At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, healthcare workers were celebrated as heroes and, in some towns, there was even a daily moment of thanks and cheering. Then, the pandemic wore on, and while the cheering faded, stories of healthcare workers suffering burnout and trauma became common. If you’ve been thinking about a career in healthcare, this has likely caused you to reconsider and worry.
There is lots to think about and consider. The information about the pandemic and the understanding of COVID is constantly changing as the healthcare system gathers more data and experience.
Let’s take a breath, relax with some self-care like a hot bath or a hydrating face cream, and calmly consider some of the aspects of becoming a healthcare worker during the time of COVID-19.
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If you’ve already been thinking about starting a career in healthcare, chances are you like helping people and would like to have a job that feels meaningful to you. You are probably a very empathetic person with good social skills. These are certainly the basics that every nurse or healthcare worker needs.
A “sense of duty” is also a characteristic of people who work in healthcare. They believe that it is their responsibility to tend to a patient’s overall well-being and care. Being a healthcare worker means that you will be bringing help and comfort to people who are in crisis even when there isn’t a pandemic going on. That’s the core of the job.
Being in the midst of any crisis, either at the bedside or one as big as a global pandemic, can increase that sense of duty which can be both a burden and a personal growth experience at the same time. The increased feeling of teamwork, as well as a higher appreciation for life in general, are just two of the positives that have been described by nurses working during the pandemic.
Pandemics can end in only two ways. The disease can either cease to be able to be transmitted throughout the population (as they have with all the Ebola outbreaks), or it can become a regular part of the endemic illnesses of a population.
Endemic diseases are illnesses that show up in a population in regular and predictable ways. Other examples of endemic diseases are chicken pox and tuberculosis. Healthcare workers always take precautions, and they learn to identify and appropriately respond to many contagious illnesses on a regular basis. It is likely that COVID will become one of them.
Healthcare systems and the workers in them are adapting to this “new normal.” There’s that flexibility that’s required of healthcare workers again! Being a healthcare worker during times of great transitions and changes can be exciting and can add to that sense of fulfillment and challenge that most healthcare workers crave.
Embarking on a new career or changing the course of your current career is going to be stressful no matter what’s going on in the world. There’s a lot to worry about and consider. The list could go on and on, and absolutely no one knows the future.
What we do know right now is that there is a great need for healthcare workers in all aspects of the industry and it is a need that will not go away. The current administration is working to create programs that will support the needs of the healthcare workforce, so this may be a very good time to get in on the ground floor.
Healthcare workers are needed not just in nursing, but also the allied professions (CNAs, laboratory techs, dietary, physical therapists, and so on). The need for workers has also increased in areas such as behavioral health, elder care, and pharmacies in hospitals. If you don’t see yourself in a position that requires bedside care, there are lots of other opportunities to explore in healthcare such as informatics, technology support, imaging services, medical records, quality improvement, and others.
Even though it’s easy to overlook, being a nurse or healthcare worker has always meant prioritizing your own self-care and practicing healthy coping skills. That’s never been more true than it is right now. If you don’t take care of yourself, you’ll be no good to anyone else. Good self-care makes you better able to care for your patients, be the best team member for your coworkers, and also be able to really be present for your loved ones in your personal life.
An important part of self-care for those working in healthcare is remaining relaxed and flexible. Throughout your shift, your work week, and your years as a nurse; you will need to be flexible since what’s needed of you will change from moment to moment. Healthcare workers are needing to constantly adapt to changing circumstances as the COVID pandemic goes on and the knowledge about COVID increases.
Being able to be self-aware of your strengths and weaknesses, being able to assess how you are feeling physically and emotionally, asking for help when you need it, and being able to attend to your needs in a healthy way — like taking time for a long walk, a hot bath or a nice hand mask — are all part of being a great healthcare worker, pandemic or not.
There is something special inside you that is making you think about being a healthcare worker. It’s not something that just anyone can do, and you should be proud of the fact that you are even considering it.
Working in healthcare will challenge and stretch you, and you will learn and grow in ways you never imagined possible. Your coworkers will feel like family as you share these challenges together. Living through a new pandemic has changed us all, whether or not we work in healthcare, and given us new perspectives about life and relationships.
The reality of COVID-19 and its effects on the lives of healthcare workers certainly needs to be considered, but it also shouldn’t scare you off.
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