Lisa LaBrie is a nurse, educator, author and speaker focused on helping healthcare professionals learn to care for themselves in order to find joy and meaning in their lives.
She began her career in nursing in 2004, starting as a new graduate in a pediatric oncology and bone marrow transplant unit. In 2009, she moved to adult oncology and bone marrow transplant. In 2001, she helped build a new allogeneic bone marrow transplant program including designing an education program for the nursing staff. From there, she worked as the inpatient nursing educator. In 2014, she struggled to find balance and happiness with work and life. She was regularly exhausted and unsatisfied at work. She wavered between numbness and feeling overwhelmed by emotions. During that time she changed her role at work several times trying to find a solution. Eventually, she went back to school for a Master’s in teaching and planned to leave the nursing profession. In 2017, when she graduated, she took a leave of absence and went to Europe.
Since that time, Lisa realized that she was experiencing serious burnout and compassion fatigue. She spent a great deal of time working with a therapist, reconnecting with herself and her relationships, and realizing that so many others are struggling with the same issues in nursing. She now writes and speaks about self-care for healthcare professionals.
Here are the biggest takeaways from our conversation:
YOU CAN’T HIDE FROM BURNOUT.
Lisa felt disconnected from her work and overwhelmed with a ton of feelings she wasn’t quite sure what to do with. She changed positions several times three years, looking to see if that would fix the problem. She went from bedside to outpatient back to bedside. Regardless of the changes, she was still struggling with the same feelings. She left nursing, went back to school, and even took time off and traveled to Europe. Even after her radical sabbatical in Europe, she still hadn’t figured out how to go forward. She began working with a therapist to dive into understanding her burnout. No one was talking about it though, but she knew everyone was feeling something with burnout when she brought it up in the classes she taught and saw how emotionally moved her students became.
DO YOU HAVE CODEPENDENT RELATIONSHIP WITH YOUR CAREER?
Our whole identity is helping others working healthcare. We tie ourselves to that identity and can only see our value through that lense. Lisa began reading this book recommended by her therapist called “Codependency No More” by Melody Beattie that brought her to the realization that she is way much harder on herself than she thought. She expected perfection with herself from every aspect. Where in life is there perfection? We demand perfection of ourselves, but know it doesn’t exist, so we’re basically setting ourselves up for failure. You are more than the value you provide at work.
WHAT IS SECONDARY TRAUMATIC STRESS DISORDER?
STSD can be defined as exposure to traumatic experience of patients and vicariously taking it in and feeling the emotional pain of the patients you care for. It manifests similar to PTSD. Empathy is the main tool healthcare professionals use when interacting with patients. The same bridge of empathy between yo and the patient is the same way you can experience the trauma from your patient. If there’s no resources for you to buffer that, your risk increases to acquiring STSD. If you’ve had a traumatic experience earlier in life, it can come back to you as a healthcare professional. For example, if you had a sick grandparent or a medical emergency in your family which inspired you to go into healthcare, you can experience an event as a working professional that can trigger that trauma. Compassion fatigue is at the beginning of this spectrum which can lead to STSD.
COMPASSION SATISFACTION FADES AWAY INTO…
Compassion satisfaction is the place where we start early on in our careers and ideally the place we want to stay. We can get out of role satisfaction that can lead to compassion fatigue, which can be caused by so many factors. Understaffing, moral distress at work, decision-making that happens for patients, high workloads, etc. What can lead to the drainage of nurses? Some personal factors like hyper-vigilance about checking a patient again, checking a chart again, calling in after work hours to check on a situation, etc. which can lead to nightmares, a heightened startle response, sleep problems, which can affect self-identity. If you are struggling with these events, you are begin to struggle with your identity. Being over-engaged can quickly turn into burnout. Over-involvement can look like a healthcare professional becoming personally involved with their patients- one of these tactics includes friending your patients on Facebook, which is a big no-no (as long as they are under you care). Being over-engaged and bringing that into your personal life can hinder your detachment.
FIND A STRATEGY TO ‘LEAVE’ WORK.
Choose certain music, listen to a podcast, purposefully find a way to check out of work mentally when you leave. Before you get into a decompressing routine, you can do a quick self-assessment and create a space for any feelings and emotions you need to process before you get home. That way, you can be intentional about resting when you get home rather than having thoughts and feelings from work tag along with you, interfering with your rest and even your sleep. Speaking of sleep, Lisa enjoys winding down with a meditation before sleep which has improved her quality of sleep.
HOW CAN YOU BALANCE THE EMOTIONAL LABOR?
The more times you have to push down your emotions or create emotions you don’t have the energy for, the greater your chances are to become emotionally exhausted, which is a stepping stone in burnout. It can be so easy to ruminate, especially after a traumatic event at work. After Lisa’s first experience with a patient that coded, she dealt with it for months and didn’t do a debriefing. She points out that research shows that debrief can be significantly helpful in you to acknowledge your feelings instead of just expecting to brush them off or hide them. Lisa created a self-care at the end of one of her classes and talked about compassion fatigue, burnout, and what self-care strategies can be used. That’s what Lisa is about- helping healthcare professionals to take time to reflect, refocus, and re-energize.