Does nursing work deplete nurses’ wellbeing?

Professor Ann McMahon, Co-Editor in Chief, Journal of Research in Nursing

As both a Trustee of the Foundation of Nursing Studies and Co-editor in chief of the Journal of Research in Nursing, I am delighted that we are jointly hosting a debate focussing on nurses’ wellbeing next month (Wednesday 11th November 18.00-19.30 GMT). Concern about the wellbeing of nurses and the impact of nursing work on us as a profession is not new, however I think we can all agree it has come sharply into focus in recent months as a consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic. And it is clear from the feedback that we have had so far that our debate topic has struck a chord.

I remember reading reports a number of years ago of soldiers being sent to war without adequate protection. I remember being horrified. I never, for a minute, imagined that members of my own profession working ‘at home’ could possibly ever find themselves in similar circumstances. The loss of nurses and fellow health professionals this year, to Covid-19 as an occupational hazard, has shaken us all, to the very core, individually and professionally. 

Living and working in this pandemic has been massively disruptive in so many ways. I remember my time as a staff nurse on an oncology ward, reverse barrier nursing patients receiving, what was then, an innovative, and potentially life-saving, bone marrow transplant procedure. I remember the personal discomfort of wearing, what felt like, so much plastic over my uniform, working inside what was effectively a plastic tent, with the sun streaming in through a huge window. My purpose at the time was to provide care and protect my immuno-suppressed patient, from me. It was the same when I, as a student nurse, had a placement in what was known as the old ‘fever hospital’. Here we used the infrastructure previously built to quarantine Infectious patients, to protect our patients from us. This time I was nursing people diagnosed with irritable bowel diseases, immuno-suppressed as a consequence of receiving high doses of steroids.

My nursing experience, like that of the majority of contemporary nurses, has hitherto been protecting our patients from us, and not the other way around.

The disruptive nature of Covid-19 brings into sharp focus the impact of nursing work on nurses’ wellbeing, and arguably provides a platform to raise professional, political and public awareness of the plethora of factors that can deplete nurses wellbeing and how they might be mitigated. We have a phenomenal line-up for this debate. We hope you can join us and together we can cause our own disruption.

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