Nurse Wellness: Will You Take The Challenge?
Mary Jo Assi, DNP, RN, NEA-BC, FNP-BC, FAAN has been a nurse for over 30 years. Read the inspirational story of her journey to better wellness and her commitment to hard-wiring healthy behaviors. Mary Jo is the Associate Chief Nursing Officer at Press Ganey and former Vice President of Nursing Practice and Innovation at ANA.At 3.6 million strong, registered nurses, predominantly women, comprise the largest sector of the healthcare workforce. Yet we know that nurses are less healthy than the average American. Findings from the American Nurses Association (ANA) Health Risk Appraisal in 2016 show that on average, nurses have higher BMI’s, sleep fewer hours each night and have much higher stress levels than the average American. As caregivers, nurses often put the needs of others ahead of their own. With a demanding work environment that includes shift work, stress-related fatigue, risk of musculoskeletal injuries from lifting and positioning patients and more, it is not hard to see how nurses are challenged with respect to maintaining their own health and wellness.
The ANA recently launched the Healthy Nurse, Healthy Nation Grand Challenge (HNHN) — a social movement aimed at improving the health of America’s nurses. Why? Because nurses are critical to maintaining the health of America’s health care system. As trusted caregivers, nurses are credible sources of health information and more likely to educate others about healthy behaviors. Nurses who themselves are good role models for health are more likely to have a positive influence the health of others.
How does the initiative work? A grand challenge is a collaborative effort that involves thousands of partners who commit to making a large social change that benefits a significant social problem—in this case, the health of America’s nurses. Individual nurses and organizations that influence the health of nurses such as hospitals, nursing schools, professional nursing associations and more are invited to become a partner and join the challenge to commit to making one or more changes to improve health and wellness.
A Personal Perspective: It’s Never Too Late
As a registered nurse who has worked in many health care settings over almost 40 years, I have walked this walk. Working full time in ICU and other settings, raising three kids, going to school—trying to balance it all and maintain exemplary health and wellness behaviors seemed impossible much of the time. I have struggled with weight management for many years—some years better than others. After a serious car accident in 2010, my weight increased dramatically. In my 50’s at the time, I was not able to lose the weight this time around. Over the next few years I became increasingly concerned about developing chronic health issues related to weight.
While working at ANA as the Vice President of Nursing Practice and Innovation, I was asked to co-lead the development of the HNHN Grand Challenge. I was awed and inspired by the possibilities. What might the impact on nurses’ health be a year after launch? Or after five years? As I learned more and the program began to take shape, I was taken by the idea that together we could collectively make a real difference. But I also understood that progress starts with a single step — an individual making the commitment to improve their health and wellness.
I had been considering more decisive action to improve my own health for some time — and for me it involved the serious step of undergoing weight loss surgery. My experience early on with Healthy Nurse, Healthy Nation inspired me to thoughtfully take that next step to improve my own health and wellness.
What I have learned through this experience is that weight loss surgery is a tool — not a magic bullet. Working in collaboration with an incredible team of health care providers, and with the unwavering support of family, friends and colleagues, I embarked on the longer term journey of hard-wiring healthy behaviors such as making sure I have access to healthy food choices wherever I happen to be (I carry a small cooler at all times!), and I made it a priority to carve out time to do some type of physical activity to improve balance, strength or endurance 5-7 days a week.
Eighteen months after surgery, at the age of 59, I reached my goal weight and (for the first time in my life) entered and completed a half marathon.
It’s never too late. I took the Healthy Nurse, Healthy Nation Challenge….will you?
Mary Jo Assi, DNP, RN, NEA-BC, FNP-BC, FAAN
Associate Chief Nursing Officer at Press Ganey
Find Mary Jo's story inspiring? Have you struggled with weight loss? Reply in our weight loss discussion to share your stories and comments or post on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram. Tag a nurse and us with #HealthyNurse.
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