A Nurse Reminder – The Importance of Humanity

We are back in the Holiday Season again friends, and the flavor of the month is kindness and giving.

You see it on commercials, billboards, and soda cans. The hospital is full of potlucks and gift exchanges. You may be getting ready for your holiday party and trying to find the right outfit that is not scrubs or yoga pants. It can be a cheery time when looking from the outside of the unit.

But in your department, it is probably a different story.

The census is high. Patients are sick. Staffing is short. There is no time to sit, pee or hardly stuff any of that potluck food in your mouth between call lights and IV pumps sounding off.

We are all busy in the winter. It’s a fact. Nurses wear their fun scrubs and Christmas light necklaces that shine so brightly, but their mood is dark and cold like the weather outside. Your department has run out of everything – no more sandwiches, personal belonging bags or the good, fitted sheets for the beds. Administration is sending out emails thanking you for all your hard work, but also asking you to pick up some extra hours to fill in the staffing holes. It is easy to get resentful and cranky.

These are the days that we see holiday silliness in the emergency department that seems only to arrive in winter – 19 dialysis patients with clotted vascular access in 4 hours, patients with sore throats on a Buy 1 Get 30 Special, and so much epigastric pain (mine included) that it can only be the weeks after Thanksgiving.

And you will get those patients that no one wants to deal with but who take an extraordinary amount of time - the homeless men and women who come for what seems like complete BS. Maybe the EMS call will be for a 67 year-old homeless woman who fell and can’t (did not want to) get up or possibly a 46 year-old transient man who is having a flair up of their chronic thumb pain. I agree, this is not an emergency. This is a waste of an EMS rig. We are receiving a person who does not need emergency medical care services.

However, I want to take a moment to remind us all that while these people do not need emergency medical care, or possibly no medical care at all, they are people who still need care. These are often the forgotten, the hungry, the cold, the mentally ill, and the individuals that our society is failing. They are not getting the medical or mental health care that they need. They are most likely lacking the absolute basics – clean clothes, a place to shower, decent food, and a safe place to sleep.  

**And I hear all of you who are saying that there are lots of people who choose this kind of life and just use and abuse the healthcare system. I agree. There are those people, lots of those people. But let’s just remember that they are still people.**

I had a patient like this yesterday. They needed nothing medically and were definitely taking up a bed that we needed for a sick patient. But as I tried to get them out of the ED, they told me about how much they just wanted a shower and some sleep. They told me how they had been eating out of the trash and scared to sleep because they never know who is around and what they might do.

This is not a person who needed any medical care, but they did need someone to care. We tried to help. We gave them clothes and food. We let them wash up. I led them to the waiting room to eat and rest while the ED continued to provide medical care to those who needed it.

I finished my shift and went home. And I was frustrated and sad. The emergency department should not have to be caring for the basic welfare of our patients. I truly feel that humans all have the right to clean food and safe housing.

And I can’t always make that happen. Shelters are often full. The department doesn’t have enough food to feed everyone a meal. Hospitals can’t be the fixer for all of these problems.

But for what it is worth, I know that I can always try to remember to care – to care enough to give each person the most dignified and respectful interaction that I can and to care enough to keep their humanity in mind even during the busiest time of year.

- Sarah @ New Thing Nurse


About the Author - Sarah K. Wells, MSN, RN, CEN, CNL is an educator, speaker, blogger and owner of New Thing Nurse, a professional and academic coaching company for the nursing world. New Thing Nurse is organized to provide support and guidance to aspiring nurses, newly graduated nurses, and veteran RNs looking to make a change in their life.

Whether it’s a new school, new job or new idea,

New Thing Nurse wants to help with your new thing!




An Interview with the Interviewer: Elizabeth Scala

This week has been very exciting here at New Thing Nurse.

On Wednesday, April 25th, an episode of the nursing podcast "Your Next Shift", hosted by the imitable Elizabeth Scala, MSN, RN, MBA, went live. This episode features an interview with myself, your New Thing Nurse friend and founder, and Elizabeth where we talk about all things nursing, self-care, travel, rugby and of course, New Thing Nurse.

LISTEN TO MY INTERVIEW ON "YOUR NEXT SHIFT" WITH ELIZABETH SCALA HERE!!

