Nurse going through the menopause? Advice from a fellow healthcare professional who’s been there
Newson Health advanced nurse practitioner Sue Thomas’ tips on managing your menopause at work
With 90% of nurses being women and more than half aged over 41, coping with the symptoms of the perimenopause and the menopause while working will be familiar to many in the profession.
Whether it is managing your hot flush in a sweaty, uncomfortable uniform, working long hours in the community or on an overheated ward, or just feeling completely exhaustedtrying to balance the demands of your job and family whilst also trying to deal with troublesome symptoms, it can all feel a little overwhelming.
So it’s perhaps unsurprising that healthcare staff are considering changing their hours or even quitting as they struggle to cope with symptoms in the workplace.
Menopause survey shows staff struggling with symptoms
A Newson Health survey of 1,000 women who work for the NHS found that almost half (45%) had been unable to reduce their working hours, either due to employer inflexibility or financial constraints. Some 48% had considered quitting their job as a result.
Working as an ANP in a busy general practice, I can relate to the difficulties of managing symptoms in a busy and demanding environment.
Back to basics: what is the perimenopause and menopause?
The term perimenopause is used to describe the time before the menopause when you can experience a range of troublesome symptoms but are still having periods. Often periods start to change and become irregular or heavier or lighter, as hormones which regulate them start to decline.
Menopause typically occurs between the age of 45 to 55, with the average age of menopause (12 months after your final period) being 51 here in the UK.
Everyone’s menopause journey is different and yours will be unique to you. For me, I found the painful joints, anxiety, brain fog and lack of motivation the most difficult symptoms.
Interestingly, I didn’t associate my symptoms to the perimenopause at the time, I just put it down to getting older and busy.
How menopause can affect your career
As nurses we just get on with it – right? But underneath the bravado, I found my mojo had gone and I lacked my usual confidence. It was only when I was plunged suddenly into a surgical menopause and started estrogen replacement that the jigsaw pieces started to fit.
Nursing is a busy and demanding job, so managing your symptoms well at work is essential to your wellbeing. Being well rested after a good night’s sleep, for example, is so important but not always possible if your troublesome menopausal symptoms include night sweats and insomnia.
Many women tell us that their confidence falters during this time, which can have a big impact on professional lives. It may be harder to concentrate, you may not feel as sharp as normal, or your ability to multitask and take decisions may be trickier or take longer than they did before.
And it’s not just nurses who are struggling. A British Medical Association survey of 2000 female GPs, 38% respondents reported menopause symptoms had a significant impact on their working lives and yet only 16% had discussed their menopause symptoms with their manager.
Medicine, like nursing, is a highly demanding profession, and we are frequently pushed to go above and beyond in order to provide the best care for our patients. However, this can be difficult when, as healthcare professionals, we feel unable to ask for help and support from colleagues or line managers.
The menopause is not an illness or disability, but the effects of the symptoms experienced can be disabling for women. This means that employers who fail to properly support women could be found to be discriminatory.
While as nurse you will often put your needs last, there is a lot you can do to help you manage this period in your working lives better. Here are some tips to help….
Ask yourself ‘could this be the perimenopause or menopause’?
Nurses may work in health but so often we don’t notice what is happening affecting our own health and wellbeing. I never realised my joint pain was due to the perimenopause until I started HRT and my symptoms vanished within weeks of starting treatment. So ‘think menopause’ because once you realise that your symptoms could be related to the menopause you will be more empowered to do something about them.
See a healthcare professional
Make an appointment with a GP or nurse practitioner who is trained in menopause care.
They can discuss your symptoms with you and which treatments are available on the NHS. They can also signpost you to specialist menopause services if required.
Most practices have a GP, prescribing nurse or pharmacist who have an interest in menopause care or who have specialised in this area.
You can access evidence-based information here on the balance website’s menopause library and on the balance menopause support app, which (click here for more information). You can also track the type and severity of your symptoms on the app to create a personalised health report to take to appointments.
Your GP or nurse practitioner should be able to advise you on lifestyle measures and hormone replacement, which for most women, is the first-line treatment for the management of menopause symptoms.
Talk to colleagues and your family and friends about the menopause
Raising awareness and understanding and the impact it is having on you will help encourage more openness around the subject at work and at home.
Chatting to your colleagues, friends and family can raise awareness and give vital avenues of support. This in turn will diminish the taboos that still plague the menopause (even among healthcare professionals). Women have often told me how understanding their line manager and other team members are when they explain they are finding a particular aspect of work difficult due to their symptoms. This can allow other team members to also come forward to get help and support if they too have been struggling.
While as nurses we struggle to get even a few minutes break time at work, try and take your breaks, we all need to rest and recharge. Make sure you are properly hydrated, eat well and get a restful night’s sleep particularly on a prolonged period of shifts.
See if your workplace has a menopause policy
Find out if your employer has a workplace menopause policy as this will set out the support available to you. If not, encourage your bosses to implement one.
Your employer could also have a menopause champion, who can be a valuable source of information and support.
Employers should be able to review working conditions and facilities to make menopausal symptoms more manageable in the workplace. This could include improving room
ventilation, easy access to cool drinking water, toilet facilities and better rest facilities.
Consider requesting flexible working
Consider seeking changes to your working hours. This could be reducing or limiting night shifts if you’re struggling with fatigue and poor sleep or asking about flexible working or reducing your hours.
Uniforms and clothing
Try and avoid synthetic and tight clothing. Where uniforms are compulsory, flexibility is helpful, including the use of thermally comfortable fabrics and the provision of changing facilities. Try to keep a spare at work if you need to change after a hot flush or a heavy period and ensure adequate washroom facilities. If, for example, temperatures are uncomfortably hot at workreport this to your line manager who should be able to instigate change and support you.
Training and information
If you are offered training or an information session on the menopause, then seize it – and encourage your colleagues to do so to. This is a chance to gain more knowledge which could help yourself, your colleagues, your family and your patients. A free, CPD-accredited Confidence in the Menopause training course for healthcare professionals from Newson Health is available here.