Nurses hold a special place in the realm of preparedness. In addition to being community advocates by nature, nurses serve as role models by adopting precautions to limit the impact of emergencies. And in the often-frenetic field of medicine, the value of identifying hazards beforehand and planning solutions can be immeasurable.
Nurses serve in an almost unlimited cross-section of work environments – attaining various levels of training, specialization, and responsibility to do so. Regardless, many nurses have the following traits in common:
- A deep-seated desire to help others.
- Formidable skill sets that may be unique to the niche they serve, yet are too often unappreciated or devalued by outsiders.
- The ability to reassure and calm patients in high-pressure situations.
The common denominator is the need to identify stressors at both individual and collective levels to put effective strategies in place for whole-life preparedness. The goal is to be proactive about this triumvirate of general preparedness, risks to food safety and related hazards, and mental health crises – in nurses and the patients under their care.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), it is estimated that each year, one in six Americans gets sick from contaminated food or beverages, and 3,000 die from foodborne illness. The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) estimates that foodborne illnesses cost the United States more than $15.6 billion annually. The demands of patient care and the security of personal nutrition are put at risk with the potential for foodborne illness.
The first step in food safety preparedness is education. Seniors, in particular, are more vulnerable to pathogens. This population is also the special focus of this year’s Preparedness Month. FoodSafety.Gov explains why those over 65 are more likely to be hospitalized or die from foodborne illness.
Nurses can educate seniors on food safety tips such as:
- Making safer food choices. The foods most likely to contain harmful bacteria or viruses are uncooked fresh fruits and vegetables, some animal products – including unpasteurized milk and soft cheese; and raw or undercooked eggs, meat, poultry, fish, and shellfish.
- Washing hands, utensils, and surfaces often to avoid the spread of germs.
- Separating raw meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs from ready-to-eat foods.
- Cooking food to an internal temperature that’s high enough to kill germs.
- Refrigerating perishable food within two hours or one hour if exposed to temperatures over 90⁰F.
The CDC offers a wide range of resources to help nurses inform the public about food safety and to practice good habits themselves. Being proactive about such hazards to reduce health risks is one of many positive drivers for preparedness.
The Kaiser Family Foundation shared that over half a million lives (528,805) were lost to suicide between 2010 and 2021. Nationally, firearms are involved in over half (53%) of all suicides. In 2021, one person died by suicide every 11 minutes. Provisional data from the CDC indicates that the trend is continuing, with the number of suicide deaths in 2022 at a record high of 49,369. According to a KFF/CNN poll, nine in ten adults in the United States believe there is a mental health crisis.
These rates are not only alarming as potential issues for patients. Nurses themselves consider suicide more than any other US worker. Yet, American nurses are less likely to seek professional help than their counterparts. One of the leading causes of this development is burnout: emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and a low sense of personal accomplishment. Awareness of mental health issues and the value of seeking help when needed are essential first steps for dealing with this highly complex and pervasive issue.
Nurses can adopt several prevention strategies to bolster their own mental health. By recognizing the risks, protective factors, and warning signs, they can also intervene for their patients who may be in crisis.
Preparing Nurses Through Resilience
Previous articles in TNB have covered techniques for general preparedness for fires, natural disasters, and many local hazards. Strategies include creating 72-hour kits, establishing a communications plan, and keeping informed of potential risks.
For nurses, one of the most valuable ways to prepare themselves and others is cultivating resilience – especially before disaster strikes. The benefits of developing inner strength transcend any emergency – whether by an outbreak of foodborne pathogens, the development of severe illness, a growing crisis in behavioral health, or other concerns.
The Mayo Clinic is one organization that promotes resilience in overcoming challenges. Anyone can study and apply these practices. Here are some tips for resiliency.
When you build strong relationships with loved ones and friends, you fortify each other for good times and bad with needed support, guidance, and acceptance. Establish other valuable connections by volunteering or joining an organization you identify with.
Work toward attaining a sense of accomplishment and purpose each day. By setting clear and achievable goals, you align yourself to face a meaningful future.
Lessons in Experience
Review the coping mechanisms that have worked for you. Identify strategies and skills that allowed you to overcome challenges in the past. By journaling about these experiences, you can look more closely at positive and negative behavior patterns and choose how to respond more effectively in the future.
Learn from the past but focus on the future. By anticipating and planning for changes, you can confront new struggles with less anxiety.
Don’t Forget Yourself
Try to get some physical activity daily – whether it’s a brisk walk at lunch or a trip to the gym. Get plenty of rest. Pursue hobbies and activities that you enjoy. Eat healthfully. Try yoga, meditation, guided imagery, deep breathing, or other practices that relieve stress.
Instead of minimizing your problems, focus on what can be done to address them and follow through. Allow yourself the time to recover from a significant setback, and visualize your desired outcomes over time.
Some of the many resources designed to help nurses cultivate resilience include:
- Nursing Resilience Interventions (National Library of Medicine)
- Resilience (American Association of Colleges of Nursing)
- Six Strategies To Build Resilience (Nursingcenter.com)
- Developing Resilience To Combat Nurse Burnout (Joint Commission)
Regardless of work environment, nurses share common traits that can benefit from preparedness beyond ensuring that their crash cart is equipped. Application of general preparedness (be informed, make a plan, build a kit), being proactive against pervasive hazards (such as food safety), and developing resilience (addressing the mental health crisis and rising suicide rates) benefits nurses and the patients they serve.
Nancy Burns (EMT, CHEP, AFAA, AHA-I) is the Upper Merrimack Valley Medical Reserve Corps Coordinator at the Westford, MA Health Department. Learn more about the national MRC program and how to support their efforts here.