Last month Kelly Alysia Barrett asked me to answer some questions about my nursing career, yoga, advocacy, and how it’s all related for her OmWeekly newsletter. It took me over a month to gather my thoughts and put them on paper, but the process was enlightening. I didn’t realized how intertwined my purpose and profession had become. I didn’t realize how much the patients have taught me. I didn’t realize that yoga was the root of all of this- finding clarity, discovering purpose, making change. Thank you for making me write it all down
Tell us a little bit about how and when you got into nursing.
When I went to college, I had absolutely no idea what I wanted to do, so I picked finance. For about eight years after graduating, I worked as a consultant in real estate development and renewable energy. I still remember going home sobbing after my first day at a desk job. Yoga came into my life about 10 years ago, when I was going through several major personal and career life changes, and transformed everything. Most notably, I became more curious about my purpose. I started teaching chair yoga at a women’s shelter and was enamored with the experience of having a tangible impact on others, which got me thinking about possible careers in health and wellness. Then one day, it literally hit me. I was doored by a car while biking and ended up in the hospital. Despite the chaos of that day, I vividly remember the nurses that took care of me. They had this nurturing energy that stayed with me throughout my recovery. From that day on, I knew I wanted to work with those who are vulnerable and suffering. Within months, I completed my prerequisites and got accepted to nursing school. I currently work as a nurse practitioner and nurse in emergency/urgent care and oncology settings.
What's your current day like?
My schedule changes frequently since I work varying hours but here’s a rough outline of my day:
6am - exercise (yoga, weights, mobility work, or sprints) to wake up my brain
7am - meditate, lemon water, tea, smoothie
8am-?? - at work as a nurse/nurse practitioner
7pm - cook, eat
9pm - practice mandolin, read
10pm - bed
Execution of a daily routine is particularly challenging for me. Sometimes I work 14-hour shifts, which means I can’t get half of the above done. Ultimately the real challenge becomes finding patience with myself when I can’t do everything. The most recent addition to my routine has been learning the mandolin. Between yoga and healthcare, my brain ruminates on the human body most days, so stimulating my creative/artistic side has added a lot of balance.
How do you feel while at work? (Physically, mentally or emotionally...)
I work part-time with cancer patients in a radiation oncology clinic, which has almost felt indulgent compared to my time in the emergency room. These patients are awake. They have just had their entire lives turned upside down and face their mortality every day. What’s most beautiful about these patients is their willingness to connect to others at every opportunity. I find them to be the most patient, compassionate, generous people I have ever met and working with them fills me with joy and compassion. It’s become my fuel for my other two jobs (in the ER and urgent care), where that emotional energy can easily be drained.
What do you find to be most challenging about nursing?
Working in the emergency room is by far the most challenging job I have ever had. Our emergency room is the busiest in the Washington, D.C. region and we have limited space, which means longer waits to be seen (up to 6+ hours) and to go upstairs to a bed (up to 4 days). This creates an environment of frustration and anger, where the nurse often becomes the punching bag. What’s more, our patients are the sickest in the city, which is driven by systemic health disparities. The biggest challenge in this environment is giving every last bit of energy and compassion to your patients, only to be met with resentment. Their anger is justified…the system should make everyone angry. My emotional reserve strategy is to tap into the positive energy of the one or two patients that do reciprocate the positive energy, and use that to fuel myself with other patients that may not be so receptive.
Do you relate at all to the notion of a "flow state" and do you think your work provides this at all?
Unfortunately, I’ve always been someone who is very easily distracted. Since I have transitioned to healthcare, I find it’s quite effortless for me to overcome this tendency and tap into that absorptive quality of awareness while working. I’d go as far as to say that there is probably some correlation between work that facilitates purpose and the relative ease in which a ‘flow state’ is achieved.
Has your work changed your relationships with other people at all? If so, in what ways?
1. I really love my coworkers. There is such camaraderie around the grittiness of working in the clinical setting, no matter what your role. We all experience the death, grief, and frustration together. We bond (often through humor) through a deep understanding that we are not alone in the experience.
2. I am nicer to strangers. You just don’t know what they are going through. There are some serious healthcare disparities that are systemically driven in D.C. Just look at a map of where the hospitals are and it paints a clear picture of the injustice. Lots of folks are just trying to survive. It’s not fair. But, sit down with someone who is chronically ill or dying and they likely have a lot of wisdom to share.
Do you already have a yoga or meditation practice? If so, do you find these activities related or similar in any way, or not at all?
I try to meditate at least 10 minutes every day and practice yoga 3-4 times per week. My body naturally holds a lot of tension, so yoga has been an effective tool to release some of that work-related stress I carry. Both the yoga and the meditation have strengthened my ability to perceive my own self in a more objective way. When you have this ability to witness yourself, you are empowered to release debilitating thought patterns and see your purpose and its evolution with more clarity.
Anything else you care to share?
This year, I was part of an advocacy effort to stop the closure of a hospital that would critically exacerbate the healthcare disparities in our city. Our efforts succeeded in many ways, not only delaying the closure, but also increasing awareness of the stark inequality of healthcare services in east versus west DC. I’ve never been one to get involved in advocacy, but because this issue was so close to home, I felt like there was no other option but to participate. My point being, what if we were able to influence more positive change by advocating for our neighbors locally? If we pay attention to the injustice directly around us, our voice (and sense of duty to use it) develops naturally. I think this is the most self-empowering way to actualize impact.