Nursing Lessons

Nurse, Heal Thyself: How to Stay Healthy on the Job

Nursing LessonsNovember 14, 2016

Nursing is a noble profession. As a nurse, it is your mission to provide aid and comfort to people who may be suffering and in pain. The job requires strength and determination, and makes considerable demands on your stamina.  Not surprisingly, nurses are especially susceptible to health problems of their own. From long, stressful hours, to too little sleep, to occupational exposure to all sorts of pathogens, the healthcare workplace is ironically a minefield of potential ill health for dedicated healthcare professionals.

So how does a nurse stay healthy on the job?

Obviously, you can’t care for others if you yourself are sick. Fending off illness is especially important for nurses. And avoiding the workplace should you fall ill is also important. If you get a cold or the flu, for instance, it’s crucial that you stay home and not risk infecting your vulnerable patients and co-workers. The occasional illness is inevitable. After all, nurses are only human. That said, though, there are some steps you can take to help you stay healthy.


The human body needs three things to survive: water, food, and sleep. The first two are fairly obvious, but many people, even those trained to know better, tend to ignore the importance of the latter. Sleep is not an annoyance—a forced interruption in your busy schedule—to be endured. Rather, it’s a crucial, natural period of daily rest and restoration that the body absolutely requires to maintain health.

Sleep deprivation is rampant in our society, and this national sleep deficit takes a heavy toll on everything from immune system health, to attentiveness, concentration, clear thinking, mood, reaction times, and the ability to learn and retain new information. Most adults require an average of eight hours of sleep every 24 hours to maintain optimal health. Don’t make the mistake of discounting the importance of sleep. Evidence suggests sleep plays an important role not only in mental health (which aids in making critical decisions), but in preventing disease, and maintaining a strong immune system.


As noted above, food and water are among the three essential requirements for sustaining life. Busy nurses tend to skip bathroom breaks for lack of opportunity. And that could encourage you to drink less so you won’t need to urinate as often. This is a mistake. Proper hydration is important.

Likewise, good nutrition is a crucial for overall health. Try to eat healthfully. Pack snacks that feature complex carbs (instead of blood-sugar-spiking simple-carb snacks), natural fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Emerging research indicates fats are not the dietary villains we once thought them to be.

In fact, full-fat versions of dairy products may actually help prevent some of the diseases (such as type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease) that they were once vilified for. Full-fat yogurt and kefir with active cultures are especially good foods to help keep your energy up. They’re also full of beneficial probiotics; another factor that’s emerging as an important aspect of long-term health.  

Self care

Tale time for yourself. Schedule and attend routine medical appointments. Find and pursue a hobby outside of work. It will help take you mind off the stress of the job and give you some needed diversion. Hobbies that involve getting outdoors, and/or physical activity (hiking, biking, gardening, etc.) are an excellent way to combine something you love with the added benefits of exercise.

And don’t discount the restorative value of time spent outdoors. Emerging research suggests that forests emit compounds we experience as subtle scents. These compounds have been shown to help lower blood pressure and instill a sense of calm and connectedness.

Physical activity

And that brings us to exercise. Along with food, water and sleep, this is arguably the next most important factor you need to stay healthy. In recent decades, it’s become increasingly apparent that being sedentary is an independent risk factor for cardiovascular disease, among other increasingly common diseases.

Exercise is linked to better mood and improved mental health, a stronger immune system, and better, more resilient cardiovascular function. It also relieves stress, builds muscle, and helps you feel good. While most nurses are already quite active, spending plenty of time on their feet in a given day, regular exercise helps build and maintain the stamina you’ll need to keep up with the workload.    


Humor is a critical, albeit often overlooked, factor in good health. “Laughter is the best medicine” is more than a cliché. In some ways, it’s literally true. Laughter boosts immune system function and obviously helps buoy one’s mood. It can also help you cope with stress and fatigue. And there’s nothing funny about that. 

No shortcuts

Of course, a nurse’s workplace is prime territory for encounters with disease-causing microbes. Follow established guidelines regarding hygiene. Remember your training in microbiology. Wear masks whenever required, wash hands thoroughly—and often—and wear gloves as needed.

Take special care with sharps, too. Many a harried nurse has lived to regret the moment he or she rushed or got distracted long enough to cause a needle stick incident. There’s nothing more terrifying than suffering an accidental needle stick and then waiting for test results to learn if the incident is likely to lead to infection with a pathogen.