Cover Feature

Helping Nurses Take Care of Themselves


AS COVID-19 SWEPT ACROSS THE U.S. in 2020, one of the recurring themes — still prevalent today — is that nurses need support for their own well-being so they can continue to effectively care for patients and families.

“Caring for patients with COVID was very taxing,” says Lisa Baumgardner, associate chief nursing officer at Sarasota Memorial Hospital. “Nurses were experiencing the stresses that society was experiencing, such as uncertainty, fear of illness for themselves and their family; some had family members who lost their job, and nurses experienced much more death at work than in pre-COVID times.”

For most nurses, the pandemic didn’t create wellness issues, but it did exacerbate them. A 2017 American Nurses Association survey found that 68 percent of nurses put their patients’ health, safety and wellness before their own.

“It’s not that nurses lack the knowledge,” says Rayna Letourneau, an assistant professor in USF’s College of Nursing and interim executive director of the Florida Center for Nursing. “We know what it takes to be healthy, we promote health and wellness, but we don’t necessarily practice it.” 

If the stressors begin to overwhelm nurses and negatively impact their well-being, they may choose to leave the profession.

“We have the opportunity and the expertise to make improvements and create healthy work environments, which allow nurses and nursing students to flourish and thrive in their careers,” Letourneau says. 

With support from philanthropists David Kotok and Christine Schlesinger, the Gulf Coast Community Foundation, Sarasota Memorial Healthcare Foundation and the USF Foundation, the college and Sarasota Memorial came together to find ways to support clinical nurses.

“As we talked, it became clear that we wanted to place a higher value on the wellness of nurses,” Baumgardner says. “We teach nurses how to care for others but not how to care for themselves and it’s time to change that.”

The result was a pilot initiative, Excellence in Nursing During COVID-19 and Beyond, through the College of Nursing’s Office of WIRES (Wellness, Innovation, Resources, Education and Support).

The initiative is designed to promote personal well-being and retention of nurses in the profession. There are two components. One supports the transition of nursing students from academia to practice. The other is the Well-Being Coaching program, which supports nursing students and practicing clinical nurses in developing health-promoting strategies.

“The Well-Being Coaching program includes didactic content delivered through an online learning portal and small-group coaching led by board-certified wellness coaches,” Baumgardner says. “Based on the science of positive psychology, participants explore concepts like gratitude, purpose and self-compassion while discussing tangible ways to apply these concepts to everyday life with the coaches as their guide.”

According to Letourneau, the coaching strategies may benefit other health care professionals.

“A lot of the well-being problems that we experience among nurses are also experienced with our other health colleagues,” says Letourneau, who also is the founding director of the Office of WIRES. “Physicians, respiratory therapists, pharmacists and many others also experience similar issues. Nursing has an opportunity to really be the leader in studying the issues and creating programs to rectify some of these problems.”