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‘Surviving the knocks in ED made me a better nurse’

The challenges of emergency nursing mean it is important for staff to remember to take care of themselves

The challenges of emergency nursing mean it is important for staff to remember to take care of themselves

Do you remember your first day in the emergency department? I do. For me, it was the fulfilment of a dream I had long before nursing school.

Busy hospital ward
The stress of emergency working makes work-life balance very important Picture: SPL

As a young boy, I would gather around the television with my family on Sunday evenings to watch Emergency! (the 1970s US TV show about emergency workers in Los Angeles). So fascinated was I by the characters’ exciting lives that when I chose a nursing career, my sights were set on emergency nursing.

Colleagues helped deal with bullying

After three years on medical-surgical and critical care units after graduation, I transferred to the emergency department. There I fell in love with the hustle and bustle. I would thrive off the adrenaline of working on a trauma and enjoy the challenge of a puzzling medical problem.

But while I had found my niche, it wasn’t all rosy. Like many nurses, I faced big hurdles. One was a bullying nurse who used ridicule and assignments in which I was set up to fail to undermine my self-esteem.

Fortunately, I was blessed with supportive colleagues: without them it is likely I would have left my dream job. Although I look back on that time with disdain, it made me a better, more compassionate nurse.

Within a year of transferring to the emergency department, the wider opportunities became apparent. I went from staff nurse to charge nurse to manager, becoming emergency department director before I was 30. I began to acquire skills in nursing leadership and to gain a deeper understanding of emergency nursing.

Importance of work-life balance

But with new responsibilities came challenges. The stress of running a busy emergency department threatened to take a toll on my personal life. I did not always choose a healthy work-life balance. Now I learned the importance of self-care as an emergency nurse.

Work is an essential component of your life, but it must be just a component and be balanced with leisure and community. Personal time must be plentiful and it is essential to have a healthy lifestyle to counteract the stress of the job.

In the years that followed, I dabbled in myriad opportunities. I was a pre-hospital nurse running an ambulance service, a flight nurse and a cruise ship nurse. I worked in the government, influencing health legislation.

I put my entrepreneurial spirit to work and started a not-for-profit organisation, sending teams of medical professionals to developing nations to provide health care in communities without access to health care. This allowed me to visit more than a fifth of the world’s countries, seeing amazing places and take nursing to some of the world’s poorest people.

There are many additional facets to experience in the years to come. Emergency nursing remains as vibrant to me as it was on my first day in the unit, looking on in wonder at the hustle and bustle.

Never forget the gift that you have been given as an emergency nurse. A career as varied as nearly any career imaginable. One that allows you to get paid to touch and change lives every working day. But remember to take care of yourself and your peers. I frequently say to my emergency nurse colleagues: ‘Take care of yourself, because without you, who will take care of our patients?’

About the author

Jeff Solheim

Jeff Solheim recently published Emergency Nursing: The Profession, the Pathway, the Practice

Project Helping Hands is a humanitarian medical organisation that places short-term medical teams around the world

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