Is Catheterization (Cath) Lab Nursing Stressful or Hard?

Like any nursing specialty, cath lab nursing has unique challenges and complexities. It is a field that requires a well-developed skill set, the ability to concentrate on high-stakes procedures, and the ability to communicate well with a number of different team members.

Of course, that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Some level of stress is present in every nursing field, from busy emergency rooms (ERs) to slower home health visits. As a nurse, it’s your job to recognize the humanity of your patient and advocate for their wants and needs before, during, and after the procedure. And that can cause a tremendous amount of stress. The field of cath lab nursing is no exception.

See also: Nursing De-stress Tips to Avoid Burnout in Healthcare

There are also other unique stressors present in the day-to-day work of cath lab nurses. Today, we will be covering some of those stressors and looking at the overall difficulty and stress of a job in the cath lab versus some of the other nursing specialties.

Let’s get started!

Common Cath Lab Stressors

As mentioned before, there are some unique stressors that any seasoned cath lab nurse will be familiar with. These include both common day-to-day factors that result in low-level stress, as well as intense stressors resulting from less common situations. We’ll cover a few of each.

1. Long Hours/On-Call

Cath lab nursing often requires long shifts with plenty of on-call rotations. As a cath lab nurse, you may be asked to come in on weekends, holidays, and in the middle of the night/early in the morning. The variance of your workday can make it difficult to maintain a healthy sleep schedule, which can lead to long-term fatigue and stress as well

Being on-call can add an extra layer to this variance: At regular intervals, you may be called in to assist with a procedure when you’d much rather be sleeping. While on-call shifts are common among many nursing professions, few nurses ever truly get used to them.

2. The Complexity of the Work

As a cath lab nurse, you’ll be handling some fairly complex procedures on a regular basis. After all, your job is to assist with the insertion of a catheter that runs through tiny blood vessels in the human body and often acts as a precursor to other heart procedures.

Luckily, the complexity of your work is the hardest for those just starting. Cath labs don’t typically handle very many different procedures, so you can quickly learn your role during the most common ones. That said, working in the cath lab does require the ability to concentrate—sometimes for long periods—which can be draining for anyone.

3. The (Very Real) Stakes

This is perhaps the greatest cause of stress within the cath lab: Your work can have very real implications for your patients—both positive and negative.

The vast majority of the time, catheterization procedures (and any subsequent procedures) are completed without an issue. However, when things do go wrong, they go wrong very, very quickly. After all, your work impacts the patient’s heart and bloodstream, so a critical issue may leave you with mere minutes (or even seconds) to make life-saving decisions.

With that said, these situations are far less common than in other branches of nursing. Compared to neurosurgery, for example, installing a catheter is very low-risk and much less complex. However, the possibility of issues arising from a procedure is always present and can cause a measure of regular stress on its own.

How Stressful Is Cath Lab Nursing Compared to Other Fields?

In the whole of nursing, cath lab nursing is neither the most stressful nor the least. Rather, it falls somewhere in the middle.

Emergency room nursing tends to be at the far end of the spectrum, with nurses often having to instantly react and provide care for a huge range of life-threatening injuries. ER nursing is incredibly difficult, incredibly intense work, and often leads to burnout.

Similarly, operating room (OR) nursing deals with some of the most intense and difficult procedures outside of specialized clinics. There can be a huge variance in the work being performed in an OR as well, which adds a further layer of complexity and uncertainty to the work.

See also: The Ultimate Guide to OR Nursing

On the other end, many branches of nursing do not include life-threatening procedures at all. Nurses working in general practitioner offices, for instance, will rarely worry about their patients being harmed as a result of their care. The same goes for certain pediatric clinics.

Overall, cath lab nursing is usually a fairly low-stress job with some great benefits. However, nurses must be ready to leap into action when something does go wrong, as their actions during those moments can mean the difference between a successful procedure and a life-threatening injury. 

Practicing Self-Care to Diminish Stress

Ironically, nurses often have trouble caring for themselves. In a job that requires constant empathy and patient-centered care, many nurses are too exhausted and emotionally spent to provide themselves with the same level of care they give to their patients.

Practicing self-care—truly setting aside time for yourself—can help diminish the day-to-day stress of working in the cath lab and prevent long-term burnout and stress-related illness. 

From taking vacations to scheduling a day at the spa, there are plenty of easy and affordable ways to practice self-care on the regular. For a few more tips and tricks, check out our article: Self Care Tips for Nurses: Taking Care of Yourself First.

A Future in Cath Lab Nursing

A career in cath lab nursing can be both incredibly challenging and wholly rewarding. This work requires a high level of skill and knowledge; it can be both physically and mentally demanding, and nurses must be prepared for the stress of the job. 

However, cath lab nursing also allows you to help patients while working in a specialized field and being part of a close-knit team. Developing effective strategies for handling the stress of the job can help you continue to provide excellent care for your patients, all while maintaining your own well-being.

If you’re interested in learning more about cath lab nursing, check out our ultimate guide on the subject! You can also find a tremendous amount of content spanning every conceivable nursing specialty on our per-diem nursing blog

Thanks for reading!

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