I have never been on a podcast before, this again making me a #newthingnurse. I was SO nervous when we recorded the interview last month as I have been a fan of Elizabeth Scala's for quite some time. If you are not already familiar with her work, Elizabeth is a Johns Hopkins-trained Registered Nurse, best-selling author, keynote speaker, and consultant on burnout prevention for nurses in all specialties. She is the CEO of ElizabethScala.com and founder of The Art of Nursing - a Nurse's Week program providing education and inspiration to thousands across the country. Elizabeth also hosts the incredible podcast "Your Next Shift", where she interviews nurses from diverse roles from across the spectrum of nursing.

I mean SWOON, right? #nursecrush

In addition to inviting me to be on her podcast "Your Next Shift", Elizabeth was also game to play a little "Interview the Interviewer". Below is a brief interview between myself, Sarah @ New Thing Nurse, and the "Your Next Shift" hostess with the mostest - Elizabeth Scala, MSN, RN, MBA.


Sarah @ New Thing Nurse (NTN): I have been a big fan of yours for a long time but for those who aren't familiar with you and your work, can you introduce yourself and tell us about your work?

Elizabeth Scala (ES): Sure, Elizabeth Scala here. Professionally, I work as a Registered Nurse. Personally, I love gardening, jigsaw puzzles, my pup and dancing to jam bands all over the country! I have my dual masters' degree in nursing and business. And even though I am quite the homebody - I do love to travel and teach others.

NTN: I love hearing about other nurses' professional journeys. How did you fall into nursing? And what area of nursing did you start in?

ES: Great question! And totally worded appropriately for me. I definitely am on that "fell" into nursing. It was NOT my agenda;  growing up, hospitals would scare me! So, senior year of college I was moving into my apartment off campus with three other girls. Two of my roommates were in nursing school. One of my roommate's mothers was a nursing faculty. And the three of them, along with my own mother, decided that after I graduated with my psychology degree that I could go straight into the accelerated nursing program. I didn't have concrete plans yet after college so I thought, "Why not!?!" I started out in psychiatric nursing, worked some in the community, and am currently a research program coordinator at a large academic medical center.

NTN: The focus of New Thing Nurse is supporting nurses as they fine their "new thing". What made you step away from the bedside? And what was your first "new thing"?

ES: Gosh - what made me step away from bedside nursing was me. I wasn't taking any care of myself. My health was in the toilet; my emotions were on a roller coaster ride. I felt miserable and one night - since I RARELY slept through a night - I was having another sobbing tantrum. My husband and I both agreed that I could not keep going at the pace I was at. I needed to take a break, and I needed to focus on myself. I left my psychiatric nursing job and made a risky decision to work just part-time at a local wellness center. I was still able to work as a nurse - as they needed a RN to head up a physician referral program - so that was kind of neat! And during that time I had many "new things". To thing about what was the first... hmm. I think it was remembering that I was an athlete growing up. I loved sports, was always in good shape, and highly competitive (smile). Being at the wellness center and around all of the equipment, personal trainers, and healthy bodies - I was like "Ohhhh yeah..." It woke me up first physically to the shape I was in. After that, more and more started to unfold and I started to feel healthy, happy, and whole again.

NTN: What helped you make that transition into your "new thing"?

ES: I would say that many things helped me. My husband being supportive and allowing me to leave my full-time job with all of the perks that went along with it. Boy, I do NOT know how we made it financially - but we did! Then, my own curiosity. My own pause and need to do things that I enjoyed. Being at the wellness center, I was surrounded by resources. I asked for help, hired a trainer myself, and got back into shape. My boss at that job was super helpful. He introduced me to the concept of "coaching" and I went into a certified coaching program. Then, even one of my clients at the wellness center helped! She was a marketing specialist and started to talk to me in between her sessions about social media, blogging, and all sorts of things I never had heard of. I guess the main thing that I believe helped is an open mind and a desire to learn more. Even if I didn't know how something would work out, saying "yes" without hesitation was super productive in taking the next step!

NTN: Do you have any tips for anyone out there who might be considering jumping into a "new thing" of their own?

ES: Hmm, interesting question. I think that it depends on what their "new thing" is. For some new things, you definitely need to wait before jumping. What I mean by that is I have done a TON of things wrong in my online work. And even now, I am at a place where I am assessing and re-assessing decisions and plans. So, if you are considering a new thing that you know nothing about, do your research. Learn more before taking a plunge.

