Guest Post: How to Work as a Nurse with a Chronic Illness

Jan 9

Working as a nurse is hard enough. While TV shows and movies can make look like a glamorous and fun job, it’s often very physically and mentally demanding. Add a chronic illness and the stakes are even higher.

In order to keep the patients’ safety and wellbeing above all else, you have to be running on all cylinders, which can be incredibly difficult when you’re dealing with a condition yourself.

I’ve been working as a nurse for ten years, working in areas like a step down cardio-thoracic surgery unit, an outpatient coumadin clinic, and hospice. In 2012, I was diagnosed with Systemic Lupus, as well as a number of other difficult conditions that make working out of the home incredibly difficult.

However, when I was working, these 6 tips were my strategies. Even though they will not automatically guarantee that you will be able to keep working indefinitely, they will hopefully make your days at work a little easier. These tips helped me get through the day, and I hope they help you too.

Find alternative ways to deal with the pain

There are going to be days when you have to work and you feel like your pain is unbearable. Obviously, when you are on shift, taking narcotics is not and shouldn’t be an option. Try alternative ways to deal with the pain, like deep breathing, meditation, or stretching, which will help you stay focused.  

Deal with “The Fog”

The Fog (also called “brain fog,” which affects your concentration and mental clarity) is real and can make your workday seem longer and more frustrating. I’ve learned to write everything down, even the things I think I would never forget. The truth is, when The Fog sets in, you don’t know what you will forget. So to cover yourself make it a habit to just write everything down!

Take periodic breaks

It is essential when you are working that you take moments throughout the day for you! Try to schedule breaks where you’re off your feet throughout the day, even if that’s just to sit while you chart or make a call to the physician. Those breaks will make your day much more doable. I did my best to conserve energy where I could so I had it when I really needed it. If that meant sitting to chart, or while starting an IV, that’s what I did! While you may feel like you don’t have the time, making the time to sit down for a few minutes makes a huge difference.

Make time to eat and hydrate

It is imperative that even when it seems like there is absolutely no time in the day to eat or drink that you make time to do so. Try taking your snacks and bottle(s) of water with you while you work. This will ensure that you will have food and drink on hand in case you don’t have time to run to get anything.

Take time to rest on your days off

Even though it might not be the most ideal way to spend your time off, you need to rest. When I worked, I didn’t do anything else. I would literally work and go straight home to bed so I could rest and return on my next day. If you want to make it through your long shifts, you have to take time on your days off to rest and recoup, so set aside time to relax. This might be reading a book, catching up on your favorite show, or another low-stress activity.

Ask for help

You may not want to share your illness with your coworkers, and that’s okay. But when you are struggling or getting behind, ask for help! There is no reason you have to drown when others can help. (This applies to work and home.)  Take care of yourself so you can continue to provide the best care, which is the essence of the job.  I worked to “educate with love” so my coworkers and patients and their families didn’t view me as lazy and understood the reasons why I did what I did.  

Healthcare professionals are known for putting their own needs behind those who they are caring for. However, if you want to continue working, remember that you will need to take time and focus on you! Even if the things you do are small, it will make your shifts easier, and your career last in the long run.

Amber Blackburn, RN, BSN writes at

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Amber Blackburn RN, BSN