for our patients in spite of this.
Burnout in the profession is common. Even I have questioned my decision to become a nurse for this reason on a few different occasions. I’ve tried to explain to friends and family how incredibly complex and stressful being a registered nurse can be. I think it is just one of those things that you really can’t understand unless you experience it for yourself.
All venting aside, I’m not going to run off and chance careers, or encourage anyone from not becoming a registered nurse. I derive an immense amount of pride and passion for what I do. I also enjoy working with intelligent people who have the same drive for helping people that I do.
It is, however, not a career for wimps.
Nurses need to practice yoga.
There are so many physical and mental benefits to practicing yoga regularly.
Nurses need to make self-care a priority. Not only does self-care result in better overall patient care, but ultimately it replenishes our depleted reserves. Yoga helps us take better care of ourselves and our families.
There is an endless amount of studies on yoga and its amazing benefits on physical and mental health. The Mayo clinic has stated that “yoga may help reduce stress, lower blood pressure and lower your heart rate” among many other benefits.
For the purpose of this article I am focusing on three of the biggest nurse health related issues. But don’t be mistaken, there several more benefits then I am not mentioning here.
Benefits of yoga for nurses:
As I mentioned earlier, nurses have a high workload in many hospital wards. The stress is compounded by managing patient healthcare needs and treatments, daily occupational stressors and even the many frequent changes in technology.
A study published in the National Institute of Biotechnology Information investigated the effects of yoga on stress coping strategies of ICU nurses. After only 8 weeks of yoga the results showed that the participating ICU nurses had significantly better focus coping strategies and a major reduction in perceived mental pressure. If that is what can happen after only 8 weeks, imagine the impact a regular, permanent yoga practice could have on stress management levels.
Prevent or eliminate chronic low back pain
Chronic back pain in the nursing population is a common ailment. An evidenced based review at the Texas Women’s University reported that estimates of chronic low back pain among nurses range from 50%-80%. Fortunately, the review also presented an overwhelming amount of studies that found that regular yoga significantly reduced symptoms associated with chronic low back pain and greatly improved overall physicality.
Yoga stretching not only increases flexibly, but increases muscle strength and prevents injuries such as chronic lower back pain. In a career as physically demanding as nursing, the more physically stable we are, the better care we can give to ourselves and our patients.
Prevent burnout and compassion fatigue
Urban Zen Integrative Therapy Program training at UCLA Medical Center. Nurses are learning how to integrate holistic healthcare like yoga with traditional medicine.
Lack of self-care can easily result in burnout and compassion fatigue in the nursing profession. As much as I hate to admit it, even I have questioned how long I can continue with the immense workload and emotional drain that is required of me as a nurse. Thankfully, I have found a productive way to manage this is through yoga and meditation.
A study published in Workplace Health & Safety on yoga for self-care and burnout prevention of nurses found that yoga participants “reported significantly higher self-care as well as less emotional exhaustion upon completion of an 8-week yoga intervention.” While the control group demonstrated no change throughout the course of the study, the yoga group showed a significant improvement in scores for self-care, mindfulness, and emotional exhaustion outcomes.
Yoga is good for you!
Yoga is a productive way to prevent some of the most common health ailments among nurses. Empowering nurses in self-care helps to create a happier, healthier and more productive work environment.
For better or worse, nurses serve as role models in the healthcare community. We need to practice what we preach. Why would a patient listen to our advice on how to life a healthy life if we are not living one ourselves?
Sarah, Mother Nurse Love
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While most people were with their families this Easter Sunday, I was working day one of Emergency Room RN training.
In light this, my family had our Easter celebration and egg hunt with our daughter the day prior. Celebrating holidays the day before or the day after has been one thing I have had to get accustomed to as an RN.
It was surprisingly not as busy as most days in the emergency room, or so I’m told. My preceptor, who has 10 years working in the ER, mentioned that fewer ER admissions occur on holidays then on other days of the year. Apparently, many people like to wait until the day after a major holiday to have a medical emergency and show up in the ER.
There are a wide variety of patients in the emergency room.
The day started off with a bang. I had my very first trauma patient. The unfortunate victim of a car crash that occurred somewhere along the 405. I was hoping the ER would get me out of my comfort zone, and my first experience absolutely did not disappoint.