Next, I would say to the person considering a new thing... is it YOUR thing? So often we get wrapped up in what we think we "should" be doing. I think of all the dirty words - SHOULD should be at the top of the list (LOL). That being said, I mean is the new thing something that you desire or something you are going to do for someone else? I have learned along the way that when I get into something new that isn't 100% my true heart's desire... it doesn't work out all that well. Now, other "new things" that are a bit less heavy (like trying a new hobby, such as tango dancing) - for something like that, jump in head first! I do think we need to do more new things that are fun, adventurous, and will fill our spirits!

NTN: You have been a self-proclaimed warrior against nurse burnout for a long time. What drives your work to help the nursing community fight burnout? Did you have a personal experience with nurse burnout?

ES: As shared above, yes. Yes. And, yes again. In fact, to be honest, I am noticing that I may be back in burnout again. I think from everything I have shared above speaks to this questions, but to state it another way... Burnout happens when we are riding on someone else's train. When our values, desired, strengths, and assets are not being actualized. When we are living life along the "should" of what other people want and need. Now, I do agree that we all report to somebody - at work or at home. Sure, there are things that we may not 100% enjoy. And yes, work is work, and there will be stress on a job. However, when we get away from our true heartfelt desires, then we find ourselves in trouble. Couple that with working too hard, not getting a break, or forgetting to do things that are good for your mind, body, and spirit - all of this added up leads to burnout. I do agree that the workplace needs to be supportive and help us be happy and healthy professionals. At the very same time, it is up to us to stand up and take responsibility for our own well-being.

NTN: If you could give our readers your top tip or tips towards avoiding burnout, what would they be?

ES: Do what you enjoy. Set healthy boundaries. Schedule down time, me time, and non-work time. Change it up. If you are stuck in a rut - figure out why and what needs to shift. Focus on the positive. Sure, there is a tone out there that is scary, miserable, and bad. And, even through the greatest of tragedy we can learn, grow, and transform our lives. Live as much as you can in the moment. It is when our mind wanders to the "what if" or the "should, could, would" is when we get into trouble. Stop and breathe. And don't take yourself or your life so seriously. Smiling and laughing - that can be some of the very best medicine!

NTN: Do you have any "new things" on the horizon? New Thing Nurse readers want to know!

ES: I believe that I do, but most I am not even aware of yet. As I honestly (and maybe for the very first time) shared above - I am a bit into burnout right now. And, being someone that knows the signs, causes, and what to do about it - I need to stop. Really stop everything and take pause. What are my next steps? What lights me up? How can I best serve others? I can say that I have a very special course coming out soon. The content is done, and we are working on some of the aspects of how folks will be able to interact with and enjoy the program. I also know that some of my other "new things" involving ending some things that I hae been doing for several years now. In a way, ending things is the first step to the new beginnings, right?

NTN: How can our readers find out more about you and your work?

ES: Sure, well the easiest place to find me is at ElizabethScala.com. I also have a Facebook page and community. I do hang out quite a bit on LinkedIn. And, if you're looking for resources you could check out Nursing from Within or Your Next Shift - two of my very favorite books!

Oh, and I cannot believe I forgot to mention this at all so far... my podcast! Now that I am assessing where I am at and what I enjoy - I can tell you. The podcast is NOT going anywhere. I LOVE to interview other nurses - highlighting their triumphs and lifting the profession of nursing up!! So, definitely check that out. I am sure that you'll see some familiar faces, smile.

NTN: Do you have any other advice for our readers?

ES: Boy, I could go on and on, for sure. I think I shared a lot above. To close it out, just be yourself. And, if you don't know who that is or what that self wants, take the time to figure that out. First off, you will be happy that you did. Things will go so much smoother. It gets easier when you live life as your best you. If you get off course, it's all good. Even the best of us experience burnout! And guess what? We can thank it. It is that gentle reminder that we are not living life as our highest self.

Thanks for the opportunity to hang out with y'all! I hope to "see" you online. Enjoy YOUR new things!!


ISN'T SHE AMAZING??

Hear the "Your Next Shift" podcast episode featuring the interview between Sarah K. Wells, MSN, RN, CEN, CNL and Elizabeth Scala, MSN, RN, MBA in its entirety below.

