URBANA — The group of dancers in The Forum at Carle on Friday wasn’t a flash mob; it was just some hardworking nurses blowing off steam.
Nearly 300 nurses and nursing students signed up for Carle Health’s one-day Nursing Well-Being Conference.
Many of them took part remotely, but after a morning of educational sessions, the scheduled afternoon Zumba break was well-attended.
Carle continuing education specialist Kari Young is also a group fitness instructor, so she was ready to lead the group through song after song — 30 straight minutes of dancing.
Young didn’t slow down the pace for any newbies, but everyone seemed happy to show off their moves — even if they were a few beats behind.
Exercise like Zumba was on the list of stress-management tools suggested by speakers, along with mindfulness exercises and diet management.
The idea for the Well-Being Conference started with Carle Foundation Hospital President Elizabeth Angelo.
A longtime nurse herself, Angelo sees promoting mental and physical wellness as a priority.
“When I entered nursing practice, the focus was appropriately going toward the patient. That’s where it should be,” Angelo said. “But I think we’ve come to understand that we also have to have our health care workers feel supported and valued.
“In order to have people enter the profession and stay in the profession, there has to be that level of dignity and respect for the nurses and the staff, too.”
‘In his memory’
Angelo put together a committee that included Danielle Lawler, continuing education coordinator and a registered nurse at Carle, to organize the conference.
Lawler said the turnaround for getting everything together was pretty quick, since the idea only came up this summer.
The conference was such a hit that before the day even ended, Lawler said the committee might have to discuss making it a recurring event.
However, none of it could have happened without funds provided by Diane Gottheil through the Josh Gottheil Memorial Fund.
“Nurses, they deal with a lot of stress. They care about their patients, they lose patients, they see patients going through difficulty, and we want to keep them in the business,” Gottheil said.
“It’s great that we’ve been able to do something in his (Josh’s) memory. He was a special kid, and nurses are special.”
Gottheil and her late husband, Fred, formed Josh’s Fund in memory of their son, originally planning to support lymphoma research.
That kind of research is highly expensive, though, and the Gottheils wanted to see direct results of their donations.
Thinking back to the impact nurses at Barnes Hospital in St. Louis had on them and their son, the Gottheils decided to switch the focus to supporting people in that profession.
Josh’s Fund provides scholarships for nurses each year, but it has grown over time through fundraising and investment to the point that Diane started thinking about more ways to donate.
‘I’m so impressed’
She made an endowment at Barnes to support resiliency programs for nurses and wanted to create something here.
“Josh was born at Carle, he grew up here, and the nurses here are wonderful,” Gottheil said.
She met with Angelo and others at the hospital to determine the best use of the gift.
“It’s just a great program. I’m so impressed, and they did it in a short time,” said Gottheil, who attended the conference.
The main themes of the day surrounded handling stress, processing difficult parts of the job and recovering from the challenges of the pandemic.
Joanne Duffy shared examples of how nurses’ attitudes and working environments can affect their stress, which then impacts diet and life habits that only make the problem worse.
While these things were highlighted during the height of the pandemic, they were issues long before that, she said.
Duffy developed the Quality-Caring Model used by 45 health systems as a basis for evidence-based nursing that is professional but centers the relationship between health care providers and patients.
“The access we nurses have to other humans’ most intimate, private worlds is a privilege that most people never have and will never understand,” Duffy said.
Carle’s Tracy Loschen and Johnalene Radek shared personal experiences with burnout along with tips on managing it.
Loschen focused on breaking the cycle of worry. Many people in the nursing profession, she said, are people-pleasers and overthinkers.
The power of one
Radek spoke from her perspective as a manager at the time of the pandemic: having to tell families they could no longer visit, trying to stay in communication despite social distancing and supporting her staff as they struggled to keep going.
“They were so honest with me and so vulnerable. It was really a privilege,” Radek said.
She referred many of her staff to therapists, understanding her own limits as a support system.
“Going to therapy isn’t a failure. It isn’t for everyone, either,” Radek said, adding that she was grateful for therapy when the burnout hit her hard as well.
By the end of the conference, the nurses had personal advice as well as ideas to implement with their fellow staff to stay happy and healthy.
Plus, they calmed down with some breathing and mindfulness exercises before getting the energy back up with the physical exercise of a Zumba session.
Angelo closed the event with a shout-out to Gottheil.
“The power of having someone in our community care about nursing and want to come alongside us and support us — I could not think of anything more meaningful,” Angelo said.