An Ontario nurse hopes her new self-help book will help other frontline health-care workers struggling with mental health issues.
Shawna Longford of Peterborough, Ont., said that over the past four years, she collected and wrote about the funniest — and most difficult — parts of her job.
“I had lots of violent incidents at work. I was bitten by a patient once,” she said. “I worked on surgery. Lots of people recovering would be violent when they woke up.”
The collection of anecdotes is part of her new book Witness: Being present for your patients, your colleagues, and yourself, which she said is for anyone going through similar struggles as she did, mainly burnout and post-traumatic stress disorder.
She said the book also aims to help health-care workers sustain their careers.
“Some people don’t have a name for what they’re struggling with,” Longford said. “They just feel like maybe they disengage from the patients. Maybe they don’t get as emotionally involved.”
Longford said the stress and challenges of nursing during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic gave her a final push to recruit expert research and advice from other frontline workers to write the book.
“One way that I found most effective — myself — is talking to your coworkers and colleagues,” she said. “People who understand you.”
A report in June from the College of Nurses of Ontario said more than 178,000 nurses renewed their registration with the college and about 158,000 of them are working as nurses in Ontario — up from 140,000 in 2016.
However, the percentage of nurses working in Ontario has dropped to 88.9 per cent in 2023 from 91.2 per cent in 2016.
Angela Preocanin, the Ontario Nurses’ Association’s first vice-president, said that for years, nurses have endured staffing shortages, violent episodes with patients and accordingly, increased levels of stress in the role.
“The working conditions have lent to a different level of moral distress that we’ve never seen before,” she said. “This pandemic has really destroyed a lot of people.”
Preocanin said she has experienced similar burnout.
“You just keep going all day long and then you get in that car and I won’t turn the radio on because I don’t want to hear any more noise,” she said. “The noise in my head is enough.”
Longford hopes her book can help people identify coping skills, build resiliency, change their perspective and set boundaries.
Longford now works part-time with a nursing agency after spending 18 years as a registered nurse with inpatient surgery and hemodialysis experience.
“I feel like this is one of my final gifts to my profession before I sort of wrap up my career,” she said.
A poll this spring by Nanos Research on behalf of the Canadian Union of Public Employees and SEIU Healthcare showed that 60 per cent of registered practical nurses are either considering or “somewhat considering” leaving their profession. Over 80 per cent reported experiencing high stress due to their job.
Longford said she hopes her book can make a difference for her peers.
“I hope at least one person helps preserve their career and maintain that work-life balance, that’s so important,” she said.
— with files from Germain Ma/Global News Peterborough
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