This article is about learning to protect yourself and your standard of living as a nurse. Now that I am considered a seasoned nurse, I have concluded that there are many essential aspects of the nursing profession that are not discussed during nursing school. It is a shame because many of these topics should be discussed so that new nurses can prepare themselves for issues that may and often occur in the bedside nursing world. I would like to take this opportunity to discuss one topic that I have recently learned about in a first-person manner.
Nurses are human beings, and we get hurt and sick. Before I was a nurse, I never comprehended the depth of that comment; however, after years of working at the bedside with other nurses, I see that nurses seem to get hurt a lot. Sometimes we get hurt intentionally by a confused patient, sometimes we get hurt unintentionally as we are trying to move a patient, and sometimes, we become hurt outside of the job, or we are struck with an illness. What do we do if all of a sudden, we are unable to work at the bedside?
The first and foremost thing that is vital to understand is that we must protect the patient, ourselves, and our licenses. We should never go to work at the bedside if we feel that our health or the patients’ welfare is at risk. Should I repeat that? We should never go to work at the bedside if there is a risk that we will not be able to care for our patients. If we are hurt physically or not able to care for the patients mentally, we are better served to stay home and recuperate. The motto, “first do no harm,” rings loud and strong.
If we are hurt at work, as nurses, we are usually covered by workers’ compensation. It is vital that you follow your company’s policy if this ever happens. One wrong move can mean a breach of contract and no benefits. Some hospitals may also offer to have you work on light duty. This is your decision to make. Are you able to perform the tasks that they want you to perform? You can always talk to a lawyer and your medical doctor before making a decision. I will caution you that many hospitals want you to see their medical professionals for this type of injury. The good news is that it is covered 100 percent if you followed company procedures. However, through the years, I have heard many nurses complain about many aspects of the care. You may want to keep your personal doctor in the loop through the process. Your health and wellbeing are at the forefront.
What if we get hurt outside of the job or we are so worn down mentally that anxiety/depression comes calling? First, we can use our sick pay if we are a part-time or full-time employee, and we have not used it all. If we believe that we are going to be sick for a while, then this is when we are able to submit a short-term disability claim, if we opted for that coverage. The thing that I recently learned about short-term disability claims is that it is up to the nurse to show that he/she took steps right from the beginning to get better. It is therefore important to know that you must go see your doctor as soon as possible in these instances. It is also important to collect the records from the doctor(s) that you see so that you can show that you are trying to get better. If you see a specialist (or a counselor) make sure that you also keep those records. The short term disability company will make you prove this and the longer it takes you to get all of this information together, the longer you need to wait for your money. Also keep in mind that you will get forms from the short term disability company. When the professionals you see fill these out, they will often charge you a fee.
This brings me to my next point. You must save money so that you can pay your bills and keep your life afloat. It is best to save six months of salary. I beg of you to do this. Short-term disability is not a for-sure thing and getting the claim can take time. It is best if you have some money set aside so that you do not have the added stress of trying to pay your bills on top of trying to feel better. This must come before vacations, dining out, or those new scrubs.
The fact is that nurses get hurt. Nurses who work at the bedside get hurt more. We are exposed to so many illnesses, dangers, and stressors, that new nurses learn quickly that we are all human. We must all learn to protect ourselves financially and create a support network that includes an accountant, a lawyer, medical professionals, and counselors. We must learn to care for ourselves by maintaining our insurance (health, short term, and long term), and caring for ourselves.
Anne Naulty is a nurse.
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