Struggling to Find an Off Switch? The Constant Cycle of Caring


Published: 17 May 2017

Why do we become nurses?

There are as many answers to that question as there are nurses, I imagine.

The common thread is of course, caring. We nurse because we care, regardless of our specialty, position, environment or experience. It matters not whether we are directly involved in clinical care, seeing patients and attending procedures daily, or working from an office, planning and proposing better ways to deliver quality care, or precepting and educating others. We nurse because we care.

The caring doesn’t stop when we walk out at the end of a shift; that is, if we walk out.

How many times have any of us stayed to work a longer or double shift because there was no other option to cover a shortfall, sick call or exceptionally busy ward or department?

It could be said we agree to these extended hours, albeit reluctantly, out of care for our colleagues and that is often the case.

To be honest though, we are just as likely to do it for a personal mission – bills, the upcoming holiday, wedding etc. Even these personal agendas however, usually involve other people – school fees, a family holiday, a daughter’s wedding for example. Because we care.

The Constant Cycle of Caring - Struggling to Find an Off Switch? family time

When we do leave, the caring continues.

Not just the labours of love – the children, grandchildren, elderly parent or unwell spouse for whom we provide care. What about the nurse who is a soccer coach? Or the one coming home from night shift and baking cupcakes for the school fundraiser?

I personally have several colleagues whom I admire greatly for the substantial portion of their time off they devote to their role as volunteer ambulance officers. Because they care.

Then there is the ‘bystander nurse”; the one who assists when the elderly lady has a vaso-vagal at the checkout, or doubles as a first aider when coaching the soccer team; or from personal experience, cannulates an eclamptic fellow passenger at 30,000ft.

Related: Should Nurses be Considered ‘Good Samaritans?’

As a young student nurse in the last century, I was told not to identify myself as a nurse if present at an emergency so I wouldn’t be subjected to litigation if something went wrong.

The Good Samaritan Act has since negated that risk, however, even prior to the Act, I think it would have been a rarity to find a nurse who would have stood by while a person choked or exsanguinated without assisting.

Because we care.

All this caring shows that we are generally very good at, well, caring, with one notable exception; we are notoriously poor at caring for ourselves.

In recent times the secret has been let out and as a result there are many excellent articles and posts about burnout, compassion fatigue and how we forget to care for ourselves, yet is it really that we forget, or that we don’t prioritise our own care?

Could it be as simple as this: we spend so much time in this constant cycle of caring, that there is simply nothing left in the tank for ourselves?