This article was provided by Jackson Nurse Professionals.
There was a post on the Gypsy Nurse Facebook group from a travel nurse who felt frustrated about the misconception that nurses don’t experience post-traumatic stress disorder. She compiled a list of the traumatic incidents she’s experienced in her job that still haunt her today. Many other nurses liked and commented on her post, sharing their personal experiences and agreeing that PTSD in travel nurses doesn’t get the attention it deserves.
From our perspective, PTSD in nursing is a very real issue, and the existing conversation around it needs to become louder. Working as a travel nurse can mean you’re experiencing potentially traumatic and stressful incidents while being far from your support network at home, making the effects of PTSD compounded. PTSD not only affects your personal life, but it can also influence the number of medical errors made during a shift.
Understanding how PTSD affects nurses
If you’re unfamiliar with PTSD and the impacts it can have on travel nurses’ daily lives, it’s important to understand what it is. PTSD at its core is a severe, prolonged negative emotional reaction to a very difficult or frightening experience. Symptoms of PTSD include unwanted memories, nightmares, flashbacks about the event, difficulty concentrating, and feelings of always being on alert. Affected individuals may also avoid situations that remind them of the event and may have trouble sleeping.
While nurses are known to be resilient, mounting challenges in today’s healthcare environment and regular exposure to traumatic events can make it more difficult to bounce back. A survey of 248 emergency nurses showed that those who responded encountered some type of traumatic event on a routine basis because of their job. There may be a higher risk of PTSD for nurses working in certain care settings and in specific specialties.
Ways to prevent PTSD
While there is no guaranteed way to ensure that it will not occur, there are steps you can take to help prevent PTSD from developing. These include:
- Try not to miss out on opportunities to make friends while on assignment at local hangouts, meetups, or even with your new colleagues.
- Do you need to take time off to process a traumatic event? Nurses are usually expected to continue saving lives while mourning patients they’ve developed relationships with.
- Even though it’s difficult and you may not want to, talk with colleagues, supervisors, friends, or loved ones about your experience.
- You may need to limit your overtime shifts, schedule time specifically for yourself, and get comfortable asking for assistance when you need it.
If you’re living away from your close friends and family, other travel nurses may be the only ones who can truly relate and understand what you’re going through. Avoiding discussion around an upsetting or traumatic event can actually increase the likelihood that PTSD symptoms will manifest, so it’s important that you talk with those around you about how you’re doing and what you’re struggling with.
You won’t get over it, but you can get through it.
After experiencing trauma, you can’t avoid it as if it never happened. While it would be nice if it worked like that, there are several ways you can treat the symptoms. The National Center for PTSD says that psychotherapy, also known as talk therapy, is one of the main treatment methods for the disorder. Working with a professional to develop a treatment plan can help resolve the upsetting feelings and emotions around the traumatic event.
No aspect of healing from PTSD is easy. Daily life is flooded with scary, stressful, and anxious feelings even when nothing is wrong in that moment. Opening yourself up to negative feelings in a controlled way can help you begin to address those negative emotions while not overwhelming you for the entire day. The ADAA suggested this exercise: Set aside five minutes each day to be open to your negative thoughts and feelings. Then, if negative emotions occur during the rest of the day, you can take note of them but then choose to give them more attention during the next five-minute block.
Staying aware of the challenges you may face as a travel nurse keeps you one step ahead of any difficult event that may come your way. Stay empowered, travel nurses, and take care of yourselves. You’re our hero.
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