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 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 2018, an empirical study was conducted “To pilot the acceptability to practicing nurses of the concept of being healthy role models.” 58% of respondents answered that nurses should be considered role models. The survey primarily focused on health with regard to obesity and weight. As a result, 48% of the respondents answered that “being obese made the public less likely to trust their public health message.”
Although this was in 2008, an informal poll conducted on allnurses.com found that 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.
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