A VETERAN nurse and Southern Cross University health sciences lecturer says nurses are as unhealthy of the rest of us.
But SCU lecturer Kay Ross, who conducted a groundbreaking national survey on the health of Australian nurses, said frontline health workers needed real support to improve their health, not criticism.
The comments follow a furore that erupted within the Northern NSW Local Health Network after chief executive Chris Crawford blamed unhealthy lifestyles for a high rate of sick leave among some nurses.
The survey of 6000 Australian nurses found many were failing their own health checks, with stress from bullying and overwork two of the major contributors to obesity and other health problems.
It also identified that many nurses had a chronic illness which forced them to take time off work in the previous 12 months.
But despite the negative report card, Ms Ross said recent comments by Local Health District chief Chris Crawford connecting unhealthy lifestyles to excessive sick leave were misguided.
"Singling out a group like this and saying their ill health is contributing to the high sick rate is not constructive at all," Ms Ross said.
"Nurses especially are still working a lot of shift work, they're working a lot of overtime, their patient loads are higher - we need to be looking at how much that is impacting on people's health."
Nurses were an ageing population - with an average age of 45, and 35% aged over 50 - but life for nurses was only getting tougher, she said.
"We're actually being bombarded with a heavier workload, patients are sicker and discharged earlier," Ms Ross said.
"We really need more research on how we can help people deal with shift work because we know it has a negative impact on health.
"The other thing a lot of nurses talked about was the lack of healthy food choices available in hospitals ... especially if they worked the weekend or night duty."
Ms Ross said some people held nurses to a higher health ideal than others, but the reality was they were part of the community "just like everybody else".