Practice What You Preach: Nurses' Self Care

December 16, 2018
Maggie A. Smith, DNP, MSN/Ed, RN, OCN

Maggie A. Smith is a director-at-large for the national Oncology Nursing Society (ONS), as well as nominating-chair and immediate-past president of the Chicago Chapter of ONS. Her clinical and research interest include being a voice for underrepresented and underserved populations. She is also, involved in community outreach and breast health education.

Putting yourself as No. 1 on your to-do list is not selfish or inconsiderate; it is your right, and it shows that you are making an informed decision to practice self-care.

Oncology nurses are spearheading some of the best research and clinical studies on chronic illness and initiatives that help improve patient survival through self-care behaviors. However, we are less likely to incorporate these health strategies into our own daily lives.1

Self-care, as defined by nursing theorist Dorthea E. Orem, refers to specific behaviors that individuals initiate and perform on their own behalf, with the intention of improving health, preventing disease, or maintaining their well-being.2 The self-care theory was explained to us in nursing school. However, in our daily lives as oncology nurses, many of us fail to follow through on it.

Naturally, as nurses, we are nurturers. It is ingrained in our DNA. However, we need to have balance in our work and family lives as well. We should take time out of our busy schedules and do something that we enjoy. Sometimes, I am guilty of not implementing self-care techniques; however, I know that it is absolutely mandatory that I do this for my own sanity.

I often struggle with saying “no” to someone; I feel like I am letting them down when I cannot accept their “ask.” The truth is, I am only doing a disservice to myself if I take on more than what I know I am capable of handling at that time. It is okay to say no and not feel guilty about it. Just follow your initial instinct and go with it! Putting yourself as No. 1 on your to-do list is not selfish or inconsiderate. It is your right, and it shows that you are making an informed decision to practice self-care.

What do you do to practice self-care? Are you taking a moment for a mental break when needed?

To implement self-care into your routine, you can use a self-care tip sheet, issued by the American Society of Psychiatric Nurses Association.

In addition, I will share 3 things I do consistently to practice self-care:

  • Biweekly visits to my favorite nail salon to partake in a relaxing nail service
  • Frequent visits to my cosmetologist
  • Daily exercise and resistance training twice weekly

I encourage oncology nurses to find and do things that make you happy and feel rejuvenated if you do not have them already. Remember to take care of yourself. After all, you cannot pour from an empty cup.


  • Blum C. Practicing self-care for nurses: a nursing program initiative. Online J Issues Nurs. 2014;19(3):3.
  • Orem D. Nursing: Concepts of Practice. 6th ed. St Louis, MO: Mosby; 2001.