How to Survive as an Aging Nurse

Nursing is a demanding profession, both physically and emotionally. And even if you’re tough as nails, bedside nursing will eventually take its toll on you. This is especially true for nurses approaching or over the age of 50, but many still want to work as nurses, and don’t see themselves doing anything else. However, there are tons of things that you can do to alleviate the workload. There are also tons of options open to you, and your years of experience are a valuable asset. Here are a few survival tips for aging nurses.

Don’t Be Afraid to Ask for Accommodations

“Aging nurses should not be afraid to ask their employers to accommodate them so they can stay on the job,” says author and MEd Joan Borgatti. “If you don’t feel comfortable in a particular role, don’t hesitate to ask for a different one,” she adds.

Employers will often be open to cutting shifts from 12 to 8 hours if a certain nurse has been with them for a few years. You could also lighten your workload by taking seasonal or part time work. Some employers will also consider buying some equipment to accommodate nurses, like hoists and lifts for instance. Don’t be afraid to make recommendations either.

However, be careful in the way that you ask for a change. “Don’t say to your employer that your back is killing you and that you need be reassigned.” Borgatti says. “These complaints are too common. Instead, say that you love working here and your position, but would want a change.”

You want to frame the proposition in as positive of a light as possible for them. They will be more likely to accommodate you. Also, you have to continue being an asset for them. For instance, you could ask to mix bedside duties with pre-admission testing, mentoring, or reviewing records.

Change Units

If you can’t get your employer to change your duties, then you could also ask to be moved to another unit. Try to go for a unit where patients are mobile and lighter, like outpatient surgery or pediatrics. These are way less taxing than other units like rehabilitation and orthopedics for instance. These will also allow you to gain some new experience.

Look Out for Each Other

“As nurses, we care as much about other nurses as we do our patients,” says intensive care nurse and Wisconsin Federation of Nurses chief steward Barbara Janusiak. “Teamwork is essential for bedside nurses entering their 50s and 60s.”

Janusiak stated that one of the nurses she was working with suffered a shoulder injury during a surgery while pushing a cart. She said that members of her unit took extra care of her when she came back from rehabilitation to make sure that she didn’t reinjure herself. “We didn’t let her do any work that could risk her to injure herself again, like hanging IV bags for instance.” Janusiak explained.

Take the Time to Care for Yourself

Nurses are usually very giving by nature, and often forget to take care of themselves. This is especially true for people who have to take care of both their children and aging parents. This is why it’s essential that you look for community resources if they aren’t already available at your place of work.

You also should ask your own family members for help, and let them know that things aren’t as they used to be anymore. Also make sure that you watch things like your diet, exercise, sleep hours, and your mental state. Which bring us to our next point.

Look for Signs of Burnout

Burnout is a serious issue for nurses, and one that needs to be addressed quickly before it deteriorates. This is especially true if you still have to work on prolonged shifts. This is why you have to know what early symptoms are so you can make an adjustment. Some of the main symptoms of burnout include:

  • Constant fatigue
  • Loss of enthusiasm
  • Feeling underappreciated or overworked
  • Detachment from patients
  • Frustration and irritability

If you go to bed tired and still feel sluggish in the morning after a full night’s sleep, then you may be dealing with chronic fatigue. Physical exhaustion is one of the first signs of a burnout. If you can’t keep your eyes open when reading a book, or can’t seem to find the energy to do anything, then something’s not right.

If you noticed that you’re losing interest in the job and are detached from patients, then this could be an issue as well. Detachment from patients is often referred to as “compassion fatigue”.

Most nurses come into the profession with lots of empathy for their patients. But after years of witnessing suffering and pain coupled with stress, a lot end up feeling numb, and don’t seem to feel the same level of compassion. If you’re beginning to feel cynical about your job, or simply don’t care anymore, then it could be a sign that you’re in need of a change.

You should also check what your attitude towards work is. If you can’t wait to go home when you’re on your shift and dread going to work when you’re home, then you’ll have to be careful. This is not only important for you, but for your patients, as your mental state can have an effect on your performance and level of attention.

How to Deal with Burnout

The best way to deal with burnout is to not put off dealing with it and act immediately. Acting fast will allow you to keep some motivation. Also know that you’re not alone and not a failure, especially after all of these years of service. Here are some of the things you could do if you’re experiencing burnout:

  • Switch specializations
  • Get an online degree
  • Move to an administrative role
  • Work from home
  • Work as a teacher
  • Start a business

All of these options could help you get a change of air and pace, and make your final years as a nurse easier. Let’s take a closer look at a few of them.

