What comes to mind when you think of the word “nurse?” Sure, we may be 2017’s most trusted profession according to the annual Gallup poll for ethical standards and honesty, but does society really know what we do?
Nurses are everywhere.
Yes, we are most definitely at the hospital. We care for the you, hold your hand, explain the confusing diagnoses, utilize their critical thinking skills to problem solve, and we save you from falls, pressure injuries, prescription errors, and more. We help to run life-saving equipment like respirators and extracorporeal membrane oxygenation machines. We get you walking after your surgery to prevent pneumonia and look after your bodily fluids while neglecting their own basic needs. We are in outpatient medicine, coordinating your care.
It’s 2018 now and just because we’re not always in scrubs, doesn’t mean we cease to be a nurse. Nurses run your hospital, partner with physicians and physical therapists and dieticians, analyze and control the spread of infection, monitor and improve the quality of your care, coordinate your discharges. Nurses are in the military. Nurses work in schools, public health, rehabilitation, informatics. Nurses are writers, politicians, researchers, educators. This particular nurse wears lounge clothes every day and turns on her computer at home to enter data. Advanced Practice Nurses anesthetize you and keep you safe during surgery, deliver your babies and provide you with gynecological care, are your primary care providers, and are the top experts in their field. NURSES ROCK!
And now we’re taking this thing even further.
As Florence Nightingale stated, “hospitals are only an intermediate stage of civilization, never intended, at all events, to take in the whole sick population.” And, as we all know, with our aging population, chronic illnesses such as diabetes and heart disease are becoming a more complex and more expensive issue. According to the CDC, one in two adults have a chronic disease and one in four have multiple (1). In a study conducted by the CDC in 2013, only 6.3% of adults engage in all five essential healthy behaviors: abstaining from smoking, getting regular physical activity, maintaining a normal BMI, getting seven or more hours of sleep per night, and drinking moderately or abstaining from alcohol (2). While studies have shown that BMI and weight are not always associated with good health, this still demonstrates a need for improved health behaviors in adults in the US (3). Due to system constraints and increasingly complicated patients, providers lack the time to devote to these behavior changes.
For the past few decades, health coaches and dieticians have arrived on the scene to help offload this need. Insurance companies are now providing incentives to provide coaching (4). A recent study published in the Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine showed a marked improvement in the healthy behaviors of their patients and improved patient satisfaction through the use of Medical Assistants as health coaches (5). These programs are patient-driven, with coaches listening and guiding their clients in goal setting and accountability. While these programs are an excellent start, it’s time to see even more nurses in these positions.
Nurses have always been the coaches. We have the education, the expertise, and the culture to be health coaches. The nursing model is based on treating the body as a whole and our ability to combine science and alternative therapies is vital in the twenty-first century. This integrative approach and knowledge of complex disease processes is absolutely essential for success. Our ability to openly listen to our patients and sit with them in their greatest times of need is essential to coaching practice. As nurse coaching programs have become more prevalent, particularly with the option of board certification, we know that this is being taken much more seriously (6). We are ideally poised to take on this challenge.
The good news is, our society is shifting towards a different way of looking at health, focusing on prevention, whole foods, movement, stress reduction, work-life balance, and better sleep. If you struggle with making lasting changes on your own, it is still entirely possible to improve your life through work with a nurse coach. As I work towards becoming educated in nurse coaching, building my own practice, and eventually becoming a certified integrative nurse coach in the coming year, I am excited to explore how I can make a difference with my chosen profession in a much different way. I hope you’ll join me on this journey!