“Health is a great blessing, but the moment you make health one of your main, direct objects, you start becoming a crank and imagining there is something wrong with you. You are only likely to get health provided you want other things more – food, games, work, fun, open air.” C.S. Lewis

When I stumbled across this quote, I was struck by how applicable it was to my everyday work. My entire workday revolves around health-related topics, and it’s hard to watch patients be consumed in their journey for optimal health.

But how does daily exposure to the pursuit and topic of health affect nurses on a wider scale?

Does it make them more health-conscious?  Or does it internalize a message that health is a meaningless goal that is not worth the effort of pursuing?

I spent some time researching statistics about the health of nurses in the United States, and I came across the project “Healthy Nurse, Healthy Nation.” It is a project that started in 2017 and prioritizes the health and wellness of nurses, who so often put everyone else’s health in front of their own.

Everything I’m about to share is taken from the Healthy Nurse, Healthy Nation (hnhn.org) website, which I encourage all nurses to check out. It’s a pretty extensive program promoting health for nurses across the nation.

It emphasizes the importance of self-care activities, such as exercise, nutrition, rest, and safety using education and connection for nurses.

First, some statistics regarding nurses’ health at the beginning of the study:

• 68% of nurses put patient safety and wellness before their own.
• 82% of nurses said they are subject to workplace stress.
• 45% of nurses noted lifting heavy objects as a personal safety risk.
• 51% of nurses reported musculoskeletal pain at work.
• 50% of nurses reported having been bullied while working.
• 33% of nurses reported having been assigned a workload larger than they felt comfortable with.
• 56% of nurses reported access to healthy foods during work hours.
• Average BMI of nurses was 27.6, which is considered overweight.
• Average amount of sleep reported by nurses was 7 hours per night.

Not so great, huh? There are more statistics listed on the website, but I highlighted these statistics in particular because it shows how much nurses can improve their health and wellness.

In nursing school, self-care was drummed into my brain as a crucial part of avoiding occupational burnout, but knowing that personal health is important and actually pursuing personal health are two very different things.

HNHN is a virtual platform focused on improving the health of millions of nurses in the U.S., and it is made accessible for each individual nurse who wants to join. Once a nurse has created a profile, she or he can participate in health challenges, meet other nurses, and share health journey stories.

The level of engagement is up to the nurse, but participating in health competitions could lead to prizes and those who share personal stories could be highlighted in larger news settings.

HNHN tracks health changes using a survey. Nurses take the survey when they first create their profile and then later on in their health journey as well. Maybe the best thing about this program – it’s free!

Nurses who share stories of their health accomplishments encourage and inspire others to do the same. The spotlighted stories that I saw while going through the website included a nurse who was attempting to run a half marathon in every state, a nurse who paddleboards several times a week, and a nurse who hikes mountains for fun. I’m not sure about you, but hearing stories like this get me jazzed about getting out for exercise.

If other people can do it, so can I.

Companies and organizations can partner with HNHN to further improve the health and wellness of employees.

Different medical institutions have created “step challenges” that encourage employees to reach a certain amount of steps by a designated date, while others have offered discounts to nurses to go to local gyms or purchase food from local farmer’s markets. Still, other organizations have begun to offer fitness coaching for employees, free mental therapy sessions, volunteering opportunities, and meditation classes. The results of these programs have been staggeringly positive. In the HNHN community, nurses share stories on improved quality of life, reduced stress, and weight loss.

HNHN has drastically increased the attention to workplace health for nurses. By targeting individual nurses through their online program and partnering with large institutions, HNHN has been able to move towards improving the health of nurses nationwide.

I love how the program is multi-focal – working big scale and small scale – because change is needed on both levels!

Nurses can personally take up the challenge to improve their own health, but it makes it a whole lot easier to minimize stress if there’s a free relaxation room available after a shift, or to get your daily step goal in if employers offer a cheap gym membership, or to eat a healthy lunch if you receive discounts for healthy food in the cafeteria.

I’d like to conclude with a story spotlight that I read while researching HNHN and its effect on nurses’ health. CarolineEast Health System (a partner with Healthy Nurse, Healthy Nation) created bags for nurses who were going to serve during Hurricane Florence. The bags had thank-you notes for each nurse along with snacks, slippers, and small toiletries. What a great way to promote emotional and mental health for the nurses who were about to spend hours serving the wounded during a national disaster!

I think all workplaces can benefit from employee wellness programs, but healthcare in particular needs to make an effort to promote nurse health because the commitment to quality patient care can overwhelm any employee’s needs.

It’s a balance, right? Of course, hospitals and doctor offices are a place oriented to patients and their needs, but no person is a machine: nurses need avenues of health improvement, too.

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