A Shift In Perspective with Sarah K. Wells - Your Next Shift with Elizabeth Scala

- Sarah @ New Thing Nurse

About the Author - Sarah K. Wells, MSN, RN, CEN, CNL is an educator, speaker, blogger and owner of New Thing Nurse, a professional and academic coaching company for the nursing world. New Thing Nurse is organized to provide support and guidance to aspiring nurses, newly graduated nurses, and veteran RNs looking to make a change in their life.

Whether it’s a new school, new job or new idea,

New Thing Nurse wants to help with your new thing!



FOLLOW NEW THING NURSE ON INSTAGRAM - @NEWTHINGNURSE

Nurse Mental Health - Let's Talk About It.

I have been sitting on this post.

I wrote this post recently, but was not planning on sharing it. I was not sure how I felt about sharing my personal story on the blog. There is a lot of stigma related to mental health in the healthcare community (and world) and while I am pretty open about my own nursing journey, I was not confident yet that I was ready to put my mental health story out in the great, wide world of the interwebs.

However yesterday there were some comments made on the New Thing Nurse social media that reminded me why it is so important to share our stories. There is an expectation that nurses need to have a "thick skin" to be successful in medicine, or it might not be the career for you. That people with anxiety or depression or other mental health diagnoses cannot be strong, capable & amazing nurses.

I THINK THAT IS CRAZY.

Nurses don't need thicker skins. They need better support. They need better coping strategies & stress management techniques. They need better work conditions. They need to know that their job is hard, that what they're feeling is normal, and that it is OK to admit if you're struggling and to talk about it.

Nurses, like all humans, have mental health. We should be concerned about their mental and emotional wellness. Nurses have to take care of themselves, so that they can take care of others.

Now, let me tell you a story.

Let’s start with a story, my story.

I was born a baby ER nurse in 2011, and it seems like only five minutes ago. 

I remember being a newly-minted nurse, hyperventilating on my way to those first night shifts. I had finished nursing school in an accelerated 16-month, master’s-entry program. It was disorganized. It went by way too fast. I did not feel prepared to save lives.  

During nursing school, I was anxious.

I was nervous about classes and tests. I was terrified during my first weeks of clinicals. The first time I went to take vital signs on a patient, I went with my classmate to record a blood pressure, heart rate, SAO2 and respiratory rate. We divided and conquered the tasks, and I almost passed out while trying to put on the patient’s blood pressure cuff. I am sure that the poor patient thought we were completely inept, but she was kind enough not to tell me to buzz off during the encounter.

Most people would say that some academic anxiety is normal. Sure. It probably is, but I have always been a nervous person. My anxiety was magnified by a million in nursing school. Because everyone kept telling me that it would get better, I shook off the fact that I cried constantly when I was alone and stress ate like it was going out of style. I once showed up at my classmate’s house and just ate a whole cheesecake. That isn’t normal.

Then I started my first job.

I was working nights, like everyone does when they start out, and was SO excited about being in the ER. It was my dream, and I was working in a great department with a very supportive staff. Yet I was barely sleeping. I was still stress eating, and sometimes I liked stayed in bed for days at a time when I was not working. When out with a crowd, I was usually fine, but I was frequently tearful at home. My then boyfriend, now husband, dealt with extreme mood swings and many crazy, sleepless days/nights. I thought it was all because I was working night shift, so I made excuses and soldiered on.

I moved to California and worked as a traveler, then as a staff nurse at several ERs. I continued to work nights. I had a terrible time sleeping, continued to be anxious and tearful when home alone and had many days where I could not get out of bed. I blamed everything and everyone for my continued anxiety and down moods. There was no way that I had a problem. It was always situational, at least that is what I continued to tell myself.

Then one day about three years ago, I was at home, an anxious, hot mess.

I was working 4-6 shifts a week at two jobs that I was juggling while trying to pay off my student loans. There had been a string of really brutal patient cases that had made me sad to the core of my being. I had not worked for several days yet at home that day, I was jumpy and crying. My husband was away on a business trip. I started looking for something to blame my mood on, but I could not think of anything - I had stopped working nights. I had gotten married. I had an amazing community of family and friends. I had a job that I loved.

So, I did what any good nurse does. I got a consult.

I found a therapist. She changed my life.

