Red traffic light in snow-covered city
HealthMay 04, 2021

How to be an effective nurse educator – nurturing students’ well-being in unforeseen times

By: Lenore Cortez, MSN, RNC
During a time full of unforeseen circumstances, how can nurse educators be effective and work to nurture their nursing students?

Recently, I have found myself feeling profoundly overwhelmed. We just experienced the coldest temperatures and the most snow my Texas town has seen in decades. This part of the country was not prepared for the ripple effect of cold temperatures, icy conditions, and increased energy needs. I was amongst millions without electricity and water. The university canceled all classes. Students emailed me to let me know they had spotty internet as we went through rolling blackouts. I posted announcements, when I could, to let students know we would be extending the due dates for all assignments. I reminded them that I, too, was having intermittent connectivity. I started to think about this past year and all these unforeseen circumstances we’ve been facing and thought, how can I be an effective nurse educator and work to nurture my students during this crazy time.

I have said this before, as a nurse educator I take it upon myself to watch over my students. I email them to check on them. I chat with them in the halls. I try to “catch” them before they fall. Am I doing enough to monitor their well-being? I constantly post announcements in my courses stating that I am always available to answer questions and offer support. I realized during the winter blast that I needed to be looking out not only for the needs of my students but for my needs and those of my neighbors. I need to be aware of when I am “falling” and not be afraid to ask for help. I have to say that my neighborhood did a fantastic job of helping one another through a really difficult two weeks. People shared potable water, bottled water, firewood, eggs, tips on how to keep pipes from bursting and a camaraderie that really helped me get through the dark and cold.

Tips for improving study focus

Breathing techniques

What do you do when you’re struggling to focus? In these moments it can trigger a spiral or shutting down. How can you climb out of that? The art of deep breathing is one thing that I have frequently taught my students, patients, and co-workers. We don’t think about how helpful breathing can be when we are feeling stressed. Getting oxygen to our brains is essential in order for our brains to be at optimal functioning. One easy way to do this, in addition to deep breathing exercises, is by taking short walks throughout the day. This helps to increase our circulation and get more oxygen to the brain.

Improved sleep

Another thing that helps increase our focus is getting adequate sleep. I urge you to look at how many hours of actual sleep you are getting each night. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, adults need at least 7 hours of sleep per night. Participating in regular exercise not only helps to reduce stress but improves brain connections and improves sleep . Other considerations for getting adequate sleep are:

  • Putting away all electronics before going to bed
  • Establishing a regular bedtime
  • Stop drinking caffeinated beverages by late afternoon

The Sleep Foundation is a great source for information about sleep hygiene and ways you can help yourself get a better night’s sleep.

Healthy diet

We all know that healthy eating is good for overall health, but it too increases our brain functioning and focus. A diet that helps the brain function includes foods rich in B vitamins, antioxidants, omega fatty acids and healthful fats. Examples of these foods include oily fish (salmon, tuna, sardines), dark chocolate, berries (blueberries, strawberries, blackberries), nuts and seeds (sunflower seeds, almonds, hazelnuts), whole grains (brown rice, whole grain bread, oatmeal), coffee, avocados, peanuts, eggs, broccoli, kale and soy products. Think about the times when you grab that late afternoon candy bar. You get an initial spike of energy and then crash and burn at your desk. Switching that snack to a handful of sunflower seeds or peanuts and a piece of fruit is a much healthier option that will give you the energy to make it through the afternoon without the crash that occurs after eating a sugary snack.

One thing I learned during the recent ice storm was just how much I appreciate having a clean water supply. Water is essential to the functioning of our bodies, down to the smallest components of our being. According to Medical News Today, our cells are 60% comprised of water and our brains contain the highest amount of water in our entire bodies, at 80-85%. When we are dehydrated from lack of water consumption, we may begin to get a headache and we can also experience confusion. Over the last few months, I have begun to carry a reusable water bottle with me. I can easily consume the recommended eight to 10 glasses of water per day. My body feels better when I am hydrated. Just as we need oxygen to get our brains working, we need water to keep the blood flowing which is how oxygen gets to the brain. Oxygen molecules attach to the red blood cells and in this way move along the vast “highway” of blood vessels throughout our bodies.

The value of reflection

Looking for falling stars in the Texas sky has become a regular pastime for me when the night is clear. Several times as I have driven home from working the 2nd shift, I have seen a falling star at the same spot on my drive. I live a bit outside of city limits. At night it is dark. There are no street lights. The skies above me feel endless. West Texas has the darkest skies in the continental United States, which help to make the stars here amazing. I do a lot of thinking when I look at the stars. To me taking an evening walk just as the first few stars begin to be visible in the sky is both invigorating and relaxing. It is a great stress-reliever.

There really is something about that saying, “wish upon a star.” When I look at the stars, I remember family and friends who are no longer here on Earth. I like to imagine them looking down on me from those tiny pinpricks of light. The vastness of the skies can make one feel very small but also empowered. The sheer beauty of a star-filled sky brings about a sense of calm, to me anyway. I notice that I breathe a little deeper when I am outside looking at the stars.

I have realized that a bit of inner reflection helps me to focus on the important things in my life. Sometimes we need to think about the difficulties we encounter in order to enjoy life’s special moments. I have had a lot of good thinking while staring up at the constellations, resulting in answers to particular problems I might be currently experiencing. As I already said, looking at the expanse of the sky can make one feel very tiny. This is true of the problems we encounter in life. They can morph out of control if we let them. Reflection or deep thinking can be cathartic in and of itself. Staring at a nighttime sky can make even the biggest problems shrink and become more manageable. So, the next time you see a falling star remember these words…

Catch a falling star and put it in your pocket. Save it for a rainy day.
Perry Como

And remember, encourage that same reflection in yourself as well as your students. Being a nurse educator is more than just educating. We need to nurture our own well-being, the well-being of our students, and the well-being of the communities and patients we serve.

Missed parts 1 through 6 of chocolates and tissues? Read them now:

Lenore Cortez, MSN, RNC
Expert Insights Contributor for Wolters Kluwer, Nursing Education
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