It’s no secret that every job comes with its own degree of stress.
In a previous blog post, I talked about dealing with the stress of a toxic work environment, but many of the characteristics outlined in the post were in the context of an office job and may not necessarily apply to other types of work. So what about the jobs that require another level of courage and strength to perform? The ones where either your own life is at risk or the lives of others are in your hands? How do the policemen, pilots, doctors/nurses, firefighters and military officers of the world deal with the kind of stress that comes with their profession? There certainly is no one-size-fits-all answer to this.
For the purposes of this blog post, I would like to focus on the healthcare profession – specifically the dedicated nurses that give all that they can to deliver the best care possible to those in need.
Meet Farah Warsi: She is an Emergency Room nurse at Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children (affectionately called Sick Kids). During her nursing career, she has seen a lot more than she has bargained for, but wouldn’t change a thing.
We sat down and had a chat about the real challenges nurses face on a daily basis, and the best ways to over come those challenges while still maintaining some semblance of normalcy.
Sarah: So first off, what inspired you to become a nurse?
Farah: During my childhood I spent a lot of time in the hospital. When I was 13, my kidney failed and I had to have it removed. In fact, I had the operation done right here, at Sick Kids. As I went through this experience, I always knew I wanted to be a nurse after seeing first-hand the difference they truly make in patients’ lives.
Sarah: How does it feel to be working at the same hospital that you were once a patient at? That’s pretty awesome.
Farah: Yes, it’s a truly humbling feeling and gives me a deeper sense of appreciation for my profession because I saw the kind of care I received and that has always been a driving factor in delivering the same quality of care to my own patients.
While being an ER nurse can be personally gratifying and a constant adrenaline rush, it makes you susceptible to some very difficult situations depending on the degree of trauma involved. Farah recently recounted the incredibly traumatic scene in the ER when children were brought in after a horrific accident in the fall. With tears welling up in her eyes, she recalled how hard it was for the entire ER team to keep it together during that whole ordeal.
Farah: That was really rough. I’m generally pretty strong considering all that I’ve seen but sometimes you just feel like you are approaching your breaking point. It’s very hard at times.
Sarah: I can only imagine. As an ER nurse in a Paediatric hospital, you’ve seen more than what most people would be able to handle. How do you desensitize yourself to the trauma that you see on a daily basis?
Farah: In the Emergency Room, things are happening so quickly. You don’t have time to dwell and basically have to kick yourself into life-saving mode. At any given time, our team is feverishly multitasking to ensure the patient can breathe: One person needs to ensure their airway isn’t blocked, another is putting the patient on a cardiac monitor, while another is putting an IV in to gain access, pushing medications, taking x-rays, etc. It’s non-stop as soon as a patient is brought in.
I find the emotional aspect of it catches up to us afterwards. It is hard to cope because we have to keep going as there are still other kids to see. However, I find that when I am finally going home after a hectic day, that’s when that I take the time to reflect on my day and wondering if I did all that I could.
Sarah: That must be hard – the feeling of wondering if you gave it your best.
Farah: It is difficult because we are constantly thinking about work and whether we could’ve done things differently and often times questioning if what we did do was the right thing. I deal with it by talking about it. I have a very supportive team at Sick Kids, and we acknowledge everyone’s mental health. When very hard situations take place we often get together and debrief about it which helps a lot. It reminds me that I am not alone and at the end of the day we are a team and have to battle it together.
With respect to my regular life, it is sometimes hard to enjoy a day off when I’m constantly thinking about the child at work who was in a horrific accident and whether or not they survived. However, I have realized over years that I during the little time I do get off, I have to make sure that I take care of myself and do right by me. Sometimes that means socializing or simply taking a walk to clear my mind.
When very hard situations take place we often get together and debrief about it which helps a lot. It reminds me that I am not alone and at the end of the day we are a team and have to battle it together.
– Farah Warsi, ER Nurse, Hospital for Sick Children
Sarah: What have you found to be the most rewarding experience so far in your career?
Farah: As I mentioned earlier, I never thought that I would be working as a nurse at the same hospital that I was once a patient at 10 years ago, so it’s been a truly rewarding experience. Being on the other end of the spectrum now, seeing patients come in that are critically ill or have suffered catastrophic injuries and watching them improve is an incredible feeling, especially knowing that you had a major part in their recovery. Of course, sadly, many scenarios do not end like this, but it is still very comforting knowing that I played a vital role in helping a patient, their family members and my own team in the process.
Sarah: How do you maintain a work/life balance with such a hectic work schedule? What tips can you share?
Farah: To be honest, it is difficult – especially in this industry. Some weeks I have a social life and there are weeks/months where I don’t at all. It is difficult especially in the ER where there is no such thing as being full. Our doors never close and at any minute things change. I try to make my schedule so I have enough time to rest/recover between my shifts. Most importantly, I make sure that I put my days off to good use so that I have enough ‘me’ time to just relax and disconnect from everything.
An important tip I give to all nurses is to make sure that you acknowledge and take care of your mental and physical health. Get involved in activities, put days off to good use and talk about your feelings. At the end of the day we are people just like everyone else and need the same care.
– Farah Warsi, ER Nurse, Hospital for Sick Children
I also believe it is important for others to know that it doesn’t necessarily take many shifts to feel burnt out. You could work several hours in a week and not feel nearly as drained compared to one really crazy shift that throws the whole department into a crisis. This is what causes nurses to burnout. An important tip I give to all nurses is to make sure that you acknowledge and take care of your mental and physical health. Get involved in activities, put days off to good use and talk about your feelings. At the end of the day we are people just like everyone else and need the same care.
Sarah: What advice would you give people wanting to get into nursing?
Farah: I would tell them that it is a very honourable profession with endless opportunities. It is not by any means easy. It is overwhelming, demanding and not all that glamorous, however it takes a special person to be able to do it. At the end of the day, all of the difficult and challenging situations make you grow into a stronger nurse. Just remember to not lose yourself in the process.
So there you have it. A brief glimpse into the life of an ER nurse. The key takeaway is that no matter what type of job you have, never forget to prioritize yourself.