Getting an Online Degree

Getting a nursing degree online could be a great way to add some feathers to your cap and work in a more accommodating role. The other thing that makes online degrees great is that you can either continue working full time while getting one, or move to part time shifts. These also usually take much less time to complete and are much more convenient.

For instance, you could complete an FNP program online from an accredited institution and work as a family nurse. This is much less demanding physically and mentally than working bedside, and could also be a great opportunity to work in a different part of the country. Working in rural communities in need could be a great way to not only serve, but the change of scenery could be all you and your family needed.

Things to Consider Before Picking an Online Degree

However, you have to make sure that you pick the right program if you want to get the proper qualifications and make sure they’re recognized. Here are some of the things you should consider before you pick any program:

  • Clinical requirements
  • Program accreditation and rigor
  • Bridge programs
  • Overview of the coursework
  • Faculty experience and accessibility
  • Program length
  • Cost

If you’re still working, then it’s very important that you know what the clinical requirements will be. You will usually have to clock in a set number of hours in a clinical setting. The site will often be close to where you live, though it all depends on where you’re located. So, you need to have a clear idea of the time commitments so you’ll be able to plan accordingly.

Accreditation is also essential, and unless your degree is accredited by the right bodies, it won’t be recognized by any serious organization. Two of the main accrediting bodies include the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN)and the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE). These bodies ensure that the courses are up to par, and may also have some special requirements for online programs. For instance, some will verify whether the teachers are actually fit to teach online. This ensures that the program is as rigorous as any other program out there.

Work from Home

Another option is to move into a less demanding role. There are plenty of things that you could do as a nurse from home. For instance, some decide to do work as a call center RN and do things such as coordinating admittances and discharges, or do medical record reviews over the phone among other things. Others move on to become auditors and check medical records to make sure that the services provided are billed correctly, while others become freelance writers either on blogs or with publications.

Other nursing jobs you can do from home include:

  • Online Nursing Faculty
  • Clinical Appeals Nurse
  • Nurse Coding Specialist
  • Onsite Nurse Liaison
  • Utilization Review Nurse
  • Telehealth Triage Nurse

These are all great options if you want to spend more time at home, and use your expertise in a different way. Some of these are also in great demand and pay very well, so you should definitely consider the option.

Non-hospital Jobs

There are also tons of non-hospital jobs that you should consider. One of the common options is working as a sales rep for a pharmaceutical company. These companies hire nurses all the time, and nurses, especially those with years of experience, often have very in-depth knowledge of various medications. They are aware of the new changes, and are aware of how these medications act as well as their side effects. This wealth of knowledge sets nurses as perfect candidates. This is also an area where you can make a lot of money, and still remain active, just in another capacity.

Another option could be to work as a forensic nurse. Forensic nurses provide information on medical procedures and abnormalities during trial. They often have to deal with malpractice cases. Forensic nurses also work with victims of trauma, and will often be asked to testify in court. Forensic nursing is one of the most lucrative positions in nursing, with an entry level position paying as much as $73,000 per year on average.

Start a Business

You could also spin your expertise into a business, and start working for yourself. This will not only give you more independence, but you could actually end up making more money than you could ever make working as a nurse.

One great idea for nurse entrepreneurs is starting an agency. This is great if you’ve worked for many years and built a large network. The business model is simple; find people who are in need of nurses, find nurses, and connect them with employers. You can then decide to get a cut of the nurse’s wage, or charge a single flat finder’s fee.

Another thing you could do is start a childcare center. This only requires a moderate initial investment, and can be great if you love working with children. There are over 750,000 child day care centers in the country, and these can charge anywhere from $50 to $200 a week for a single child. So, even taking care of 5 to 10 kids could be enough to make a good profit.

You could also decide to work as a private nurse, provide home care, or even start a retail pharmacy business. There are tons of opportunities for nurses out there, so make sure that you pick one that will fit to your strengths, expertise, and the kind of pace you want.

Aging as a nurse is not always easy, but there are tons of things that you can do to maintain your health and sanity. Make sure that you look at all the options that are open to you, and don’t be afraid to make a move if you think you’ve given everything that you could to the profession.

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