My Head is Spinning with All this Change! How to Cope with Healthcare ShiftsAs a nurse, how do you handle change? I’m sure you’ve looked around the workplace once or twice in your life and realized that things are way different than they were ten years, five years, three years, or even six months ago! The healthcare environment is one place that seems to experience constant shifts.

Think about it… if you work in an acute care setting, such as a large teaching hospital, you may experience the following:

  • July 1… here we go again! New residents enter the units. Nurses with years of experience try not to cringe as they observe a person half their age writing orders for a sick patient.
  • Another July 1 shift… a new fiscal year. (Can anyone tell me why we use such an odd calendar year? I mean, couldn’t we follow the school calendar or yearly calendar of January 1.) With budget shifts, your work may experience changes in staffing, hiring, or even the ability to order lunch at work meetings.
  • New technology always seems to be on the horizon. Whether you are getting new equipment or moving all of your healthcare records to a new system… there always seems to be epic (no pun intended) change happening everywhere you look!

While the list could go on and on (and of course, those of you who do not practice nursing within hospital walls experience unique shifts of your own), let’s move on to some solutions. Cause what happens when we experience a sudden (or not so sudden) change?

Does any of this sound familiar to you?

  • Everything else comes to a screeching halt! In the example above of moving the electronic record to a new high tech system… that takes time, planning, and loads of manpower. In that specific case, as the days of ‘go live’ get closer and closer… everything else seems to be put on hold. Meetings are cancelled. Vacations are revoked. The entire focus is on this one moment in time when this sudden change occurs.
  • Or, feelings fly high. When change is mentioned (even in the visionary steps of simply planning a shift), people become uncomfortable. It’s only natural to experience some type of emotion related to the change process. As human beings, we enjoy the comfort of the known. So when something new is being introduced -and we’re not aware of it, on board with it, or can see how it will impact us- you bet we may feel upset, angry, scared, or even sad that the old way is going away.
  • Which leads to… the fact that rash decisions may be made. You know as well as I do that when people are feeling threatened or afraid they tend to be more reactive than proactive. In these situations, people say things that they do not mean or act in ways that aren’t like them at all. Change can bring out the worst in all of us!

Yikes! This change thing is starting to sound pretty scary. So let me tell you… it’s not!

First off, all of the above is perfectly normal. As I mentioned, if we didn’t have some type of reaction to change, then nothing new is coming our way. It’s the simple fact of finding comfort in the ‘known’. OK, now that we know we aren’t losing our minds… let’s talk about some ways to cope with impending change.

Cause guess what… even if change doesn’t happen to you in the workplace, it certainly will at some point in your life (e.g. moving to a new home, losing a parent, having a child graduate and move out o the home).

  1. My Head is Spinning with All this Change! How to Cope with Healthcare ShiftsApply Nursing Science. I was driving home from work the other day and a hip hop song came across my iPod (not one that I would normally listen to… but hey, it was there and it had a good beat so I didn’t hit ‘skip’). As I listened to the words of the song, I realized that change really was a natural part of life. The singer described the fact that seasons change and what will be will be. So, we can apply nursing science to the change process to help us cope with the shifts that occur. Think about it: the body takes in oxygen and uses it to its benefit. The circadian rhythms and all that goes on while we sleep recharges us for the next day ahead. Don’t get me started on pH levels (as that was always something I struggled with in nursing school)… but they certainly do something to keep a steady balance. OK. Seasons change. Tides roll in and out. Everything that is part of physical nature (including us) waves the ‘storm’ of change. And guess what? We come out on the other side… still alive and moving on. So what does this mean? Change will happen to you in the workplace and you will survive. It’s inevitable that life will go on.
  2. Ask for Help. Now, point number one is just helping relate to the reality of the change process. And you may still be thinking, “OK, but how do I handle this?” Well, my number one solution for anything difficult is to reach out for support… and then actually receive it. I know as nurses we are asked all of the time if we need help with something. The charge nurse comes up to us during a busy shift and says, “How are you doing? Do you need anything?” Our rapid fire response: “No, I’m fine.” Ugh!!! Crazy talk. We need to get comfortable with asking for help and allowing it to come our way. In a situation where change is occurring, it is usually not happening in a vacuum. What I mean is there are often many players involved. There are meetings that are held to talk about the shift. There is a timeline and things are planned out (usually). So, rather than feelings as though change is happening to you… get involved and become part of the change that occurs through you. Ask for and receive help. And then turn around and give it back too!
  3. Allow Emotions. The final tip relates back what I was talking about in the start of this post. Change is happening all of the time and it’s perfectly normal to feel some sort of emotion related to it. The very best way to handle this is to allow these emotions to come to the surface. Don’t try to avoid them or stuff them away as if they’re not happening or there. A change is a scary thing! It’s something new. It’s a brand new situation that could go either way- good, bad, or even something that wasn’t even imagined! So become aware of what you are feeling regarding the change. Write about it in a journal. Talk about it with a trusted friend. Feel the emotions and then handle each of them respectively. The more prepared you can be for the change, the smoother it will go.

What would you add to this list? I’d love to hear the strategies and tools that you use to cope with changing situations. Leave a comment below and thanks for reading!

Elizabeth Scala, MSN/MBA, RN; Founder of Nursing from WithinAbout the Author: As a keynote speaker, bestselling author and virtual conference host, Elizabeth partners with hospitals, organizations, associations, and nursing groups to help transform the field of nursing from the inside out. In her bestselling book, ‘Nursing from Within‘, Elizabeth supports nurses to make those inner shifts that are required to more fully enjoy our nursing careers.

Elizabeth Scala, MSN/MBA, RN

“I’m a Nurse, but I’m Not Sure I LOVE Nursing Anymore! Can You Help Me?”


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