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How to Prepare For a Nursing Shift When You Have Diabetes

The Trusted Team
November 4, 2020
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Working as a nurse consists of long, strenuous hours of caring for everyone other than yourself. However, nurses battle with chronic illness, disease, and life-changing conditions just the same as non-nurses. Diabetes is a common illness among the world's population, with many nurses falling in this demographic as well. As a nurse with diabetes, there are a few critical tips to remember when working long hours to ensure you protect your health all shift long.

Monitor Blood Sugar Consistently

According to GoodRx, diabetes causes glucose to rise to unsafe levels through a lack of insulin or insulin resistance. Insulin is the hormone that takes sugar out of your blood for energy. When this hormone isn't working properly, too much blood sugar will accumulate and can lead to short—and long—term effects if not managed through diet or medication.

Once you and your doctor identify a healthy base where your blood sugar levels should be, the best tool to help you maintain that number is a self-testing monitor. One option is a device called the Dexcom continuous glucose monitor, which is great for nurses working long shifts. This device connects to a sensor wire that is inserted into your abdomen using an automatic applicator and attaches to a reusable transmitter that wirelessly connects to your smart device (i.e. smartphone, smartwatch).

Even when working long nursing shifts, you can instantly check your levels and even get alerts when something is out of the ordinary. Depending on the results, you can take action to get your blood glucose in its safe range to avoid complications. Because free time during your nursing shift is often limited, this is a good option for making diabetes management a little less daunting on long days.

diabetes blood sugar testing kit nurse testing blood sugar

Stay Hydrated and Fed With Diabetes-Friendly Snacks 

The main goal for any diabetic—whether they’re a nurse or not—is to keep their blood glucose in a healthy range. If blood sugar management is disturbed, diabetics may be at risk of either hyper and hypoglycemia. This is a common concern for nurses especially, due to the length and difficulty of shift work.

One of these risks, known as hyperglycemia, is more simply defined as high blood sugar and is extremely common among diabetics. When blood sugar is high, the kidneys try to remove this excess sugar from the blood by excreting it through urine. While this occurs, water is removed as well, ultimately causing dehydration. Mixing dehydration with diabetes can cause dizziness, headaches, confusion, or worse, kidney failure.

Therefore, you must make hydrating an essential part of your nursing shift. One way to make drinking water easier is by keeping a large reusable water bottle on hand to make water more accessible throughout the day. Also, packing snacks high in water, like fruits and raw vegetables, is another great way to help keep you hydrated.

On the other hand, hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar, can be caused by injecting too much insulin, blood sugar lowering medication, skipping meals, or even dehydration. As mentioned before, your body actively lowers blood sugar when experiencing a spike, which can push you towards dehydration and sometimes, hypoglycemia. To help combat this, you should drink lots of water and have snacks readily available that help bring your glucose up to speed, such as granola bars, yogurt or juice pouches.

These options have sugar in them which will increase glucose levels quickly and avoid you from feeling weak or unable to perform your job. In either case, Diabetes Strong states that it is crucial to stay hydrated to avoid dehydration and the complications that go with it. Even if you aren’t thirsty, make an effort to take regular breaks to hydrate throughout your nursing shift. 

Plan Shifts Around Your Diabetes Management

Navigating nursing shifts takes time and consideration because each shift takes a mental, physical, and emotional toll on you, especially when you have diabetes. Nurses are required in every facet of the medical field, no matter the location, unit, and specialty. There are some 9-5 nursing jobs if you work in a school or practitioners office, but 10- or 12-hour shifts are more common among nurses in hospitals.

Planning is crucial for diabetics, especially for these longer shifts. For instance, you could be in surgery on your feet for hours with little flexibility or time for a break. If you know this will be the case ahead of time, you can come into work prepared with plenty of water, snacks and a plan for glucose tests around your schedule. Also, if you know a shift like this is coming up, you can make sure to hydrate and eat a big meal before leaving your house.

On the contrary, if you perform the same tasks or routines every day, planning scheduled breaks is more flexible. For some, diabetes management requires eating meals at the same time daily and routine manual glucose checks. With this kind of shift, you can plan breaks for eating, blood glucose checks, and medication around your schedule as well as your patients' needs more efficiently.

By planning and knowing what to expect for your shift, you can better gauge how your body is going to react throughout the day and what reinforcements to bring.

The Takeaway

Working long shifts as a diabetic nurse doesn’t have to be impossible. Be upfront with your superiors about your condition, plan ahead, and recognize when you aren't feeling well on the job. Having diabetes may also help to make treating patients that have this disease easier, too, because you understand the condition personally and have first-hand experience and advice to share.

As is true with any condition, always consult with your health care professional before beginning to work long shifts to ensure you will stay healthy at work.

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