A lot of people have the misconception that nurses and healthcare workers must get sick all the time.
I mean, you’re touching, get touched by and breathed (or coughed) on by sick people daily. Your workplace is teeming will all kinds of viruses, bacteria and disease.
How can you not be sick every other week?
Putting the current realities of the COVID-19 crisis aside, the truth is nurses don’t get sick any more often than the general public (Although it varies according to where a nurse works – just ask a pediatric nurse how often the little germ factories get them sick).
What’s a nurse’s secret to staying healthy and avoiding getting sick when they work around sick people every day?
Some inside knowledge or secret immune-boosting serum?
There’s no real secret to how nurses keep themselves healthy.
All you’ve got to do is adopt a couple of simple routines and habits.
What Not To Do
Before we give you the tips and strategies to staying healthy, we’re going to tell you what not to do if you want to stay well. They’re simple mistakes that are very easy to make, especially in the middle of a busy shift.
(spoiler alert: you’re going to see these again later)
- Not regularly washing your hands or using hand sanitizer
- Not taking care of your health
- Not regularly cleaning equipment and surfaces
- Not taking breaks or time off – overworking
Simple things, right? But all of these mistakes can lower your immune system or result in self-infection.
How To Not Get Sick
These tips and practices that nurses use to keep from getting sick aren’t some earth-shattering revelations. They’re just simple things that if followed lower your risk of getting sick. Some you’ll have to make habits of and others are conscious decisions.
15 tips and practices to keep you healthy:
- Wash your hands
Practicing proper hand hygiene is at the top of the list because it’s the best defense against getting sick. Wash your hands regularly – as in a lot. Sing the ABC’s, the Birthday Song or Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star and get in-between your fingers.
Tip: don’t forget to moisturize as frequent hand washing can really dry them out, leading to cracked skin.
Grab those disinfecting wipes and put them to work. Even if you think it doesn’t need it, wipe it down. Surfaces and equipment (especially your stethoscope) need to be constantly cleaned.
- Properly use PPE
We’re still in the middle of the COVID-19 crisis and personal protection equipment means more now than ever. Even getting enough PPE is a challenge. Make sure you’re properly using your PPE and if necessary (and approved by your healthcare organization), the reuse of PPE.
Resource: CDC Guidelines For PPE Use
- No handshakes
Skip the handshake. Now it’s all about the elbow bump, foot tap or air fist bump. Even a wave will suffice – they know you’re glad to see them.
- Don’t touch face
Hand touches surface crawling with cooties. Hand touches nose, eye or mouth. Now you’ve infected yourself. Keep your hands away from your face.
Tip: if you have long hair, tie it back.
- Exhale or hold
If a sick patient gives you a surprise hacking cough right in your face, exhale or hold your breath. It’s easy protection against a nose, throat and lungful of germs.
All the rest of the tips from here on deal with your personal health. You know that you compromise your immune system when you let yourself get run down. And yes, as a nurse a good night’s sleep can sometimes seem like some long-forgotten dream, but you’ve got to get regular sleep.
Resource: 5 Tips For Nurses To Get Better Sleep
Remember your mom telling you you’ve got to eat? Yep, you’ve got to eat – and not something from a vending machine or thrown into the microwave. No, and not takeout every meal either. You need to eat regularly and eat healthy foods. Try meal prepping.
Exercise? What nurse has time to sweat it out at the gym? Well, don’t worry. You don’t have to go for grueling hours-long gym sessions. Regular light to modest exercise every week will not only help boost your immune system, it’ll positively affect your mental wellbeing and help you shed extra pounds – who doesn’t need that?.
- Maintain gut health
70% of your body’s immunity results from the heath of your gut biome. Yes, those millions of little hitchhikers roaming around in your gut. Along with a healthy diet (see above) you should think about regularly taking probiotics to keep your gut biome and immune system strong.
Nurses deal with a lot of stress. And stress leads to mental fatigue, burnout, depression, anxiety and a host of other negative effects. And of course, this directly affects your immune health. You have to have a healthy mind to have a healthy body.
Exercise helps, along with meditation, mindfulness practices and self-care. You need to take time for yourself because nurses deal with a lot at work that can follow them home.
- Stay hydrated
Proper hydration is the key to not only survival but staying healthy. You should drink eight 8 oz. glasses per day.
- Get some sun
There’s a reason they gave patients sunlight therapy during the Spanish Flu epidemic. Your body needs sunlight for Vitamin D synthesis. Besides, getting outside in the warm sun and fresh air makes everyone feel better.
- Watch the alcohol
Yeah, as much as you may need that glass of cab after a 12-hour shift – don’t overdo it. Too much alcohol consumption, even one hard night of partying, can really do a number on your immune system.
- Don’t go to work sick
This is a tricky one. Are you actually sick? How sick are you? Are you going to lose hours, sick days or PTO? Sometimes it’s a hard call, but if you’re really sick, going into work and grinding it out can not only make you sicker, it can also be dangerous for your patients.
BONUS TIP: Don’t use the same pen for every patient. If there’s a dedicated pen in the patient’s room – use it.
See, these “secrets” nurses use to keep from getting sick really aren’t secrets at all. They’re just a set of reliable routines that, if you make them a habit, will help you stay well, even as you’re surrounded by sick people.
Have some tips on staying healthy you’d like to share? Join us at The Buzz, our online community and connect with fellow nurses who are just as passionate as you. Or you can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Also, don’t forget to check out NurseHivePrep.com for vital nursing news, education, resources and more.