Juggling a Nursing Career and Private Life Can Be Done

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Working full time, a nurse dedicates about 30 percent of each week to the job. Somehow the other 70 percent of the week — time dedicated to home life, sleep and recreation — tends to get short-changed.

That can shorten a nurse’s career. Neglecting family and personal well-being does not make a nurse more valuable on the job in the long run. A nurse beset by personal problems or family illness might perform poorly at work or suffer burnout.

It all adds up to finding a way to make the most of the fragmented time a nurse spends away from work so the nurse can gather physical and mental strength for the job.

That’s not easy amid 12-hour shifts and ever-variable schedules. A nurse who wants to put self and family first needs to make that happen by creating a schedule for home life that accommodates the entire household — especially the nurse.

Sometimes the good life, the good of the children or a good day’s sleep need to take priority. That’s when it’s time to put one’s self first and set an agenda. Such as:

  • Making all family members responsible for making time together fulfilling.
  • Reserving some me time once in a while.
  • Treating one’s self, family and friends with special meals, home-cooked or restaurant.
  • Seeking friends and seeking help.

These measures can all add up to improvements in family relations, ease the drawbacks of an erratic schedule and reduce feelings of isolation.

Household duties

Working nights is an asset to some nurses, who are able to spend crucial hours with young children during the day. Some go to sleep when the kids leave for school and wake up when the children return in the afternoon.

But for others, the schedules don’t quite jibe, and unease results.

“For the image the world has of us nurses being kind and caring, sometimes it’s just about forgetting that your child might be needing you and getting on with your job,” says Joanne Corie, a family nurse practitioner who has worked several years at a New York cancer specialty hospital.

With increasing demands and short-handed staffs, the job is more consuming than ever. “Sometimes I am too tired to even ask my daughter how her day went,” says Anouska Das, a cancer care nurse in a large Texas facility.

That’s why Corie and Das offer tips for maintaining a balance between work and home. The most important thing, both stress, is to learn to say “No.”

“Patient needs are important, but so are yours,” Das says. “You have to set boundaries and protect them.”

It’s important to be organized, and technology helps. “Use schedulers, calendars and the many apps available to schedule and organize your life,” Corie says. “Make sure you stay on top of your appointments and schedules. And if you miss anything once in a while, don’t fret too much.”

Many nurses make too many demands of themselves. Some report feeling overwhelmed, for example, if they allow too many household duties to build up. In turn, on their days off, they are faced with housework rather than leisure. The leisure ought to come first sometimes.

Children can carry some of the housework load. A parent can ask a school-age child to wash the dishes by the end of each day by telling the child it will be a great help. It will be a great help to the child’s development, too.

Nurses who are parents are bound to fret about child-care needs. Spouses are often able to care for children during the nurses’ shifts. But not always. Corie follows a simple rule: “Wherever I am, I always ensure that I get the best child care available, no matter how much it costs.”

Sleep demands

Sleeping while the kids are away works for some, but others are beset by interruptions and distractions.

Dealing with a world that doesn’t seem to understand that some people have to sleep during the day requires a lot of training for family and friends. The day-sleeper might need to become vehement.

Some distractions can’t be eliminated. “Many night nurses recommend turning off the phone ringer and letting the answering machine take the call,” a nurse reported to Medscape.com. “However, this just isn’t feasible for all nurses. Nurses with children in day care or at school aren’t comfortable not answering the phone, because it could be an emergency involving their children.”

Nevertheless, some can eliminate distractions if they lay down the law. “I firmly believe that for a nurse to do the night shift she/he must have the full cooperation of their family and friends so that daytime sleep is not interrupted by phone calls, middle-of-the-day appointments, child care, etc., a nurse told Medscape. Another said, “It is a huge deal to wake Mom up, and you better have a really good reason.”

Social life and activities

Working nights makes it difficult to have a social life. That makes friendships with other nurses and other night workers valuable.

It is common for groups to socialize at an all-night restaurant or coffee shop. Food and cooking can be focal points at a home gathering, too.

Hikes and early weekday morning rounds of golf can be good exercise, for one person or several. Some nurses report finding time to exercise even on workdays, whereas others get their exercise on their days off.

The important thing is getting out into a world that can put health care duties in perspective.

edited by Colin Seymour

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