The Times Herald (Norristown, PA)
Professor teaches self-care to nurses
With more nurses leaving profession, Neumann University addresses burnout issue
Neumann University began to address a root of the nursing shortage being experienced years ago by creating a course on self-care.
“There’s so much sorrow and so much struggle,” Liz Loeper, assistant nursing professor at Neumann University said of the nursing profession during COVID. “First, you were a hero, then the will of people changed and they were vilified.”
Loeper who was the cocreator of the Self-Care for Nurses course at Neumann, said the public only sees the tasks that nurses do — taking the blood pressure, handing out medication — but they don’t see the multi-tasking involved in each of these.
On Oct. 15, Loeper was present when Neumann hosted Dr. John Whyte, chief medical officer at WebMD, for a discussion entitled, “Mental Health and Nursing: Moving Forward” to address concerns of the third of nurses who want to leave the profession. His audience was Neumann alumni and students.
Whyte said that the phenomenon began prior to the pandemic.
With 3 million nurses employed in the United States as of last year, Whyte said more than half of the medical facilities in the country saying they’re experiencing a shortage of 30% to 50% of needed nurses.
During the pandemic, he said, some nurses retired early.
Added to that is that 70,000 qualified applicants were turned away nationally from nursing programs because there’s not enough instructors. “The United States will need 203,000 more registered nurses every year through 2025 just to fill the gap,” Whyte said, adding that it’s critical for institutions to focus on how to make the profession more desirable for people to stay and to make it an environment where people can thrive.
Loeper said there’s so much attention given to self-care for nurses now.
“I thought he did a really really nice job,” she said of Whyte’s presentation. “He brought up good information but honestly, its not new.”
She noted that the average age of nurses is now 50.
“We need younger nurses. We need diversity,” Loeper said. “People want to see people who look like them … And you can’t get enough done when there’s not enough nurses … it’s such a great profession but it’s hard.”
From 1980 until about five years ago, Loeper served as a labor and delivery nurse.
Fifteen years ago, she joined the Neumann faculty to help train future nurses.
She said it was in 2009 that she and the college looked around and saw there was no concept of self care.
“If you can’t take care of yourself, how are you supposed to take care of others?” she asked, adding that the stress can carry over into your personal time.
So, they created the SelfCare for Nurses course.
Loeper said that at that time, she would Google “What is self care?” and it would show 613,000 hits.
“It was millions the last time I looked,” she said.
Burnout or compassion fatigue?
Loeper said there’s a difference between burnout and compassion fatigue, both of which are experienced in the nursing profession.
Burnout, she said, is workplace driven: When the copier doesn’t work and you have to run up two flights of stairs. When there’s never enough staff. When you’re asked to work on your weekend or day off.
“Burnout really has to do with the working environment itself,” Loeper said.
She said ways this has begun to be addressed is through efforts like that in California where staffing ratios have emerged.
Compassion fatigue, Loeper said, is where someone feels so much sorrow.
“Self-care and good boundaries help with both of those issues,” she said, adding that “If you lose that heart, that compassion, people can see that.”
She said both Main Line Health and St. Francis Hospital in Wilmington, Delaware, have programs to address compassion fatigue for their staff.
“It’s become such an industry,” she said. “Sometimes selfcare becomes self-indulgent.”
She noted T-shirts that read, “All I want to do is drink wine and rescue dogs.”
She said care becomes indulgence when it’s what you want to do but not necessarily healthy choices.
“There’s a lot of contingencies on that,” Loeper said. “How much pizza? How much beer?”
She gave two metaphors for self-care versus self-indulgence with a focus on balance.
One is a pie with parts of one’s life cut into equal pieces. Another is the analogy of a surfboard and riding a wave that sometimes gets bigger and then subsides.
What’s key, she said, is that staff ask themselves, “Are you able to aware and recognize when something is becoming harmful, when you need to take a break?”
She also said nurses need to look at their family life and relationships.
“During the pandemic, many of our students worked as nurse techs or patient care techs,” Loeper said. “When all the world was turned upside down, many of my students were responsible for watching over siblings.”
She said their employers were constantly calling them to help.
“These are students who want to be a part of that experience,” Loeper said. “The students couldn’t say no. They needed the money.”
In response, Loeper said Neumann created “caring circles” where nurses and nursing students from all over could get together and talk.
She said it was invaluable. “It was really just giving people a chance to tell your story,” Loeper said.