Nursing can be a stressful profession, with long hours and high levels of activity and responsibility, including caring for patients who are ill or, in some cases, dying. Although family, friends and other healthcare colleagues can provide a sympathetic ear, no one gets the challenges nurses face quite like another nurse.
"Nobody really understands what a nurse does like a nurse, so those relationships provide support, and that support helps bring stress down," Benjamin Evans, president of the New Jersey State Nurses Association, told minoritynurse.com.
He points out that while other health care professionals may perform a test, procedure or treatment for a patient, nurses have the most prolonged contact with patients. They help answer questions and address patients' concerns and fears about matters related to their conditions.
The potential impact of this type of close contact with patients and the importance of friendships with other nurses is illustrated well by Janae Jones, a clinical nurse educator at Loma Linda University Medical Center and Children's Hospital.
She told workingnurse.com about one of her workdays when a teenage patient died as she was working as a staff nurse in the pediatric intensive care unit. Her co-workers reached out to her and helped her care for the patient after the family said their goodbyes. They then asked her to get together after work.
"It really helped to have friends with shared experiences, without the need to explain why my day was bad," she recalled. "I was able to process those feelings and let it go."
Research backs up the importance of these nurse-to-nurse friendships in reducing stress. Jennifer Ptacek, in her Western Michigan University master's thesis, cites a study suggesting social support helps nurses manage stress, reduce feelings of uncertainty and gain control over stressful situations. Another study found that work friends are often the most helpful source of emotional and informational support.
Researchers have also concluded that nurses (as well as the other healthcare professionals) with strong connections to others in the same profession experienced lower levels of stress than those without. Those connections were the primary positive factor in controlling job-related stress.