I also got my first pediatric patient: a baby who luckily didn’t have anything seriously wrong. Having my own 20 month old daughter, I seriously don’t know how well I’m going to handle pediatric patients that are not so lucky.
My patients ranged in age from 8 weeks to 96 years old. Talk about a diverse patient population!
My IV start skills are constantly being challenged.
I started 3 IV’s during the shift, including a few elderly patients, which I often have a difficult time with. Not too shabby, if I don’t say so myself. I have always been pretty good at IV starts, but I hope to really fine tune my skills within the next few months.
One thing I was super impressed with was that my preceptor does ultra sound guided IV’s on a daily basis. So cool. I didn’t even know that nurses were allowed to do that. There are apparently several nurses who do it in our emergency room and it requires additional classes and a special certification. I don’t know of any other floors in the hospital where that happens.
HIPPA and patient privacy
I have been having an issue with how much I ethically can and should disclose on this blog. As much as I want to break down every little detail of what I see, we have this super important legal policy called the Healthcare Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. Otherwise known as HIPAA, it is basically a fancy way of saying that any healthcare professional will get fired if they disclose anything about a patient’s identity or medical information. Essentially it legally protects patient confidentially, which is a good thing.
On the off chance that anyone actually does read what I am writing I want to be very careful of this. Therefore, I am going to focus my writing on the skills and tasks that I perform and not on any patient information. It seriously limits what I can talk about, so I am mentioning that upfront.
Also, my husband is also a legal investigator at the hospital and he frequently reminds me about HIPAA. He even teaches courses about it to staff. It is a complete coincidence that we happen to both work for the same medical center (for the record though, I was there first).
Tomorrow I will get up at 5:15am and head out for day 2 of ER training and a whole new round of learning experiences. At some point I need to get a start on the 50 hours on online ER training courses I need to complete. My brain is tired just thinking about it.
Sarah, Mother Nurse Love
When you have your health, you have everything.
My experiences as a nurse have taught me that having good health makes you the richest person in the world. On another hand, being ill makes life seem poor even if you are monetarily wealthy. It’s too bad you can’t buy your way out of an illness.
I deplore being sick. For me, illness goes something like this:
One day I’m feeling great! Then the next I wake up feeling achy and lethargic. A scratchy, sore throats kicks in and swallowing makes my throat feel like sandpaper. Everything hurts. I feel like dying. Life sucks. The end.
Just kidding. I’m not that dramatic. I’m just trying to make a point, but for the record I personally do not handle being sick well. Luckily, I rarely get sick (knock on wood!).
Recently, I received news that I was selected to ‘master in’ as a Resource Nurse in the Emergency Room. It is a 3 month in-unit training program that includes an additional 50 hours of classroom training and testing. After completion of the program I will officially be an ER nurse. Yay!
I am ecstatic about the opportunity for emergency and critical care training as it will build my skill set and hopefully make me a better nurse. Additionally, I will have to be trained in pediatrics which is a whole new specialty for me. I am excited about that too, but the Mom in me is a little nervous about seeing kids in pain or any kind of suffering.
As part of my preparation for training this week I completed a Pediatric Advanced Life Support Certification course and shadowed a Pediatric nurse for a 12-hour shift. While I am still very far from being competent in Pediatric nursing, it was an informative opportunity to be exposed to the kinds of things Pediatric nurses do on a day to day basis.
There is one overwhelming thought that has stayed with me since my experience working on a Pediatric Unit:
I am so grateful that my child is healthy.
We are lucky to live in a world where there are so many medical professionals who dedicate their lives towards helping sick children (and all people of course, but for the purpose of this post I am talking about Pediatrics). Working with very ill or injured children is challenging and emotionally draining. Yet the nurses I shadowed on the Pediatric unit are happy to be there. Most importantly, they are competent and knowledgeable.
Pediatric nurse training reinforced my gratitude for having a healthy child.
Up until now my nursing career has involved working with adult patients 18 and older. The shifts can be exhausting to say the least. At the end of my 12 hours I am often too tired and emotionally drained to even think about talking about many of the sad and difficult situations that unfortunately occur. Its often easier just to block it out of my head and move on.