Through a lot of talking, time, exercise, mindfulness work, self-care and medicine (YES – I take medicine for my mental health), I have come to realize and accept that I have problems with depression and anxiety. For most of you reading this, you probably could have told me that years ago just by reading my story. That would have been great! But when you are on a journey of mental health self-assessment, it usually takes a lot of time to come to accept help and realize the deeper causes of your problems.

But I work in healthcare, so why didn’t I figure this out sooner?

Nurses and other healthcare workers historically HATE talking about their own mental health. We will diagnose and treat others ‘til the cows come home, but we will not discuss our own feelings for a million dollars. ER nurses may be some of the worst. We are so cowboy and pride ourselves on our ability to see the saddest, grossest, most traumatic cases and just keep going. That’s why we like to binge eat/drink/exercise/Netflix/craft. Call it what you want, but a lot of that is coping mechanisms in the extreme. I mean, have you ever seen any stress eating like a night shift pot luck? Think about it.

Things are changing.

The healthcare community is starting to talk more and more about the relationship between our work and our mental health. There are many organizations and foundations working to advocate for increased awareness of healthcare workers’ mental health needs (see below). Self-care and stress management is becoming more a part of the conversation, in addition to the need to combat compassion fatigue and burnout. This is a positive evolution for nurses and other healthcare providers everywhere. The world is starting to take note of the toll that our work is taking on us.

What else can we do?

I personally have made stress management and self-care a part of all of my education for both nursing students and veteran nurses. While awareness is the first step, we have to actively engage in self-care to protect ourselves from the negative effects of the stress of our jobs. Humans are incredibly resilient, and nurses are super stars in the resiliency game. However even super stars can burn out. We have to take the steps to not just continue to make nurse mental health a part of the conversation, but also to actively work to making self-care, mindfulness and stress management a part of our daily nursing and personal practice.

So, am I all better?

My anxiety and depression are going to be my forever friends. Sometimes they hang out with me, while other times they go on vacation. I have to continuously work on the things that keep me mentally well so that I do not backslide into the depths of Depression Town. I see my therapist regularly. I take my medicine. I (try to) eat well, sleep enough and exercise. I have started to try to meditate and stretch more.  I surround myself with positive humans. I travel. I read. I stay engaged with my professional and personal community. I continue to do work that I love – ER nursing, ENA volunteering & of course, New Thing Nurse. However, I am human, and I do not always succeed. I love donuts and cookies. I do not like to work out in the cold. I sometimes get too affected by things outside of my control (i.e. politics, family, donuts). But I do my best and most of the time, I feel like a fulfilled and happy person.

Also, I am, and continue to be, a strong and awesome nurse.

Having my own struggles with depression and anxiety have never made me a weak or bad nurse. On the contrary, I feel that I am a better nurse and advocate for both my patients and colleagues because of it. Additionally I have lead a successful ER nursing career, started a business to support the nursing community, lectured at the local, state and international level, and supported nurses and nursing students all along the way. My mental health challenges have never stopped me from being successful or effective in any role. I just have had to work harder and overcome more to achieve my goals.

Final Thoughts.

If you have read all of this, I commend you and thank you for sharing in my story. I want to make nurses everywhere realize that if you are feeling anything on the spectrum of anxious, self-doubting, irritable or sad, YOU ARE SO NOT ALONE. I have been there. I will be there again. There are so many more of us out there than you think. There are lots of other nurses talking about their own mental health journey on social media. Check them out! Let’s not keep how we are feeling a secret anymore.

Let’s keep the conversation going about our nurse mental health.

Let’s talk about it.

- Sarah @ New Thing Nurse

Want to read more about Nurse Mental Health & Wellness?

American Nurses Association - Healthy Nurse, Healthy Nation Campaign

Elizabeth Scala - Nursing from Within Blog

Nurse.org - Nurse Wellness: Not an Oxymoron

The Code Green Campaign - A First Responder Mental Health Advocacy Group


About the Author - Sarah K. Wells, MSN, RN, CEN, CNL is an educator, speaker, blogger and owner of New Thing Nurse, a professional and academic coaching company for the nursing world. New Thing Nurse is organized to provide support and guidance to aspiring nurses, newly graduated nurses, and veteran RNs looking to make a change in their life.

Whether it’s a new school, new job or new idea,

New Thing Nurse wants to help with your new thing!