Healing the Heart of Healthcare: When Patient Care and Self-care Come Together

May 13, 2022 | Clinician Stories

After navigating an unprecedented pandemic, with critical nursing shortages and overflowing ICUs, there’s no doubt that nurses as heroes. However, this Nurses Month, we want to recognize that they’re also human. The toll of an emotionally and physically demanding job has affected the lives of too many nurses. That’s why this month we’re sharing the inspirational stories of nurses who overcame their struggles and learned to manage stress and burnout.

For ICU RN, Dennis, treating patients as if they’re his own family members is second nature. When the COVID-19 pandemic began, Dennis was on the frontlines, taking assignments in COVID ICUs where his skills were needed most. In a time when visitors weren’t allowed in hospitals, Dennis made it even more of a priority to be the “family” his patients were missing.

Dennis’ recruiter, Tori, has seen the compassion he has for his patient. “He’s a family guy and I think that really translates to how he cares for his patients. He sees them as someone’s family member and treats them like his own.”

While Dennis readily took on this role for his patients, it was still a heavy load to bear. “The hardest part was that COVID patients couldn’t have visitors,” Dennis shared. “I tried to make sure family members could FaceTime and feel involved in their care. Sometimes, I’d be on a call with a family for hours as they watched their loved ones pass away.”

The emotional toll of the job was amplified as Dennis watched his patients’ conditions worsen despite the incredible effort put in to save them.

“It was emotionally exhausting to see so many COVID patients in the ICU dying no matter what we did for them. I found myself walking into work some days, questioning my ability as a nurse and asking myself what I was doing wrong,” he explained.

On top of the hardship he witnessed on the job, Dennis also struggled seeing other people disregard the severity of the virus.

“I saw so many people downplaying the pandemic, refusing to wear a mask and protesting the measures that were in place, all while having no idea what was going on in the hospitals,” Dennis remembers. “I felt it was really disrespectful to the experiences patients and healthcare workers were having on a daily basis.”

During this time, his patients’ family members helped remind him of the impact he was making. “The interactions I had with my patients’ families helped me see that what I was doing mattered,” he explains. “The gratitude they showed for my efforts motivated me to keep going.”

As Dennis struggled to balance his mental health with the demands of his job, he also sought help to cope with his stress and frustrations.

“I got a therapist outside of work that I could share my experiences with,” he shared. “It lifted some weight off me to be able to vent and it helped me realize I couldn’t control other people’s actions and I had to accept that all I could do was continue to be a part of the solution.”

Dennis’ recruiter has also been a big support to him, throughout his travel career. “Tori’s more than a recruiter, she’s been there for me as a friend and always has my best interest at heart. She constantly checks in on me to see how I’m doing or what I need. She has been a big part of my travel career and I look forward to future assignments with her as my recruiter.” 

In addition to seeking support, making time for what’s important outside of work has also helped Dennis throughout the pandemic. From taking time between assignments to see family to traveling to Arizona for an assignment and embracing his love for adventure and getting outdoors, Dennis’ finding ways to improve his work-life balance.

As a nurse who began traveling to see the country and make connections with people along the way, Dennis is enjoying the chance to achieve his travel goals. “Travel nursing has always appealed to me because of the flexibility and opportunity to explore the country while doing something you’re passionate about. I’ve met some of the best people and had amazing experiences, and I’m looking forward to the opportunities ahead of me. I even have my eyes set on Colorado as my next place to visit!”

“Dennis is so loved by all his managers and hospitals are always asking him to stay longer,” Tori adds. “He’s an adventure seeker and is always ready for the next challenge, and I know he’ll continue to show love and patience wherever he goes.”

In order to take care of others, you must first take care of yourself, and like Dennis, many amazing nurses are learning to prioritize their mental health while still making an impact on patients. Whether it’s seeking help from an outside source, taking breaks or making time for your hobbies and passions there are many ways to help combat the stress and burnout nurses face.

Take a look at our Nurses Month landing page where more nurses share their stories and the ways they’ve found to cope with stress. You can also learn more about the resources Aya offers, including a robust Employee Assistance Program available to all Aya clinicians (whether or not they enroll in Aetna medical benefits). Together, we can start to Heal the Heart of Healthcare.

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