Allison Mehrl submitted 2017-07-09

A career as a healthcare provider can be very rewarding and challenging at the same time.  As nursing student, I understand that I will be exposed to both sides of this and will need to be able to deal with the challenges in a thoughtful, calm, and professional way.  This is especially critical when the situation is life-threatening to the patient.  This is when the patient is most vulnerable and depends on their medical team to be competent, confident, and able to save them. In order to perform well under these stressful conditions, a healthcare provider must be prepared both mentally and physically.  I will address physical preparation first.

From a physical standpoint, I have always believed in being physically fit.  I have been a dancer since the age of three, and this has helped me stay in shape.  Much to the surprise of my high school gym teacher, I could do more pushups that the football players in my class!  As a healthcare provider, it is important to be in the best physical condition possible.  I currently work as Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA), and I can tell you there are many jobs associated with being a CNA that require strength and flexibility.  Have you ever tried to lift a bedridden person?  It is not easy and it takes all the strength you have.  Being in good physical condition helps protect two people:  the patient and the healthcare provider, which in this case is you.  The patient is protected through your strength to keep them from getting hurt if a fall or other unexpected physical surprise happens.  You are protected from injuring yourself when assisting the patient because you have the strength to perform the task without pulling a muscle or causing other injury to yourself.   In a life-saving situation, being in good physical condition pays off by giving you the ability to sustain a physically challenging activity (extended CPR, physically supporting or transferring a patient, lifting the patient, etc.) for a longer period of time.

A healthcare provider must also be prepared mentally for what may happen.  There are joyous highs when we have saved a person’s life or saved them from great harm.  Along with that, there will be the lows; times when we may lose a patient, or not get the outcome we wanted.   Everyone wants a positive outcome when a patient is in need.  Sometimes the patient is in a life-threatening situation, and the decisions made in the coming seconds will make the difference between life, death, or life impaired.  This can be very stressful for all involved.  This is when the healthcare provider needs mental strength, and the ability to think clearly and act in a calm fashion. Keeping calm also allows the provider to systematically provide the best healthcare they can, without missteps or forgetfulness.  I have experienced some of these stressful situations in my current role as a CNA.  I have learned that being mentally prepared and keeping calm during the event has a significant impact on my ability to do my best work.

After the event, a healthcare provider needs to understand that even after doing everything possible to be best of our ability, it is possible the outcome may not be positive.  I have accepted that fact, and take comfort in knowing I will be well educated and prepared for those situations.  As a result I expect to provide a level of healthcare that make a positive outcome as likely as possible.  When that does not occur, I will have faith that all that was possible was done, and that I used my skills to the best of my ability.

My advice to other students is twofold, involving a holistic approach to preparing yourself for the healthcare profession:

First, do everything you can to stay in good physical condition.  Being in good physical condition will benefit not only you but also your patients in many ways.  You will have more energy and be able to perform at a higher level because you will have both the strength and stamina to do it.  Your patients will be glad you did, and will feel more confident in your ability to help them.  In addition, you will be less likely to be injured on the job and more likely to have a long injury-free career in the field.  Your family will be grateful that you are healthy and able to enjoy life at home with them without being in pain yourself.

Secondly, prepare yourself mentally for the full range of outcomes.  Enjoy the rewarding feeling of positive outcomes, the positive impacts you will have on patients and their families, and the relationships you build.  Those are some of the best feelings in the world for a professional healthcare provider.  Along with that, prepare yourself for those times when the outcome is not as positive as you would like.  It is during those times that you will need to be the most strong mentally, as it is only human for a healthcare provider to feel like they could or should have done more.  Sometimes the patient’s situation worsens even when the best care possible is provided.    Have faith and know you educated yourself to be able to provide the person with the best care possible, and that you applied that education to the best of your ability.

In summary, a career as a healthcare provider can be very rewarding and challenging.   A student coming into the field needs to be prepared both mentally and physically to ensure the best outcome for their patients, especially in stressful situations such as when the patient’s life is at risk.  In the end, a student who is prepared both mentally and physically, will enjoy one of the most rewarding professional careers available.