During the First Annual National Coalition of Oncology Nurse Navigators Conference, Colleen Lemoine, APRN, MN, AOCN, Clinical Nurse Specialist for Oncology, Interim Louisiana State University Public Hospital, New Orleans, led a dynamic session that reviewed the importance of self-care in oncology nursing.
During the First Annual National Coalition of Oncology Nurse Navigators (NCONN) Conference, held in Baltimore, Maryland, on October 10, Colleen Lemoine, APRN, MN, AOCN, Clinical Nurse Specialist for Oncology, Interim Louisiana State University Public Hospital, New Orleans, led a dynamic session that reviewed the importance of self-care in oncology nursing. She started the session by asking those to raise their hands who made self-care a priority in their lives. Not surprisingly, less than 25% of the approximately 100 oncology nurses in attendance raised their hands. Lemoine commended those who did, emphasizing “if you do not care for yourself, you cannot care for other people.” This is especially true for oncology nurses, who work in harried environments and treat the sickest patients.
Lemoine cautioned that not caring for oneself can manifest physically in myriad ways, resulting in fatigue, tachycardia, frequent illness or headaches, and other problems until burnout results. While oncology nurse navigation is a relatively new discipline, and nurse navigators may not yet feel like they are burned out, Lemoine indicated that it is important for nurse navigators to be able to distinguish between burnout and stress, especially as this discipline continues to evolve and the cancer burden continues to increase.
What is Burnout?
Burnout is defined as the last act of the stress cycle and develops from endless, chronic stress, which strips away one’s emotional resources until there is nothing left to counter the drain (Burnout primer. www.worktolive.info/poen_burn.cfm). Characteristics of burnout include disengagement, blunted emotions, a sense of despair and powerlessness, loss of motivation, detachment, and a feeling that life is not worth living. Lemoine indicated that nurses who suspect they or other staff members are suffering from burnout can visit http://helpguide.org/mental/burnout_signs_symptoms.htm for more on recognizing and preventing burnout or go to www.friedsocialworker.com/selfassessment.htm to take a burnout self-assessment test.
How Can Nurses Prevent Burnout?
To prevent and combat job burnout, Lemoine noted that nurses should do work that is consistent with their personal values, clarify their job descriptions, take time off, know their limits, accept their feelings, and confide in others. She noted that relationships play an especially critical role in combating burnout, and she encouraged nurses to nurture close relationships and develop social relationships with colleagues. She also discussed the importance of practicing healthy communication (not simply internalizing stress), engaging in physical activity, and practicing relaxation techniques. The latter two are especially helpful in getting one “in the zone,” a place where stressors are removed and one can recharge. She encouraged nurses to reconnect with what is personally meaningful to them (eg, family, fun, nature, hobbies, etc) as a way to refill “their pitcher,” concluding that one cannot pour from an empty pitcher.