Career Check-Up with Dr. Elaine Foster: Part 6

Dr. Elaine Foster, Ph.D., MSN, RN, Dean of Nursing and Healthcare Programs at American Sentinel University is here to give you and your career a quick check-up (no blood draw necessary)! The Career Check-Up with Dr. Elaine Foster outlines advice and insight on going back to school to earn your MSN or DNP degree.

The American Nursing Association has declared 2017 the “Year of the Healthy Nurse.” For the month of September, their focus is on work-life balance and addiction recovery. The pairing of these two topics made me stop and think about a life-changing moment I experienced over a year ago. While I have never personally struggled with substance abuse, it’s now easier for me to understand how nurses fall into destructive behavior and addiction.

Up until this moment, I would have ranked my work-life balance as “excellent.” I had earned my Ph.D. while putting two kids through college and working as the Dean of Nursing. My marriage was in good shape, the family farm was thriving and best of all I had become a grandmother. That’s when it happened. I was on the floor happily playing with my granddaughter, the joy of my life, when I had difficulty standing up.

My first thought was, “I’m way too young for this.” As it turns out, my work-life balance had added 35 pounds to my frame. While I had not abused a substance, I had abused my good health by neglecting proper diet and exercise. This hit me like a ton of bricks. Like so many nurses, I was so caught up in my profession and caring for my family that I had let me own health slide.

The duty to promote health and safety

As nurses, we agree to respect the worth and dignity of all human beings. We do this with great passion, but often to the exclusion of ourselves. According to the Interpretive Statement 5.1 of the ANA Code of Ethics, nurses must concern themselves with “self-regarding duties,” the first of which is the promotion of health and safety. Put another way, how can we expect our patients to follow proper nutrition and exercise guidelines when they are sick, if our own bodies are walking billboards for a different set of rules?

Sugar and caffeine are not illicit drugs, but they affect the same areas of the brain and can be abused all the same. The question is what to do with the impulses that trigger an overworked, exhausted nurse to reach for coffee and a sugary snack, skip out on exercise, or resort to substance abuse? It’s not like we don’t know any better. This is why I hired a personal coach. I didn’t want to just change my diet. I wanted to change my attitude toward myself. Many of the things I learned from my coach are reinforced by the ANA’s concept of “self-regarding duties.”

The duty to preserve wholeness of character and integrity

The second self-regarding duty mentioned in the Code of Ethics is the preservation of “wholeness of character and integrity.” If you’ve been following my blog, you know I’m a big fan of marrying work and school, and integrating these with your personal life. When we fragment ourselves into various roles (mother, wife, student, nurse) or talk about partitioning our lives (work life, family life, church life) we end up overworked, spread thin and somehow lost in the equation. It’s important to remember that there’s just one of you, and that you are only human. As much as you care for other people, if you do not care for yourself, you will soon be of no use to anyone.

From my perspective, this language of “duty” adopted by the ANA is particularly well suited for nurses, given our tendency to care for others before caring for ourselves. It allows me to “marry” the passion I feel for nursing with the passion I feel for my granddaughter. In other words, it’s my professional duty and an expression of my integrity to be a healthy, well-adjusted individual – or in my case, a flexible, fun-loving grandmother!

The duty to maintain competence

The third “self-regarding duty” mentioned in the Code of Ethics is the “duty to maintain competence and continuation of personal and professional growth.” This happens to be a favorite of mine! And it won’t be the last time you read these words from me: you’ll know it’s the right time to go back to school and earn your MSN or DNP when you decide it’s what you really want. But perhaps knowing that your personal and professional growth is also your “self-regarding duty” is just the nudge you need to take the next step!

Have you dreamed earning your BSNMSN or DNP? With American Sentinel, you can make that dream a reality.

Read the rest of  The Career Check-Up articles for more helpful tips on going back to school.