The Nurse as a Role Model for Health

by Guest Author on March 18, 2010

Guest post by Tamara Walker, R.N.

As a graduate nurse, fresh out of school and just starting my nursing career, I believed nurses were not only health promoters and educators, but should also serve as examples of healthy living. Unfortunately, it did not take long to discover that many of the nurses I worked with were not living up to my expectations of that role. Several were smokers, some were very overweight, and some drank on a regular basis. Although I was striving to be healthy in those areas, I struggled with my own non-healthy habits of sleep deprivation and poor stress management skills.

I was bothered by the dichotomy between what was being taught and what was being done by the nursing staff. There seemed to be a distinct aura of “do as I say, not as I do,” and as a new nurse, I felt that we, as nurses, should hold ourselves to a higher standard and strive harder to live out the healthy lifestyle choices we were teaching to our patients. However, not all nurses agree with this belief, and some feel it is unrealistic to hold nurses to this high standard.

Studies and polls of nurses have revealed diverse opinions exist on the topic of being a role model for patients. There seems to be a tension between what should and should not be expected of nurses. In an informal poll conducted on allnurses.com in January 2008, 53% of respondents answered with “Nurses should try their best, but they are only human,” vs. 25% who answered “Yes, nurses should be role models for healthy living!” A few nurses shared their opinion that expecting nurses to be role models was “sexist” and asked why patients do not expect physicians to live up to the same standards. Others strongly felt that nurses are promoting health, and in order to effectively educate and inspire patients to develop good health habits, the nurse should be a role model for such habits. The overwhelming majority, however, felt that nurses should try to be a good role model, but patients must understand that nurses are not perfect and may not always live up to the definition of a healthy role model.

Should nurses be role models for health? Even after learning firsthand how difficult it is to live up to, I still believe nurses should try to be good role models. Like it or not, patients do look to nurses to model the behaviors and habits they are teaching and most have great respect for nurses and the nursing profession. So what can nurses do to bridge the gap between what patients expect and what nurses expect of themselves? Perhaps conducting a nursing assessment of your own health habits? Maybe by developing a nursing care plan for yourself and your health? Or perhaps, more importantly, by treating yourself with the same care and concern as you have for your patients? Nurses are typically nurturers and caregivers by their very nature, but too often, nurses forget to care for themselves and as a result, they end up developing the same poor health habits as their patients. Employers can help by offering wellness programs for nurses and allowing their nursing staff the time to utilize those programs.

Nurses deserve to have the level of health and sense of well-being that they work so hard to help their patients achieve. Nursing is a stressful, demanding profession, but healthy habits can help nurses do their very best, for their patients, for their employers, and best of all, for themselves.

Tamara Walker is a Registered Nurse (R.N.) who hosts the Ask MomRN Show on BlogTalkRadio and blogs about her experiences at MomRN.com.


{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Rosaline Nankam 10.15.10 at 11:06 pm

Tamara,

I totally agree with you in everthing you so well said. I think that for a long time nurses have had the habit to say to the patient “Do as I say not as I do”.
A lot of nurses do not “walk the talk” . I was an nurse on a medical floor working with another RN who was trying to show me how to teach a patient about healthy choices and cardiac diet, about the need for the patient to try to start an exercise routine to reduce his weight after discharge. The nurse talking to the patient was grossely overweight herself. The patient listen to her for a moment and at my biggest horror, he told the nurse talking” Look who is talking. Why don’t you take your own advice and start dieting yourself?” Needless to say that it was the most embarassing moment I have ever witnessed. Yes, the patient was rude and unconsiderate, but you could not help to notice that the patient was right and in my opinion, the nurse’s teaching will not be very effective. Because of her own weight, she has lost her credibility, making the teaching very ineffective. We do need to take care of ourselves too!!!

ranamoh20 01.14.11 at 3:36 pm

hello, thank you for your effort
i want any thing about patient teaching and its barriers

George RN 08.31.11 at 8:43 pm

Totally agree! I found your article very true and helpful.

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