The impact of SARS on our system of health care, on health-care providers and on nurses in particular has brought to light all too clearly, the need for a fresh look at health and safety in the workplace. There has been, for many years, a devastating lack of value placed on those who serve public health. Government has demonstrated an uncaring attitude and ambivalence toward health and safety by continuous cutbacks, forcing layoffs, lack of supplies, increasing the numbers of casual workers and reduced benefits. For nurses, who make up seventy-five percent of health-care workers in Canada, this has resulted in unmanageable work loads, increased shift work, dissatisfaction with personal performance, resentment and frustration, not to mention a sharp decline in quality care for patients. Add to that, having to balance often two or more part time jobs along with family obligations and what do you have? STRESS!
Stress can be one of the leading causes of illness and accidents in the workplace. Stress causes the body to over extend, to deviate too far from its normal limits of function. When this happens, the health of the individual and one’s ability to function with control and safety is compromised. There is a direct connection between the demands placed upon one’s life and the physical and mental health of the individual. The demands placed on nurses in today’s health-care environment are the type of stressors that represent danger.
The kind of change required to correct this situation does not happen overnight, however. The responsibility lies not only with government, but with all those who have input and impact on the current system, including employers, unions and individual health-care workers. In response to the current environment for nurses, the RNAO is attempting to raise the profile of nurses as “knowledge workers rather than order takers” to encourage a workplace atmosphere of respect and value. As Brock professor, Melanie MacNeil, stated in an interview with The Standard (St. Catherines-Niagara), “We need a context of caring within the system”.
Nurses, however, must also learn to value themselves and their work, not only by speaking out, but by nurturing their own needs and health issues. The RNAO, this year, has also recognized as a special interest group under its umbrella, the CTNIG – Complementary Therapies Nurses Interest Group. In so doing, they have recognized the value of complementary therapies as a nursing intervention, which promotes relaxation and the relaxation response, including a reduction in anxiety and a facilitation of the body’s natural restorative process. Many of these therapies, such as Qi Gong, Therapeutic Touch, Healing Touch and Visualization can be incorporated into the workplace and carried out individually or with a partner on a ten or fifteen minute break. The use of complementary therapies both on the job and outside the workplace can help to restore order and balance, and to replenish the all too depleted energy systems of our nurses. They provide a concentrated focus of healing, wholeness and movement toward the restoration of energy within the body. Treating the energy system awakens the self healing process which addresses all aspects of the human condition.
Yes, recognition of problems and changes in the system are needed from government, employers and unions. However, nurses themselves must take some responsibility for their personal health and safety in the work environment. By taking responsibility for our own well being and healing processes, we become empowered and learn to value ourselves. Self help is self empowerment. Instead of frustration, helplessness and isolation, we feel a sense of hope, purpose and connection. These emotional changes are reflected at the cellular level with physical responses that boost the immune system, allowing for optimum protection against exterior influences. The fight or flight response that exists in stressful situations is diminished and a calmer, clear thinking response steps in. Self care is a predominant mode of prevention. Through the use of complementary therapies, we learn to recognize and most importantly, to act on early warning signs of impending health problems. We develop a heightened sense of our bodies and the impact of exterior forces on them. We learn to direct our bodies in their natural movement toward restoration and wholeness, a restoration to homeostasis.
Nurses can play a large role in workplace health and safety, simply by becoming personally empowered in their own care. They can improve their personal work environment by using their skills as coordinators of health care and applying them to themselves and each other. Becoming knowledgeable about complementary therapies will provide nurses with the necessary skills to help themselves and guide others toward a healthier and thereby safer work environment.