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6 Ways Nurses Stay Healthy and Avoid Getting Sick

Nurse washing her hands

Nurses are constantly in danger of getting sick. “Doctors,” said Arnold Relman, late editor of the New England Journal of Medicine, “spend more time with their computers than at the bedside.” It’s the nurses who pick up that lost bedside time.

Hospitals are filled to the brim with germs despite their attempts to keep sterile. It’s hardly their fault—any place that houses so many sick people is bound to be a breeding ground for germs. But pair germy hospitals with nurses’ constant interactions with sick patients, and you’ve got a recipe for a lot of sick nurses.

And yet, nurses don’t get sick any more than the average American, who gets sick about 3.5 times per year.

How do they do it? It turns out that nurses take special precautions to make sure that they don’t get sick. We’re going to share some of their secrets with you today.

Nurses Love Their Jobs

Nursing has some downsides: a first-hand look at death, inconvenient hours, long periods of time without sitting down or even taking a break, and constant underappreciation. Being a nurse is a scary and overwhelming career. So why does anybody do it?

The answer is simple: because nurses want to help people. They are genuinely wonderful. There’s no denying that nursing is a position that has excellent growth potential and pay. However, the real reason people become nurses is because they’re caregivers at heart. Nurses put up with the disrespect, long days, and achy feet because they care the people around them. And it shows: nursing has been the most trusted occupation in America for 15 years.

Nurses take up the Caduceus because they want to make a difference in people’s lives. The satisfaction that they get from doing that contributes a lot to the happiness and pleasure of being a nurse. Since unhappiness and stress have been shown to have a relationship with illness and other health problems, feeling fulfilled by their work keeps nurses healthier.

Nurses Manage Their Stress

It’s no secret to anybody that nursing is a stressful and emotionally draining job. With long, fast-paced days, how could it not be? Nurses are aware of the stresses of their job more than most careers, and they take more steps to cope with that stress. In fact, the American Nurses Association has articles dedicated to teaching nurses how to handle stressful days.

Staying as stress-free as possible is important, because stress actually weakens the immune system, leading to more frequent illness. WebMD lists a physical symptom of stress as “frequent colds and infections.”

If you’re looking for ways to help a nurse in your life combat stress, consider a professional massage. Massages have been proven to fight against stress.

Nurses (Try to) Get Enough Sleep

How much (and well) you sleep is directly related to the strength of your immune system. Admittedly, nurses struggle with getting enough sleep—especially nurses that work the night shift.

However, nursing is a higher-stake job than most, and they know that a night of good sleep might be the difference between life and death for one of their patients. So to nurses, sleep is about more than just feeling rested in the morning.

Nurses Wash Their Hands (A Lot)

Washing your hands is one of the best ways to avoid getting sick, says the CDC. Not only that, but washing your hands also helps combat the rise in antibiotic resistance.

Healthcare workers, nurses specifically, wash their hands more than any other profession. Most healthcare workers wash their hands up to 30 times per shift, and for nurses that number goes up as high as 100 times per shift! Nurses’ thorough handwashing keeps both themselves and their patients healthier.

Nurses are Mindful of What They Touch

Along with washing their hands, nurses take extra care not to touch things that many other people touch, like guardrails, whenever possible. Most people don’t consider this, but because hospitals are so germ-filled, these places are extra dirty and pose a risk of contaminating patients. Therefore, nurses steer clear of this wherever possible and keep themselves healthier in the process.

Nurses Get More Exercise than The Average American

Nurses get good exercise. Even if a nurse does absolutely no exercise (or even walking) outside of work, she still walks almost twice as much during a shift as the average American walks per day (5,900 steps, or about 3 miles per day). That exercise helps keep nurses’ hearts beating strongly and their immune systems working well.

All that walking is actually better for nurse’s health than if they were running marathons. It’s true that exercise, particularly cardio, is extremely healthy. However, intense cardio, defined as running for 60 minutes or more without stopping, sends the body (and immune system) into shock for about 3 days. During those 3 days, you are especially susceptible to getting sick.

All of that standing and walking is hard on the legs, though. That’s why so many nurses wear compression socks: to keep leg pain down during those 12-hour shifts when they never get a chance to sit down.

Apply These Principles for a Healthier Life

There you have it! Now you’ve taken a glimpse into the habits that keep nurses as healthy as the rest of the population. If you have a nurse in your life, make sure she knows how much you value her. Christmas is coming up. Why not get her a professional massage or a pair of cute, festive compression socks?