When cold and flu season sets in (right about now), my non-nursing friends are keen to ask me how on earth we nurses manage to avoid getting sick when we’re literally surround by sick people, not to mention their bodily fluids, every single day. I tend to inform them that this is just another reason nurses are a cut above the rest; we’ve got immune systems made of steel and strong stomachs to match. But, that doesn’t really answer their question, especially if they’re hoping for a few tips for themselves. So do nurses get sick less often? If not, shouldn’t we be getting sick more often since we’re spending so much time in the germ-ridden trenches?
Thankfully, most of the illnesses we work with are non-contagious, but for those of us who work in the emergency room, walk-in clinics, and family health practices, we come into contact with a lot of germs. Still, we don’t have direct evidence that we’re at a greater risk of developing illness than anyone else. Our main focus, when it comes to infectious disease, is avoiding blood borne illnesses and sometimes emerging infectious disease. Still, we seem to keep ourselves at work without being debilitated by the cold and flu.
How Do We Keep Illness at bay?
As nurses, one might ask, shouldn’t we be getting sick more often since we’re spending so much time in the germ-ridden trenches? Not so much.
- Frequent hand washing. We’ve spent a few years in nursing school covering seriously complex subject from kidney disease to chemotherapy, but we’ve also had quite a bit of teaching on frequent hand hygiene. Nurses are in the habit of washing their hands, both at work and at home. In a single shift, most nurses wash their hands 100 times.
- Mandatory vaccinations. Most health care facilities either require their nurses to receive vaccinations or strongly encourage it. Some places even offer in clinic flu shots for the nurses themselves. Not only do vaccinations keep the nurses safe, they keep their patients safe too.
- Less alcohol, more water. Nurses know the benefit of drinking plenty of water. When you tell your patients to increase fluids hundreds of times a day, its easy to follow suit. Nurses also understand the dehydrating nature of alcohol as well as it’s tendency to suppress the immune system.
- Wash everything as soon as possible. Nurses understand that our clothing comes into contact with a crazy amount of people and their bodies hundreds of times a day. Nothing, except maybe a hot shower, feels better than stripping off your dirty scrubs in front of the washing machine and turning the water all the way hot. How about a few tablespoons of white vinegar in with the wash too.
- Eat healthy, get some exercise. While nurses know that it’s tough to eat well during a 12-hour shift, they also know the power of working in teams. I’ve never worked in a profession so involved in promoting healthy eating habits between friends, co-workers, and management. Some hospitals hold special in-services and parties to promote health diets and wellness. Exercise helps promote a strong immune system, at one of the hospitals I’ve work at, we’d hold daily and weekly contests to see who could get the most steps or climb the most flights of stairs.
Nurses may not get sick less often than other people, but we sure seem to weather the storms fairly well. All that patient teaching rubs off on us and, because we’re so committed to our patients, we’re determined to stay well enough to go to work. That’s because for most of us, nursing isn’t just a job, it’s a way of life.