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You can’t be in nurse mode ALL the time: 4 tips for setting boundaries outside the hospital

It’s a tale as old as nursing time….

You arrive (crawl) home after a long shift. All you want to do is shower. Or eat. Or eat in the shower.

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Either way, the goal is little to no human interaction—at least until you’ve had a moment to decompress. And that’s when it happens—your phone rings, and you just know it’s somebody hoping to tap into your endless reservoir of medical knowledge. Or maybe you’re struck by concern for one of the patients you left behind, and you’re tempted to reach for the phone yourself, if only just to call in and see how they’re doing. Are they comfortable? What’s their temperature? 

Of course, you can’t help it—you’re a nurse. And all those friends and family members constantly blowin’ up your phone about a rash or a fever? Well, they can’t really help their instincts either—they trust you. But here’s the thing: While the hospital may be open 365 days a year, you simply can’t be. And while you never stop being a nurse, if you don’t switch out of work mode every once in a while, you’re going to hit a place that looks like this:

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And we want it to look more like this:

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Let’s be honest—if your friends and family have to choose between a crowded waiting room, a WebMD-induced panic attack or picking up the phone and dialing your number, odds are that they’re calling you. 

Which is why we’d like to help you set some boundaries so you can really (seriously) switch out of nurse mode when you need a little room to breathe.

 

1. Be careful what you wish for.

If you aren’t prepared to field all the questions and concerns that are likely to come your way, don’t throw out a loaded “call me anytime” or “always here to help” when your neighbor is discussing a family-wide case of the flu. Of course, you may feel differently about close friends and family, but you shouldn’t be mistaken as an always-available alternative to the doctor’s office among general acquaintances—especially if they live next door.

 

2. Establish some ground rules.

It’s not easy for a non-nurse to fully comprehend how draining a day on the job can be for a nurse—physically, mentally and emotionally. If they could, they might think twice before dropping by on your day off to talk about allergies or calling you during dinner with questions their pharmacist could definitely tackle.

So fill them in. Let your loved ones know how important it is that you have an opportunity to recharge. Tell them when it is you like to catch up on your sleep, and ask them not to call during that time (unless, of course, there’s an emergency), or to simply shoot you a text if they have a question or request so that if it’s not a great time, you can come back to it later.

Don’t hesitate to tell your loved ones if you’d rather they not offer you up as a resource or share your private contact information with others—at least not without checking with you first. Finally, if you are going to dip into your nursey knowledge off the clock, train your unofficial patients to be good patients, as in prepared, courteous and non-argumentative.

 

3. While you’re at it, set some rules for yourself, too.

Remember that for others, it’s going to be hard to determine the difference between a pressing question and one that’s fairly benign. If you find that you’re being inundated with off-the-clock medical matters, take it upon yourself to make your downtime a priority. If it can wait, let it. Turn your phone on silent when you sleep or stash it in the other room if you want to fully commit to some “you” time, whether that’s reading, exercising or sorta just doing this:

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4. Now, for the real patients…

Struggling to disconnect from work when you’re off the clock is natural, but necessary. Even if you’re far from the point of struggling with compassion fatigue, nurse burnout can come hard and fast.

So, while we’re sure you’ve heard it a thousand and one times, try to resist the urge to nurse from afar. If you want to be well-versed when it comes to a patient’s status prior to the next handoff, save your update request and dial in just before the start of your next shift. And remember—if you aren’t checking in on your patient every other hour from home, it does not mean you’re being neglectful. Your patients deserve a well-rested, focused and alert nurse, and you deserve every opportunity to be that for them.

Nurses, what do you do to make sure you aren’t operating in nurse mode 24/7? Share your secret to sanity with us in the comments section below!

Interested in learning more tips? Check out our Nurse’s Survival Guide!

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