Dear UAMS Nursing Colleagues,
Over the past several weeks I’ve rounded on various units and visited with a number of you. I can see the exhaustion on many of your faces. Exhaustion, burnout and compassion fatigue are not issues just here at UAMS – they are affecting nurses across the United States.
Being a nurse has never been easy, but seems to feel especially tough right now – we have been facing unprecedented challenges for almost four years. I see you, and I hear you. Our nursing leadership team is listening and wants to understand what you are going through, and we are committed to making things better.
I’m worried about how all this is affecting the work environment here at UAMS and our teams. I see the struggles and challenges you face. There is no hiding the fact that — regardless of area/unit, discipline/role — no one seems to be exempt from the emotional exhaustion that comes with a career in health care. For nurses and other patient care staff, this exhaustion is often compounded by compassion fatigue, so you may find yourself emotionally drained, and you may feel like you just have no more empathy left to give.
Along with exhaustion, I have seen just as much resiliency, strength and commitment. Please know that hope is not lost. Sometimes it’s little things like a new UAMS sweatshirt or a good laugh with a colleague that helps get you through the day. Other times, you just need to know that someone’s got your back and is standing shoulder to shoulder with you. One of the things we often hear from nurses who leave UAMS and then come back to our team is the difference this support makes. Please know that there are many who are fiercely advocating for UAMS nurses and patients every day!
Our UAMS Health leadership team is taking steps daily, shift-to-shift, to ensure we are doing all we can to align nurse-to-patient ratios with best practice guidelines on all units and for all patient populations. This is particularly hard right now on our inpatient medical-surgical and oncology units, given our gaps in staffing. We’ve had to resort to the extreme measure of closing beds across these units when necessary to maintain our ratios and keep the practice environment as stable as possible. The article linked above says that insufficient staffing is particularly important to nurses with less than 10 years’ experience. I would venture to say this is true for nurses at any stage in their careers and in any health care setting.
We are focused on short and long-term solutions to address our staffing challenges. Our competitive edge in recruiting and retaining the best clinical staff has historically been our clinical practice environment with lower nurse-to-patient ratios and adequate resources to support delivery of high-quality patient care. Unfortunately, we are struggling like everyone else right now to maintain these resources. Please know we’re committed and fighting to get this edge back. You deserve a healthy practice environment, and so do our patients.
The article I referenced above also talks about the stigma associated with seeking support when struggling emotionally. Nurses are notorious “fixers” and often do not dedicate time to their own emotional, mental and physical wellbeing. This time of year can be particularly hard on us personally, and I get that right now your professional life is not easy either. Please, please know if you need someone to talk to beyond your support system we have a variety of wellness resources available. Asking for help shows great strength, not weakness. We also need to remember to help and support one another.
It’s hard to believe, but in 31 days, we’ll be celebrating the start of a new year. We are planning to kick 2024 off with a “State of Nursing” presentation in late January. I’d love to hear the topics you’d like me to talk about at this meeting – let me know what you’re thinking.
My wish this holiday season is for relief for each and every one of you – time to step back, relax, let go of the “work” worries, the holiday stress, the hustle and bustle . . . I could go on, but you get the point. Pace yourself on those holiday to-do lists and obligations. We all need time to let our minds and bodies recharge and renew. Please make time to do this for yourself in your own way – and have some fun this holiday season.
Wishing you happy holidays!
Tammy Jones, PHD, RN, NE-BC
Associate Vice Chancellor for Clinical Operations
Chief Officer – Perioperative, Interventional &
Imaging Services Division
Interim Chief Nursing Officer