Happy, Healthy, and Whole

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Addressing Nurse Resiliency and Wellness

Nurses Margaret Gardner (left) and Ella-Mae Shupe (right) teamed up to bring Zumba classes to Hopkins staff. It’s just one example of how Hopkins nurses are managing stress and improving their health in a holistic manner.

Although Margaret Gardner and Ella-Mae Shupe, both nurses in the Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center, had made a pact to support one another in their health and fitness goals, it still took Gardner some time and coaxing to get Shupe to go with her to a Zumba class at Energy Fitness in Randallstown. “I don’t have any rhythm!” protested Shupe, but they’d been looking to break up the monotony of Gardner’s walking and Shupe’s running workouts, and Gardner finally got her to give it a try.

Neither of them could master all the moves in Patrick Parker’s soul-infused version of the popular Latin dance aero-bics franchise, but they were hooked. They loved the class so much that they teamed up to bring Patrick to Hopkins. Every Thursday since last October, 30 to 40 Hopkins staff gather in the Weinberg auditorium to be put through their Zumba paces. It’s a bonding time all around, as patients see their nurses gearing up in workout wear and the participants tease each other good-naturedly about missing steps.

The benefits are undeniable—Gardner has lost 95 pounds since starting Zumba, and Shupe has lost 45. “Now, I feel like I can handle any challenge that comes,” says Gardner. “I smile more, I have a more positive attitude, I have a great family life, and I’m so much less stressed at work.”

A Long-Term Issue Comes to the Forefront

Nurse resiliency and wellness are hot topics throughout Hopkins, with new programs and initiatives emerging over the last few years. Leaders like Sharon Krumm, PhD, RN, Administrator and Director of Nursing at Sidney Kimmel, are taking the time to examine the stress factors affecting nurses’ work and health and to find ways to address them in a holistic manner. Krumm began a study six years ago on nurse stress in oncology and developed the Professional Bereavement & Resiliency Project to deal with burnout.

Employee wellness has always been a priority at Hopkins, but in the last few years, WellNet’s Program Manager Patti Moninghoff has observed a growing demand for its services. For the past 17 years, WellNet has provided staff with wellness services, which include pamphlets and videos, regular health screenings and seminars in areas including allergies and weight management, an annual health fair, and exercise programs including walking groups that WellNet provides with indoor and outdoor mapped routes.

Moninghoff notes that WellNet strives to meet the special needs of nurses, for example bringing seminars and screenings directly to the units to accommodate the rigorous schedules of most nursing staff.  She’s also noticed that the services nurses seek from WellNet are more likely to address stress management—whether through yoga, ergonomics, or methods for improving sleep.

Smoothing the Transition

It was a natural partnership, then, when Susan Sartorius-Mergenthaler, MA, RN and SPRING Nurse Educator, sought Moninghoff’s involvement in the new Wellbeing Task Force. Sartorius co-founded the group this past autumn to help nurses deal with the transition to the new Johns Hopkins Hospital building, slated to open in 2012. Inspired by Deborah Dang, PhD, RN, the Director of Nursing Practice, Education, and Research, Sartorius and Assistant Director of Nursing Leah Yoder, MSN, RN, assembled a cross-departmental team of nurses to anticipate issues that might arise from the transition and to offer support and resources.

Sartorius and the task force immediately recognized the connection between wellness and resiliency, and knew they wanted to approach their work in a holistic way, grounded in self-care. “The unit needs to be a healthy place to work,” says Sartorius, “where nurses are able to talk freely with each other and support each other in times of grief. We need to make sure we take breaks, we need to take care of our relationships in and out of work. We need to be physically and emotionally healthy ourselves to care for our patients.”

The task force addressed the practical realities of the move to the new building with a job fair for nurses in the beginning of the year, which allowed nurses to explore options and ask questions. But in addition, the participants were invited to sample complementary and alternative healing modalities such as acupuncture, Reiki, and massage. Many of the task-force members themselves are practitioners in these areas, and they wanted to let Hopkins nurses experience the varieties of healing and self-care.

The group presents wellness topics at the monthly nurses’ forums, and seeks to get the word out about services like WellNet and to provide resources in a variety of areas, including child care, elder care, financial management, and pastoral care. They spent time evaluating the programs already available to Hopkins nurses and made it part of their mission to spread awareness about what was out there.

Sartorius hopes that this work will continue beyond the opening of the new facility, and that it will ultimately help to shape the culture at Hopkins. “As nurses, we need to live consciously and purposefully,” she says. “We need to value each other and to recognize the significance of caring for ourselves.”

Taking Time for Joy

At the second annual Renewal Luncheon, held on March 24th in the Weinberg auditorium, 100 nurses gathered to “remember the joy of why they went into nursing in the first place,” as planning committee chair Krumm put it. An idea that grew out of the palliative care program at Hopkins, the luncheon’s  attendees were invited by nurse managers who had been asked to identify staff members who could most benefit from renewal. The event was so popular, however, that it was repeated a week later as a breakfast for an additional 60 nurses.

The event’s theme of joy and gratitude was echoed in the gifts each nurse received: silk-bound journals and a CD compilation of inspiring and positive music titled “Songs of Memory, Hope, and Thanks,” put together by committee member Laurie Rome, RN, in Pediatric Oncology. The music also played over the sound system as the attendees arrived. There was time during the meal for the nurses to socialize, allowing them to spend time with colleagues from other units whom they rarely see, and they were encouraged to use the journals to write notes of gratitude and praise to one another.

The guests enjoyed a program featuring their fellow nurses that included a slide show, a guided meditation led by committee member Cynda Rushton, PhD, RN, FAAN, and a performance of Mary Chapin Carpenter’s “Why Walk When You Can Fly” by nurses Sherri Jones, MSN, RN, and Ron Noecker, RN. The piece that most deeply affected many of the nurses, however, was a presentation of audio recordings that committee member Rhonda Cooper, Chaplain, had compiled by interviewing patients and asking them to talk about how much they valued their nurses.

Krumm feels certain the luncheon will continue to be an annual tradition. “It not only accomplished what we hoped—giving our nurses a sense of joy and renewal in their work,” she says, “but it also exceeded all expectations.”

All of the Hopkins nurses who strive to promote nurse resiliency and wellness demonstrate a commitment to building partnerships, raising awareness, and creating an enduring culture where each nurse is supported as a whole person and not merely as an employee. As Margaret Gardner puts it, “We want to help make a healthier Hopkins.”

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