05/13/2016 12:34 EDT | Updated 05/14/2017 05:12 EDT

The Positive Impact Nurses Can Have On Canadians Living With Psoriasis

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Portrait of a young nurse with her team in the background

Psoriasis: More than just a skin condition

Imagine a sizeable portion of your body covered with bright red spots and thick scaly patches. Imagine being so itchy and uncomfortable that you hardly ever get a decent night's sleep. Imagine being continually on the receiving end of glares and stares, such that on many days you just don't even feel like leaving your home.

This is the reality for many people who suffer from psoriasis -- a life-long autoimmune disease affecting about one million Canadians. Not all cases of psoriasis are so severe, but some are. Many living with the condition have struggled for years without much improvement.

While psoriasis appears as a skin condition, its impact goes well beyond the skin. The disease can have a major effect on a person's quality of life and increase their risk for other chronic diseases such as heart disease and diabetes. The emotional and social impact can significantly effect a person's well-being and contribute to low self-esteem, anxiety and depression. Given that psoriasis is such a visible disease, people often want to cover it up and feel embarrassed and stigmatized when out in public.

Nurses: With you every step of the way

I see myself as more than a nurse who treats patients -- I also take on the role of counsellor, motivator and advocate at a time when they need support most.

Dermatology nurses like me play an important role in helping people living with psoriasis manage their chronic condition. Each day, I provide ongoing education, support and treatment to those patients who need it. I often meet with patients who are uncomfortable talking about what they're going through, even with loved ones. As dermatology nurses, we work to help each patient feel less alone in their journey. That's why the theme for this year's National Nursing Week couldn't be more fitting, Nurses: With you every step of the way.

Patients today want more information about their disease and to actively participate when it comes to making decisions about their care. An important first step is getting to know each patient by learning about their unique needs, preferences and treatment goals. This helps the patient better understand their disease and how to best manage it. There are many options available that can be very effective in treating people with moderate to severe symptoms including ointments, specialized light therapy and medicines taken by mouth or given by injection. Patients are encouraged to speak to a health-care professional to figure out what works best for them.

Expressing empathy is also key in empowering and motivating patients to take control of their disease management. Research informs us that when patients feel involved in decision making about their own care, they do better. I see myself as more than a nurse who treats patients -- I also take on the role of counsellor, motivator and advocate at a time when they need support most.

Hear from other Canadians treating and living with psoriasis

Nurses are always looking for new ways to reach out and communicate with patients, their families and society. Together with doctors and patients, I recently contributed to a podcast series called "Layer by Layer" which provides a glimpse into what it's like to live with psoriasis. Canadians living with or affected by psoriasis can hear the experiences of others who treat and have the disease and understand that there is help available and, most of all, that they are not alone in their journey.

As dermatology nurses, we're dedicated to helping and supporting patients as we want to help ensure their experiences are positive ones and that everything is being done to improve their condition.

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