Career advice

Maintain your standards of care – but be realistic

Knowing what matters to you most, and that you're doing the best job possible, can help you cope with the stress of rising demands.

Knowing what matters to you most, and that you're doing the best job possible, can help you cope with the stress of rising demands

Picture: iStock

Even though it’s been a good few years since I nursed on the wards, I will never forget that feeling at the end of a 12.5-hour shift. As I walked off the unit, I would avoid making eye contact with anyone as I simply had nothing left to give. I felt that just one more ‘Nurse, can you help?’ would break me. Fortunately, after a good night's rest, or a few days off, I was usually ready to give of myself again.

Since I left the NHS, wards have got even busier and demands on nurses have risen exponentially. So what happens when rest does not restore you and the only option appears to be giving a little bit less of yourself each day?

Your benchmark

As a registered nurse, you must adhere to the professional standards outlined in the Nursing and Midwifery Council code. Unless you want to gamble with your registration, these standards are non-negotiable. But what about your personal standards? How do you prevent them slipping? It is important to have a sense of what really matters to you, what you can compromise on and what you can’t.

During my years of clinical practice, I had a benchmark which defined how I nursed: if my patient was my mum would I be satisfied with the care I was giving her? I learned that I couldn’t change the resources around me or how colleagues behaved but I could take full charge of my actions.

Have patience

NHS Scotland has set out a vision for ‘realistic medicine’ – health care that focuses on true value to the patient and maximises resources. You might not be in a position to redefine the care in your area but it is worth noting the difference between perfection and realistic, dignified care.

Don’t forget that often it's the little gestures that matter to patients. My mum was a fair person and if a busy nurse explained to her that she would have to wait a bit longer she would have understood. Honest communication and a sensitive manner would have motivated mum to do what she could to help herself. On the other hand, if no one told her what was going on, or if she was spoken to in a brusque manner, it would have added to her pain and distress.  

Nursing can still be rewarding, despite the pressures. But it involves coming to a place of acceptance and having patience with yourself as well as others. You can’t do everything, nor can you cure the NHS. Only you can make sure your best is still your best. You owe it to yourself and your patients to keep nursing above your benchmark.

Mandy Day-Calder is a freelance writer and life/health coach


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