Simple Wisdom Helps Nurses Survive and Thrive


Published: 11 June 2015

I’m lucky enough to have been a registered nurse for forty good years so far. I’ve worked in a wide array of settings and faced countless challenges over the years, but one thing has always kept me in good stead. Early on, I developed a number of simple statements that outline the way I want to work as nurse. Each statement was designed to help me care for myself. However, I think they would work for most nurses, regardless of the situation or nursing environment. Today, I’d like to share some of my favourites:

Protect your Back, Legs, and Feet

A sports bra could make nursing shifts more comfortable.

Even a sports bra could make your shifts more comfortable.

I learned this during the first week of nursing school. We nurses reach, lift, pull, and twist in ways which harm us. It’s pretty difficult to be well and remain healthy if we don’t protect our bodies. When we fail to protect ourselves, we are likely to be injured and put our patients at risk. By ignoring this simple truth, too many of us end up unable to work and support ourselves.

Replenish the Sourdough

Sourdough starter culture.

Starter culture gives sourdough it tasty flavour.

I used to keep this slogan posted over my desk. An operating room supervisor taught it to me. When sourdough bread is made, a little bit of the dough is reserved. The reserved dough is replenished with liquid and flour each time a loaf of bread is made. It bubbles and ferments for a few days as it becomes a starter. If bakers fail to replenish and nourish the sourdough starter, no more bread can be made.

I use this analogy as a reminder to take care of myself. It is important that every nurse refresh and replenish their mind, body, and spirit everyday. As nurses, we are natural caregivers. If we want to continue to care for others, we must look after ourselves as well as we care for others.

He’s Doing the Best He Can With What He’s Got

A man smoking whilst a lung disease is shown in the background.

A nervous man smoking after being told about a series lung disease.

I learned this from one of my nursing instructors during my first year of college. This simple statement has profound meaning. It helps me to not take my patients’ anger, impatience, and other emotions personally. I can step back and maintain a professional approach. This slogan also helps me to reaffirm my role as a nurse. One of my jobs is to provide patients with more tools. Those tools may be in the form of pain medications, listening, or a referral for other services. “He’s doing the best he can with what he’s got” provides me with perspective and clarity.

What simple messages help you to take better care of yourself? Feel free to share them in the comments section below. If you cannot think of any, try the ones that I use and see if they help you too. Even one simple word, such as “breathe”, can have a profound effect on your well-being.
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  • Anon., 2015. Holistic Stress Management for Nurses. [Online]
  • Anon., 2015. Managing Stress. [Online]
  • Jennings, B., 2008. Work Stress and Burnout Among Nurses: Role of the Work Environment and Working Conditions. In Patient Safety and Quality: An Evidence-Based Handbook for Nurses. Rockville, MD: Agency for Healthcare Reserch and Quality (US), p. Chapter 26.