4 Self-Care Strategies for the Busy Wound Nurse

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self-care for nurses

By Terri Kolenich, RN, CWCA, AAPWCA

"Apply your own oxygen mask first."

We have all heard time and time again how important it is to take care of yourself first so you can take better care of others. It is impossible to give something you do not have. Nurses, by nature and training, care for others before caring for themselves. Taking care of yourself should be as important to you as caring for your patients. This life lesson is clearly presented by flight attendants before every take off. Let me explain.

Several years ago I found myself at my wits end, exhausted, overworked, and unhappy. I needed a vacation. I arranged for a long weekend after much preparation to ensure my wound patients would be cared for in my absence. I decided to take a trip to visit a friend on the west coast.

It had been a while since I had flown and this would be my first time on a flight longer than an hour or so. I listened intently at first to the flight attendant instructing passengers on safety and water landings, etc. My frazzled mind began trailing right after I heard the flight attendant utter the familiar instructions: "…apply your own oxygen mask first before assisting others." I began to daydream the scenario where someone goes around helping the less capable to apply their oxygen masks before applying her own.

She passes out and dies due to lack of oxygen. Not only before she can get back and apply her own life saving oxygen, but also before finishing the task of helping everyone else. The less capable passengers also pass out and die, since the nurse was unable to help them. Oh, did I forget to mention the helpful passenger in the scenario is a nurse? She is a wound nurse and she routinely forgets to apply her own oxygen mask first.

How Nurses Can Put Their Own Care Into Focus

My own real life scenario came into focus as I daydreamed on the flight. As a dedicated and passionate wound nurse, I have taken it upon myself to know as much as possible about many aspects of wound care. In doing so, I became a resource for just about every single person that interacted with any patient with wounds. This is not a bad position to be in, unless you take it upon yourself to answer the call to perform every wound-related task that is brought to your attention.

I realized very quickly in my own wound care practice that it is not possible to do it all as the one and only "go-to" person. This scenario is a recipe for burnout that will leave you feeling oxygen-deprived and ultimately dead. This is why it is so important to "apply your own oxygen mask before assisting others."

"I have slowly, over time, learned to apply these instructions to my own life. Although it took many years for me to realize the value of my own oxygen mask, I finally understand that taking care of myself is not a selfish act, but a necessary one."

-Cheryl, Yoga Instructor, from the blog post, Put Your Own Oxygen Mask on First

Some of ways you can do this include:

This is the key to developing a lasting and sustainable career as a wound nurse.

  1. Delegate tasks to other nurses when appropriate. Educate when you delegate! This will give you the piece of mind that tasks will be completed to the standard you set for yourself.
  2. Do NOT skip lunch! The wound nurse must mindful of his or her own well being personally as well as professionally.
  3. Consider saying "NO" when you are called to cover the midnight shift an hour after you left. The next day’s wound care-related tasks (that cannot be delegated) WILL NOT get done until you can complete them.
  4. MOST IMPORTANTLY: Get organized, be prepared, and BREATHE!

About the Author
Terri Kolenich, RN, CWCA, AAPWCA is the clinical liaison at Select Medical Specialty Hospitals. Terri has extensive experience in long term care as a Wound Care Nurse and Program Manager. She is passionate about wound care education and has over nine years experience assessing, managing, and documenting wounds. Terri is also well versed in MDS 3.0. Her knowledge coupled with her skill as a public speaker, make her an effective wound care educator.

The views and opinions expressed in this blog are solely those of the author, and do not represent the views of WoundSource, Kestrel Health Information, Inc., its affiliates, or subsidiary companies.

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