This month I am featuring Emily Cheng from New York, currently traveling through Washington! This interview is raw and personal and I relate to Emily’s experiences of burnout on so many levels. She’s done a great job of tackling her own personal burnout, figuring out how to combat it, and getting back into the field to do what she loves. Plus she has some pretty cool plans coming up for 2020 so make sure to read on not to miss the news!
Tell me about your background. Where do you call home? If you’re currently traveling, where in the world are you?
What kind of nursing do you do and how long have you been a nurse?
I have been a nurse for 4.5 years in CVICU/ICU, but I am currently trying my hand in an outpatient ambulatory surgery procedural center in GI/GU procedures.
Why did you choose to become a nurse?
I swam competitively in high school and college and became a nurse after having lost both my high school and college swimming coaches. They were both father figures in my life and died of a heart attack and pancreatic cancer, respectively. The same summer I was grieving the loss of my high school coach, I was also a caretaker for a family member who was diagnosed with breast cancer. These three experiences were life-changing and transitional periods in my life, and it inspired me to want to help people.
Originally I was planning to become a physician assistant and in getting my certified nurse’s aide license, I interned at a nursing home and realized that I wanted to spend more time with patients, building trust and rapport, and advocating for them when they couldn’t for themselves. I knew that my personal experiences with grief, loss, and illness in people I loved in my life would make me a compassionate nurse since I could relate to that to personal life experience.
How did you choose which unit you wanted to work on?
I’ve always loved cardiac since nursing school, I had my capstone in the cardiac care unit and loved the intricacies and acuity of the patients. Subconsciously it may have even been having lost my high school coach to a heart attack. I started my career in a thoracic intensive care unit/cardiac care unit and then transferred to a cardiac surgery intensive care unit and loved all the technology and medicine that had to do with the heart, the core of the body.
I’m a huge advocate of preventing nurse burnout. What does nurse burnout mean to you?
Nurse burnout to me is losing compassion, patience, passion, and drive in the profession and in turn having frustration, anger, cynicism, and resentment towards your job as well as onto friends, family, patients, and co-workers. Burnout translates to depletion of energy and no longer having enjoyment in the work that you do. It is often a result of poor unit morale, understaffing, being overworked, and unsupportive environments, management, and administration.
Have you ever experienced nurse burnout yourself?
YES! I recently went through my own burnout in the summer/fall from a delayed reaction to traumas I experienced as a nurse back when I was a nurse working in New York. It wasn’t until the third travel assignment that I realized the extent of my burnout and the lack of healing and processing of those experiences I had in years past. I thought that traveling was going to heal me, and it has to an extent… but it didn’t erase the traumas I had never healed and processed before. I just masked the traumas with adventures.
How are you trying to combat or prevent nurse burnout?
I decided to take 3 months off of nursing, which I call my nursing sabbatical. I was at a point where I didn’t even know if I wanted to be a nurse anymore. I had little compassion and joy in the work I was doing even though I knew I was helping patients every day. I knew I was a great nurse, but I didn’t love what I was doing anymore. I hadn’t in a while. When I decided to walk away from nursing, I was terrified and had to let go of my death grip on my identity of being a nurse. I had to relearn and reflect on the whole person I am outside of my profession.
Travel nursing has helped me create the boundaries I needed with the job that I didn’t have when I was a staff nurse. In my nursing sabbatical, I was able to heal and have the physical space, mind, and heart space from nursing. I recognized that I didn’t want to work in the hospital environment for now and that the type of nursing I was doing was no longer serving me in the way that it did before, and that I wasn’t serving patients in the way that I did before. Since becoming a travel nurse, I’ve focused and practiced intentionally on self-love and self-care, which I believe are the keys to combating and preventing nurse burnout. I also decided that after 3 months off of nursing I would work in an outpatient ambulatory surgery procedural center rather than returning to the hospital environment. I felt that I needed more space and time from the hospital environment. I think combating and preventing nurse burnout will be a constant labor of love, but I wouldn’t take back any experiences because it has taught me so much about myself and life as a whole.
Before ending, tell me one fun fact about yourself unrelated to nursing.
I am obsessed with the outdoors! I’ve found my happiest and most grounded self when I am playing in the outdoors. And being a woman of color, a double minority in the outdoor space, one of my passion projects is to bring nurses to the outdoors to heal and connect – with nature, themselves, and one another. In Summer 2020 I’ll be hosting backpacking trips for nurses!
Where can people find you?
Thank you, Kylee, for interviewing me and sharing my story! You can find me on Instagram – @ExploRN_EmCheng, Facebook, and YouTube at ExploRN EmCheng! I empower nurses to take the deep dive into travel nursing to explore the world around and within themselves, to live sustainability, intentionally, and mindfully!
If you want to talk about your experience with nurse burnout or know someone who does, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org