Soon the ER will be my new place of work and my new job description will include children and even babies. There will be situations that are critical and possibly catastrophic. As a Mom (and obsessive lover of small humans) I will have a lot of adjusting to do in this new area.
Practicing gratitude is so important (especially for the gift of healthy children!)
When life gets busy it is easy to take a child’s health for granted. You assume they will be healthy because they have always been healthy.
Gratitude for the opportunity to be a Mama.
Between all the cooking, cleaning, working, errands, play dates, and (fill in the space here) time slips away and it is so easy to forget to focus on the magnificent joy of having a child who is free from illness or injury. The only time people often think about health is when it is no longer there.
Gratitude is just a way parents can pay attention to the gift of good health today. No one can predict what will happen tomorrow so you might as well live in the moment!
Imagine that your child was sick and had to be in the hospital for an extended period of time. Or worse, if they were in an accident or received a devastating life threatening prognosis.
I have never experienced any of these scenarios myself. But I imagine they would probably be the hardest thing I would ever have to deal with as a parent. In my years as a nurse, I have seen a lot of families at the hospital in similar situations. I’m not sure where they find their strength and I’m sure in those moments they take nothing for granted.
Gratitude keeps us grounded and in the present moment.
Gratitude allows for positive energy to permeate in the NOW and not stuck in an annoying situation that has passed.
It’s important to understand the difference between normal difficult life situations and the kind of catastrophic situations that occur when your child is sick or injured. 99% of the negativity in our daily lives as parents isn’t really as bad as we make in in our minds if you really think how many good things are happening.
Hanging out with other Moms is like therapy for me. Venting to an extend is important. We get to talk about frustrations and experiences while surrounding ourselves with like-minded people who have the same interests: our children.
I have gratitude for a healthy baby.
But too often gratitude is not present in many of these conversations and they can easily turn into a pessimistic venting session of who has it worse. I have heard many conversations with parents comparing their gloomy situations with other parents. Negativity is contagious. Next thing you know you are hyper-focused on the negative and completely overlooking the awesomeness of being a parent in the first place!
Gratitude puts child-rearing challenges and perceived annoyances into perspective.
Not everyone gets to have a healthy child, or even a child at all for that matter. Being a parent is a privilege.
There are parents who practically live at the hospital for weeks, months even years at a time because their child is sick. A ‘normal’ crazy busy day with their child at home would be the best gift in the world.
So when a child is being difficult it is important to remember that we are lucky enough to have healthy children to discipline in the first place. Not everyone gets that opportunity.
Here are a few ways to practice gratitude for continued good health!
1. Keep a gratitude journal
Intentionally choose gratitude. Writing down what you are grateful for consciously reminds you that even though parenthood is frustrating at times, the good stuff far outweighs the bad. It keeps you aligned with the positive aspects of parenthood that we should keep our energy focused on (like watching my kid have fun watching and playing with other kids).
2. Watch the language (internally and externally)
What you say and think becomes reality. In other words, if you think life sucks, then it does. That becomes your truth. Gratitude can also become your truth if you make it a habit.
Kids are sensitive and pick up on attitudes and the words coming out of their parents mouths. Fortunately, gratitude is also contagious!
Or meditate or have a positive mantra, whatever works for you. The point is to essentially say “thank you” and bring awareness to the positive aspects of parenthood. Meditation is my thing and it works for me every time. Especially as my daughter, Zoe becomes more independent and adorably (and sometimes frustratingly) sassy.
4. Take care of yourself!
Its hard to practice gratitude when you are too exhausted all the time. You know how when you are on an airplane and they say in an emergency that you need to put the mask on yourself first, then assist your children? Its pretty much the same thing here.
When your basic needs are being met it is so much easier to be grateful for the other miracles in your life. So be nice to yourself.
Parenthood is a glorious, overwhelming and at times maddening thing and I am glad I’m in the thick of it. Zoe brings 1000 new levels of joy that I never knew existed prior to parenthood. I am so lucky that I can bask in gratitude that right now my child is healthy and happy and her parents are too.
Sarah, Mother Nurse Love