The Essential Items Nurses Always Keep In Their Bag

If you wonder what you should carry with you, here’s what medical pros keep on hand so they're prepared for anything.
Don't leave home without these nurse-approved products.
SDI Productions via Getty Images
Don't leave home without these nurse-approved products.

These days, preparedness isn’t just a personality quirk. It’s a trait that’s become paramount to keeping ourselves and the people we care about healthy and safe — and nobody knows this feeling better than nurses.

“A thoughtfully packed bag is so important when you’re a nurse,” Joelle Y. Jean, a New York-based family nurse practitioner and senior writer for NurseJournal, told HuffPost. “You can find yourself in many different situations, so you need to be prepared for anything.”

Although stress isn’t always avoidable, she added, being organized and prepared can turn a chaotic day into one you can manage successfully. Which items should you have on standby in order to accomplish this? We touched base with several nurses for the scoop on what they consider to be the essentials of their everyday bag.

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Hand sanitizer
“I prefer hand sanitizers with a high percentage of alcohol content — 80% and over whenever possible,” Rastisha Smikle, an ER nurse based in Orlando, told HuffPost. “Nothing substitutes for a thorough hand-washing session, but hand sanitizer is a must when the former isn’t a possibility.”

This Purell sanitizer has an 85% alcohol content, so it meets Smikle's standards.

Get a bottle for $3.49.
Face masks
Smikle sometimes finds herself in the company of someone without a mask, so she keeps extras on hand and offers one in case the person has forgotten or lost track of theirs. “It’s also important to change your mask throughout the day when in public spaces,” she said, since disposables are only meant to be worn once.

Get a pack of 100 disposable face masks for $9.99.
A mini first aid kit
“I’ve learned the hard way when out and about the importance of having band-aids on hand,” Caitlin Moore, a registered nurse in electrophysiology at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital, told HuffPost. “Whether it’s an unfortunate cut from accidentally swiping a soda can on an airplane or an unexpected blister from being on my feet all day as a nurse, band-aids are a lifesaver.”

This compact Johnson & Johnson first aid kit comes with multiple bandage options, along with wipes and gauze pads.

Get one for $4.99.
Feeling a faint scratch in the throat was enough to send a person spiraling even before the pandemic started. That’s why Moore keeps cold-shortening supplements with her at all times — specifically, Zicam RapidMelts.

“Zicam is unique because it provides a safe, homeopathic way to shorten the duration of a cold, as opposed to just treating its symptoms,” Moore said. “I swear by it.”

Get a pack for $9.49.
Shelf-stable snacks
“A handful of nuts or a MacroBar are two of my favorite shelf-stable snacks to keep in your bag for when traffic or a delayed train leaves you feeling hangry,” Moore said.

Get a variety pack of Emerald to-go nuts for $10.48 (which features mixes like almonds and walnuts) or a 12-count box of GoMacro bars for $26.60 (in flavors like mocha chocolate chip).
Dry shampoo
Moore keeps dry shampoo handy to perk up afternoon hair with a few simple sprays. This Klorane travel-size option is made with oat milk to help soothe your scalp and hair.

Get it for $5.
A hair tie holder
Britney G., a certified nursing assistant in Las Vegas, refuses to go anywhere without her portable hair tie holder, aka a Hair Tie Hub.

“It’s required all healthcare professionals tie back their hair to prevent contamination and support a professional appearance,” said Britney, who asked that we withhold her last name so she could talk about her job. “Now, I always have a hair tie available and everyone I work with ended up getting a Hair Tie Hub too.”

Get it for $8.99 (comes in three colors).
Hand cream
Dry, cracked, broken skin can increase the risk of infections while on the job, so Britney always makes sure she has hand lotion on standby.

“Since I’m always washing my hands, I use hand lotion to moisturize afterward,” she said. “For work, it’s important to use a fragrance-free, thick cream."

Eucerin makes some of the best moisturizing lotion and comes without any scents.

Get a pack of three for $13.47.
Lip balm
"I also apply lip balm at the beginning of my shift to keep my lips moisturized all day," Britney said.

This Nivea moisturizing balm is made with shea butter, jojoba oil and avocado oil to keep your lips hydrated.

Get a pack of four for $6.98 (for those who want it, the balms are also available in flavors like cherry, watermelon and vanilla buttercream).
Sanitizing wipes or spray
“I wipe down everything, from grocery carts to the pump at the gas station, which I find a lot of people forget to do and spread lots of germs,” Leah Parker, a South Carolina-based family nurse practitioner, told HuffPost.

The spray is great to have on hand, too, when you’re entering and leaving a space — you can quickly spray hard and soft surfaces (door knobs, light switches, toilet seats, couches, pillows) and mosey on with your day.

Get a 10-pack of Wet Ones wipes for $17.40 or a pack of four to-go Lysol sprays for $21.97.
Chewable glucose tablets
“I can’t tell you how many situations I’ve been in where someone around me has felt faint or like they were going to pass out,” Parker said.

As a result, she now keeps a portable bottle of chewable glucose tablets on standby. “They bring the person’s sugar level up within minutes, as often low blood sugar can make someone feel faint," she said.

Get a pack of six for $11.34.
Tylenol or Motrin
You never know when a headache, ache or pain will come on, which is why Melissa Batchelor, director of the Center for Aging, Health and Humanities at The George Washington University in Washington, D.C., stays stocked with Tylenol and Motrin.

Why both? “Older adults shouldn’t take NSAIDs, which is what Motrin is,” she said. Tylenol contains acetaminophen, which is safer for people with heart or kidney disease, high blood pressure or stomach problems.

Get a travel size of Tylenol for $3.69 or a 50-pack of MotrinIB for $15.18.
“Someone will sneeze or spill something, always,” Batchelor said.

These small Kleenex packs are the perfect size to keep in your bag or even in your pocket when you're on the go.

Grab a pack of three for $1.
Allergy relief
When you’re on the go, you never know when seasonal allergies might strike, so Batchelor keeps both Claritin and Claritin-D on hand.

“If someone has high blood pressure, they can’t have the D (decongestant), so I have regular Claritin too,” she said. “I buy the Claritin RediTabs, which means the person doesn’t need water to swallow it.”

Get a pack of Claritin non-drowsy tabs for $11.99.

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