Stoggles Spotlight: Julia M.
In our inaugural Spotlight, we are offering nurses the opportunity to share their personal insights about their profession in a frank and honest manner. Given that May marks both National Nurses Week and Mental Health Awareness Month, we wanted to create a safe space for nurses to speak about their experiences with nursing and mental health. Our founders, Max and Rahul, sat down with Julia M., BSN, RN to learn more about the world of nursing and mental wellness.
*This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
Max/Rahul: So how did you start off with nursing and what are the most rewarding parts of being a nurse for you?
Julia: When I first started off with nursing, I was actually an LVN first, which is like a lower kind of level than an RN. And when I graduated, it was during Covid time, so it was a pretty rough time entering the field during a whole new world of nursing.
I think when I started off in the nursing homes, it was very fulfilling. I know a lot of people have their feelings about nursing homes, “oh, it's poorly run,” things like that. But you're trying to do what you can with the resources that you have. I think that's one of the issues that makes people want to leave the profession. For example, by their second year most of the new grads are leaving bedside to go somewhere calmer because they're not getting the resources or the support that they need. The people who go into it with the right head space and the heart that it takes to be in a profession like this—those are the ones who get to survive, I would say. But it's still very hard.
I think even with the moments that make it worth it, it's still so heavy on the heart…You probably have, or other nurses probably have, so many experiences like having to hold the iPad for a patient who's passing, because they couldn't have visitors for whatever reason, especially during COVID times. So that was one of the hardest things I've probably had to experience.
But when you get the wins, that's what makes it so worth it. I remember during my clinicals, I got to discharge a patient, and they were five years old, and they were cancer-free. So things like that is what makes it so much more worth it. You have to understand that although it is a very tough job, it's so rewarding and fulfilling because you get to be there for people in their most vulnerable times. You get to see their victories, even though it's very small at times, like having them get to go home and never see them again. Hopefully because they're doing so well. It makes it worth it.
Max/Rahul: That's really great to hear. Thanks for everything that you and the nursing community do for society, it's really amazing. Particularly in nursing homes, that has to be a really difficult environment to work in.
With that we wanted to segue into all the challenges that you face. We've heard a lot about feelings of burnout and compassion fatigue, especially with COVID times. We’re curious what your experience has been with that?
Julia: Yeah, I think you guys brought up a really good point. I think there’s also a slight difference between feeling burnt out and compassion fatigue. I think compassion fatigue is much rougher to deal with. Because in healthcare—and other fields who also experience this—you see people and you experience their trauma with them. It's kind of like a secondary emotion that you feel and it's so hard to separate that from work, and to separate that from coming home. So I think that's also another struggle that the nursing community faces, because when you see all of these tough battles that your patients are dealing with, how are you not going to take that home? How are you not going to think about them and hope for the best? And when I come back to work the next day, I hope they're still here. And I hope they get to see their families. So I think that's one of the biggest struggles besides the burnout.
I know the workload is so much more intense. In the nursing field now, there’s such a gap with very experienced nurses and new grads. It’s not that the new grads aren't skilled or that they're not competent enough, but they need to have enough resources. But now you're seeing new grads or nurses that have only had a year or two years of experience train the new grads, and that shouldn't be the team support that these new grads need. That really plays a role in the retention of nurses that we really need.
But, yeah, I just feel like we don't really talk about the compassion fatigue. Because you take home a lot of the stuff, even though you don't want to.
Max/Rahul: That was a beautiful answer. Thank you for sharing. How have you coped with that, both internally with yourself, as well as by leaning on external resources that the hospital provides to help you deal with those struggles?
Julia: In my little nursing career that I've had so far, I think it was the toughest in the beginning. Just because you're a brand new baby nurse. And this is kind of your real experience on what real-life nursing is instead of being a student.
What was hard was processing that this isn't just another patient, it's another person. This is someone's parent or someone's child. This is someone's best friend. I have to think about how everyone in this healthcare team did their best, and even if their best wasn't enough, or it's just out of our hands, things happen. And if you couldn't save this one, maybe you'll get to save the next one.
It's just a slow process of life and I've had to learn to be very forgiving of myself. I know that I have to have tough skin to be here even though I am a very sensitive person. And that's one of the things I struggle with, is having that tough skin. So I just have to let myself be myself, mourn for this person for enough time, and then I have to go to the next one because the next one, maybe I have a chance with them. And I do try to talk to my partner about it, and my friends who are also in healthcare, as well as coworkers who have also been through what I've been through. Cause we've all shared these experiences. It's really important to find people in your workplace, in your unit that you can lean on when things like this happen, when you can't hold it all for yourself.
