Nursing is one of the most demanding and rewarding careers in the world. Nurses require a great deal of training, must often work long hours and under frequently changing working conditions. There are many skills and qualities that a nurse must bring to the job. Traditionally, nutrition hasn’t been a major factor in this field, but this may be changing for several reasons.
The Current Situation: Nutrition is Covered But Not Emphasized in Nursing
Most nurses take at least one course in basic nutrition during their studies. While the specific requirements of nursing programs differ from place to place, nutrition is not usually emphasized. Students pursuing a nursing degree are required to take many diverse courses. These include subjects such as English, sociology, chemistry, biology and many others. A nutrition course is usually part of this curriculum. The fact is, however, that this field is actually far more important to the careers and personal well being of nurses than current educational policies reflect.
This situation is not unique to nursing, as even medical doctors may obtain their degrees after having only a brief exposure to the field of nutrition. This reflects a traditional gulf in modern medicine, where the focus tends to be on treating medical conditions with medications and procedures. Nutrition has often been associated with alternative or holistic medicine, where the focus is more on prevention. There are signs, however, that this rift is gradually disappearing.
As more and more evidence points to the connection between nutrition, diet and health, hopefully the entire medical community will soon see that this is something that both doctors and nurses should study in depth. Speaking about nurses in particular, there are two main reasons why nutrition is extremely important.
Nutrition Supports the Well Being of Nurses
The first reason why nurses should be well informed about nutrition is for their own health and well being. Nursing is a demanding and often stressful career. Hours can be long, and nurses often have to work a variety of shifts. Furthermore, they are often in the company of people who are ill, which can take a toll on one’s immune system.
In order to perform their jobs optimally, people in demanding nursing jobs must first maintain their own health. Nutrition is an excellent starting point for doing this. There is increasing evidence that diet and nutrition are crucial when it comes to preventing and managing illnesses.
While nurses may not usually have an extensive background in nutrition, they can remedy this by doing personal study as well as by taking courses in nutrition. They might do this my choosing such courses as electives. There are also people with formal training in the field of nutrition who may decide to become nurses. They are in the best position of all, as they will be able to combine the knowledge from the disciplines of nursing and nutrition.
Dietitians and nutritionists are taught a wide variety of principles regarding the role of nutrition in health. This covers a broad range of information, including:
- The basic nutritional needs of the human body.
- The importance of a balanced diet.
- How the wrong foods, such as junk food and fast foods can contribute to obesity and disease.
- The role of nutritional supplements.
- How the nutritional needs of individuals differs based on factors such as gender, age, body type and medical history.
These are all areas that are extremely beneficial for nurses to study as well, even though they are often not exposed to such information. This refers to formal requirements, of course. On their own, some nurses may be very knowledgeable about nutrition. There are even nurses who also have background in the field of nutrition. This does not, however, apply to nurses in general.
Apart from how useful nutritional information is for their careers, it can also help individual nurses maintain good health and a strong immune system. This can help them cope with the long hours and pressures of the job. While this could be beneficial to anyone, it’s of particular importance to people who don’t have the luxury of working predictable schedules or sitting behind a desk all day.
While it might seem natural that people in a medical profession would take good care of themselves, this is often not the case. Due to the pressures of their jobs, nurses often neglect good nutrition and may suffer the consequences if they do this for extended periods.
How Nurses With a Background in Nutrition Can Help Patients
The most obvious reasons why nurses should be well versed in nutrition is that it can help them help their patients in many ways. There are many ways that this factor comes into play, whether a nurse is working in a doctor’s office, for a hospital or for an institution such as a nursing home.
Nutrition plays an important role in virtually every aspect of health care. This includes:
- Working With Children -As childhood obesity is becoming a major problem in the U.S. and other countries, there is an increased need for nurses and other medical professionals to educate children and their parents on the principles of a healthy diet.
- Preventing Illness in Healthy People -There is more and more evidence that diet plays a crucial role in preventing chronic illnesses such as heart disease, diabetes and cancer. This suggests that even healthy people should be informed on this topic and nurses can play a major role in this area.
- Treating People With Illnesses -People are are chronically ill can be helped by nutritional principles. Along with any treatment provided by doctors and hospitals, nutritional advice can help patients manage their illnesses.
- Treating and Preventing Obesity -Obesity is a major factor in many diseases. By helping people lose weight, many illnesses can be prevented or managed. Patients who are guided by health care practitioners regarding nutrition are in a better position to lose weight.
- Meal Preparation Assistance -For people who are elderly or housebound, meal preparation is an extremely important activity. Nurses who are knowledgeable about nutrition can advise patients who cook for themselves. Additionally, such nurses can advise staff at nursing homes or home health care workers who cook for the elderly.
These are some examples of how nurses who are well versed in nutrition can help patients in a variety of settings.
How Nursing and Nutrition Can Work Together
As mentioned, there has traditionally been a separation between the fields of nursing and nutrition. This reflects a wider gulf between the entire medical field and nutrition. Hopefully, as more research supports the importance of nutrition as a way to prevent and manage illness, this will soon change.
There are several ways that this situation could be improved at an institutional level. For example:
- More nutrition courses could be required to obtain a nursing degree.
- Joint nursing-nutritionist positions could be created. There would be a strong demand for such careers at hospitals and nursing homes.
Both doctors and nurses should be encouraged to provide nutritional advice to patients.
While these developments would be welcome, nurses do not have to wait for them to occur to start including the principles of nutrition into their personal lives and careers. Nurses who have some background in nutrition can begin by applying their knowledge to their own lives. This can help them maintain good health and high energy levels.
Furthermore, nurses can apply their nutritional knowledge by advising patients when it is deemed appropriate. This can be a tricky area, as nurses must comply with the rules and protocols of their employers. For this reason, it is advisable for nurses to discuss these matters with their supervisors to ensure that this type of approach is acceptable. Whether or not nurses are permitted to dispense nutritional advice will depend on the particular rules and outlooks of the people or institutions for whom they work. For example, many physicians and hospitals are open to educating patients on diet and nutrition, while others may be more conservative and discourage nurses from engaging in this type of action.
Regardless of whether or not nurses are able to freely dispense nutritional advice to patients, there is nothing to stop them from increasing their knowledge in this area. This can still help them maintain their own health and well being, which is in itself of great value.
Conclusion: Nurses Have a Lot to Gain By Increasing Their Nutritional Knowledge
Nursing jobs, along with many positions in the medical field, are among the fastest growing careers of the 21st century. As the population ages and society deals with challenges such as widespread obesity, it seems likely that new ways to prevent and manage health conditions will be needed. Nutrition can play a significant role in this, and a nurse is in the perfect position to help patients learn more about nutrition.
Perhaps in the near future, obtaining a nursing degree will entail learning a great deal about nutrition. This certainly seems rational. Until that type, all nurses can do is educate themselves regarding nutrition and apply this knowledge as best they can, both in their own lives and in the course of their careers.