Take care of yourself before you care for others – Audry tells us her story
Audry has been working as a nurse for over 15 years, most of that time as a critical care nurse. She tells us what it’s like to be a nurse from a minority background and about how important it is for nurses to prioritise their mental health and wellbeing if they hope to deliver the best possible care.
Here’s Audry’s story:
A bit about me
“After qualifying in 2004 I worked on the short-stay ward at the hospital where I’d completed my final placement. Patients here stay for 3-5 days before being discharged. I loved the job! The best thing about it was the team; we were like a family. When you work with family you don’t feel like you are working at all. I now work in critical care, but I’ll never forget my first team.
“I migrated from Zimbabwe in 2000, coming to the UK to study nursing. This was a leap of faith having never left my home country before. The culture change and weather conditions were not so favourable initially but with time I got used to it.”
The move to intensive care
“After five years of working on the short-stay ward, I moved to the intensive care unit (ICU), and I have been specialising in critical care ever since. It has been rewarding and I’m lucky enough to have only one or two patients to care for. It’s certainly a much better situation than in some wards where the patient-to-nurse ratio is 1:8, 1:14, 1:32 or more. Such ratios make it more challenging to provide holistic care.! When there are shortages, nurses can only do their best with the resources available and hope and pray that no complaints follow.”
The inevitability of burnout
“Sometimes people wonder why there is a significant rise in the burnout rate of healthcare professionals, especially nurses. Well, I can tell you that in most cases it’s the stress and extreme pressure that sometimes comes with the job. Most nurses, unfortunately, end up unable to cope and eventually make mistakes due to pressure and fatigue, and even receiving complaints from patients whose needs were not met under their care.
“I left my permanent role on the critical care team, after five years. I was finding it difficult to cope with working night shifts as I was not able to sleep during the day. Despite asking the managers for leniency to work more days than nights, they had to be fair to the other members of staff and could not treat me differently, which I understand. I wanted to continue working as a critical care nurse, but for my own health, wellbeing and work-life balance I looked for alternative ways to do this.
“I joined a few nursing agencies and worked full-time with them for a while. At one point, I returned to permanent nursing in the NHS while working part-time as an agency nurse, but the perks of working as an agency nurse outweighed working as a permanent member of staff, so I resigned and re-commenced full-time nursing through agencies.
“Yes, I lost the benefits of a permanent position, an NHS pension and guaranteed sick pay, and have to manage last-minute shift bookings and cancellations but I now have a better work-life balance, which is essential for my health and wellbeing. I am able to choose when I do and don’t want to work, when I can take vacation and when I can come back to work.”
The reality of being from a Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) background
“Being a minority and someone from a BAME background has not been a significant issue for me, but it was visible in some circumstances at work.
“I thought about career progression and the possibility of senior management roles, and I did apply for several jobs, but nothing came of it. Unfortunately, statistics show that there are significant biases, such as racism and nepotism, that still exist when recruiting managers are selecting candidates. Ethnic minorities have a very low chance of progressing to higher posts in healthcare. Therefore, the more senior the job, the fewer BAME staff. Some NHS Trusts and other healthcare settings are trying to improve this situation, but unconscious biases still persist even today.”
Following my dreams
“As well as being able to have a better work-life balance since agency work, I’ve also been able for fulfil my lifelong dream of becoming a writer.
“Two years ago, in 2018, a friend and I decided to collect stories of people’s experiences who had migrated from one country to another and we self-published a book called TALES OF LIVING IN DIASPORA, a collection of 16 stories of life in a foreign country.
“In 2020 we’ve published a book called TALES OF NURSING IN DIASPORA, 20 stories of migrant nurses' experiences: most of them BAME staff currently working on the frontline in the NHS and healthcare services around the world. It has not been easy being a BAME nursing staff on the frontline during COVID-19 pandemic.
“I don’t regret having worked as an immigrant nurse. I have learned so much, and I have met so many amazing people along the way. The colleagues and managers who have respected me are now etched on my heart, for without them, I would not have achieved all that I have achieved so far. I am glad to have had this opportunity, I’ve achieved so much more than if I’d have stayed in my home country.”
An important message for future nurses: take care of yourself before others
“For those considering a career in nursing, I would say, “Why not?”. It can be rewarding, challenging and stressful, but with time, you can and will build resilience to cope with whatever comes your way.
“Never forget to take time to care for yourself. If you’re not careful, you can easily be depleted, burnt out, stressed and depressed, which can bring other mental or physical health challenges . Take care of yourself first before you care for others; otherwise, you will do a disservice to them. Be kind to yourself and ask for help if you are struggling.
“The great thing about healthcare is the numerous opportunities available and with nursing, you can migrate to any country in the world and easily get a job. If you’d like to change your career in the future nursing has many transferable skills. You can study towards other careers such as medicine, research, psychology, physiotherapy, chiropody or even a different field. There is certainly no limit - don’t be afraid to spread your wings!”