Max/Rahul: It was great to hear that you're able to lean on your support staff. Are there any other resources that your workplace provides for mental health?
Julia: For my current workplace, no, but I know a lot of hospitals do promote things like app where you can chat with a therapist. I know there's other therapy apps as well that a lot of places are starting to offer, which is really interesting. There could be a little bit more, I think. Maybe having support groups in your unit, and just having monthly or quarterly meetings with the staff where you discuss “Okay, what was the toughest part of your shifts this month? What could we do to better support you?” More things like that. I think that way nurses can feel that “Oh, I get to have an opportunity to voice myself and to let management know, this is what we need.”
Max/Rahul: And do you feel, or have you noticed whether you or your peers feel comfortable asking for mental health help? Whether from other peers or from the hospital. When you talk about it amongst yourselves, do you guys feel like there's a barrier or a stigma?
Julia: I think it depends on the person. Now you are seeing more people that are comfortable talking about their mental health, or sharing the hardships that they've experienced at work with each others in the break rooms, after work, happy hour or whatever.
I think it also depends on who are your personal people at work. I mean, you're not going to get along with everyone on the unit and that is totally fine as long as you’re able to work with each other and be a cohesive unit in the workplace. But you are going to find your tribe of people and as long as you have that, you have a safe place for you to go to when you need to talk about these certain things.
So I don't really see or notice that there is a barrier with it. I think people are probably having a hard time being more mindful, if that makes sense.
Max/Rahul: Do you think there are any steps that could be taken to improve mental healthcare for healthcare professionals going forward?
Julia: I think probably just allowing healthcare workers to take more time and space. I think there's kind of the taboo of “oh, don't take your PTO if you're not even sick, or if you're just using it to take a break.” I think more people should use their PTO if you need to take a break, because having a patient death is so traumatizing. A life is lost. If it's impacting you so much and that was just the tip of the iceberg of all the things you were experiencing, take a break. I think people don't allow themselves to have that. I think maybe more breaks and more incentives for nurses to take breaks.
I know in California, we’re really good about having breaks for nurses, which a lot of other states don't actually have. I think that's so beneficial because I can take a break and know that I get to have at least these 15, 30 minutes of being uninterrupted, knowing that my patients are in the hands of someone that I can trust. I think just relieving some nurses of some of the workload would really benefit their mental health. Besides offering different types of therapy options with insurance, maybe if it's free, or if the hospital gets sponsored by a therapy app, supporting your nurses could also just start simply with safer staffing, more adequate and supportive training, and a welcoming environment to share your concerns with upper management.
Max/Rahul: That makes a lot of sense. I have couple of questions based on just what you were saying, from a general aspect of a consumer. We're a brand that's trying to bring this to the surface and talk about this because we have a huge community within healthcare. A lot of them know about us and we want to continue to stay relevant, but continue to be impactful with the sort of things that we talk about and the things that we bring to light. So just from where you are sitting, what would you say to people like us who are at the forefront of trying to build this community and give everybody a voice here?
Julia: I think what you guys have been doing so far has been really great. I know like since I was in nursing school, I've seen Stoggles and I was like, okay, can I get a nursing paycheck? I'll definitely get one of these.
And I think the steps that you guys are taking now is really great, of trying to have conversations one-on-one with your actual consumer. And I think what could also benefit the brand is having more campaigns like this. Maybe partner up with different healthcare professionals in the community. Or showing off a new pair of Stoggles that you guys are trying to promote, but also having a certain topic or concern addressed. And then also you get a promotion for your brand.
And also, I know hospitals and certain schools do little pop-ups here and there where they promote different hospitals that are hiring, but they also have brands that want to promote their products. So maybe going out and reaching out to the community in those kinds of ways, and being more direct instead of just being online could also make more of a relationship with your consumer too.
Max/Rahul: Yeah, thank you. That's great advice. Well, thanks so much for your time. It’s been really insightful, and great to hear. We were excited to talk to you and learn more about the community and to see such compassionate, energetic people in the field working as nurses. Thanks for taking the time.
Julia: Yeah, thanks so much for your guys' time. It was really great talking to you guys. I think what you guys are doing is really great or the nursing community and I look forward to seeing more of you guys.