Dealing with the Heat as a Nurse

There are a lot of great things about being a nurse. Being on your feet and on the go for 12+ hours a day when summertime temperatures soar isn’t one of them, though. Even though healthcare facilities are almost always air-conditioned, you are still at a greater risk of overheating or becoming dehydrated during warm weather. And if you work in a facility that lacks air conditioning or your job has you traveling from house to house providing care for patients in their homes, the risk is even higher. 

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Fortunately, there are several ways to protect yourself. From sticking to lightweight, breathable scrub tops for women and keeping water close by at all times to being mindful of the temperature when planning your day, keep reading to discover a few helpful tips on dealing with the heat as a nurse. 

1. Choose Your Workwear Carefully

When you are getting ready before your shift, be mindful of the weather when you decide what to wear. Thin, loose-fitting scrubs are your best bet during hot weather. Choosing scrubs made from performance fabrics that wick perspiration away from your skin is a good idea, too. Lightweight, breathable polyester is your best friend when it comes to beating the heat. 

Think carefully when picking your shoes, too. Women’s and men’s nursing shoes come in a wide range of styles and can be made from several different materials. When the temperature soars, you will likely be more comfortable in shoes with mesh uppers instead of leather uppers. Like your scrubs, your summertime shoes should allow adequate airflow to help you keep your cool. 

2. Stay Hydrated

As a nurse, you know that staying hydrated is crucial. You probably tell several patients each week that they need to up their water intake. Chances are, though, you are not following your own advice. 

To stay on top of your hydration needs during hot weather, make sure fluids are readily available at all times. Instead of waiting until you are thirsty to track down a bottle of water, keep a jug close by throughout the day. If possible, consider asking your employer to have a water cooler installed near the nurses’ station. You (and your colleagues) are more likely to drink enough if water is easily accessible. 

If you have trouble remembering to drink during busy shifts, using a water bottle with hourly markers can help you stay on track. It might not seem like something that would make a huge difference, but those little visual reminders do a great job of reminding you to stay hydrated. 

3. Ditch the Caffeine

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Caffeine may give you the energy to power through your day, but it can also contribute to dehydration. It often has a diuretic effect and speeds up water loss. Plus, consuming excessive amounts of caffeine just isn’t good for you. Even during cooler weather, it can cause anxiety, insomnia, and fatigue — all symptoms that impact your ability to be an effective nurse. 

This summer, commit to reaching for water instead of coffee or soda. Or, if you need an extra boost, look for sports drinks that aid hydration. Just make sure that sports drinks don’t become a permanent substitute for water. Like with many other things, moderation is key. 

4. Avoid the Sun

When possible, don’t go outside between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. That’s when the sun is at its hottest. Keep the blinds and curtains drawn to block out the heat. The more you can avoid direct sunlight, the cooler you will stay. If you do need to be in the sun, wear sunscreen to protect your skin and drink lots of water. 

5. Take Breaks

Finding time to take a break can be tough when you’re a nurse. Doing so is a vital component of self-care, though, and is especially important during hot weather. Even if it is just for a few moments, find time to sit down and relax during your shift. Look for a spot that is cool and well ventilated. If you can, go outside and sit in a shady spot or sit near an open window to get some fresh air. Doing so will help you feel refreshed and recharged when you get back to work. 

6. Cool Off Quickly

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When you can feel yourself starting to overheat, take steps to cool off quickly. It may sound crazy, but simply running your wrists under cool water for about 30 seconds can make a noticeable difference. Cold water cools the blood in your arms and wrists. And, as that blood circulates throughout your body, it can make the rest of you feel cooler. 

Cooling sprays help, too. It never hurts to give your face a quick wash with cold water when you need to cool down. If you feel like you are hot enough to be at risk for heatstroke, seek appropriate medical attention right away. 

7. Work Smarter

When looking at your tasks for the day, aim to schedule the more physically demanding ones for cooler times of the day. Mornings and evenings are better times for these tasks than mid-afternoon, and it’s best to schedule your tasks accordingly whenever possible. When this isn’t an option, consider asking a co-worker to share the load with you rather than handling all of the hard stuff on your own. 

Final Thoughts

Even if you work in an air-conditioned hospital, high temperatures affect everyone. Nursing is an extremely demanding job and, if you aren’t careful, you could fall victim to dehydration or even heat stroke. This summer, protect yourself by following the guidelines above. If you suspect that your work environment is dangerously hot, speak to the administration. In doing so, you could play a vital role in creating a safer and more comfortable workplace for you and your colleagues.