Healthy Nurse, Healthy Nation™ - #healthynurse Spotlight Series - Shaquita Starks, PhD, APRN, PMHNP-BC, FNP-BC 4213

Healthy Nurse, Healthy Nation™ - #healthynurse Spotlight Series - Shaquita Starks, PhD, APRN, PMHNP-BC, FNP-BC


Daily planning keeps nurse Shaquita Starks on track.

If there’s one word to sum up #healthynurse Shaquita Starks’ approach to wellness, it’s planning.

Shaquita goes above and beyond to schedule healthy habits into her day — in more ways than one. Beginning when she wakes up at 5:30 a.m., her wellness activities are mapped out.

Making Time for Mental and Physical Health
She starts with time set aside for a spiritual reading, then spends about 45 minutes exercising. Day-to-day, Shaquita switches up her workouts, which might include:
  • Cycling
  • High-intensity interval training (HIIT)
  • Moderate-level cardio
  • Outdoor walks
  • Weightlifting

Each week, Shaquita allows herself to take a rest day or dedicate one day to stretching. She uses a fitness tracker to monitor her workouts, calories, and goals.

After exercising and getting ready, Shaquita begins her workday. During those hours, she tries to avoid being too sedentary. She uses a standing desk as she works.

“I’ve always been disciplined,” says Shaquita. “I’ve fallen off the wagon at times, but generally I’ve always exercised and kept a balanced diet.”

Setting Herself Up for Dietary Success
That means Shaquita is a planner when it comes to diet, too. She maps out what she’s going to eat for the week ahead. First, she plans her meals, then on Sundays she goes grocery shopping to purchase the ingredients. Then she comes home to cook and prep 3-4 meals for the upcoming week.

A favorite breakfast option for Shaquita is smoothies made with vegetables, fruit, and a healthy fat, like Greek yogurt or avocado. For lunch and dinner, she loves salads with a protein and healthy carb, like quinoa or sweet potatoes.

As she eats her planned meals and snacks, she tracks the calories in a mobile app. Not only does this ensure Shaquita eats the right amount of calories, it also helps her balance her macros (fat/protein/carbs).

Staying Focused on What Matters
When asked what keeps her motivated to maintain this healthy lifestyle, Shaquita mentions her biggest inspiration: her kids.

“I want to make sure I’m healthy so I can be a good mother and a good example to my kids,” says Shaquita. “I can’t tell them to take care of themselves without also taking care of myself.”

And while Shaquita is disciplined, she’s still human and faces hurdles. As an Assistant Professor at the Emory University Nell Hodgson Woodruff School of Nursing, she’s got a tremendous amount of work to do. But her deliberate planning and scheduling of healthy habits helps keep her accountable. She’s also deliberate about shortening her workouts into smaller bites of time, to make them more manageable.

“I spend time on my wellness first thing in the morning to avoid excuses for not being able to do it later in the day,” says Shaquita. “If I prioritize wellness at the start of the day, the rest of the afternoon I can work hard on my job.”

She also pays attention to the physical cues from her body that tell her to slow down. If she’s feeling fatigued, she’ll take a break and gradually ease back into her wellness activities. “I give myself permission to be flexible at times,” says Shaquita. “I acknowledge all of the things I have to do, and I forgive myself.”

Shaquita’s Advice
It’s just as important for nurses to give themselves grace as it is for them to prioritize their own wellness. Consider these words of wisdom from Shaquita:
  • Don’t feel bad for prioritizing yourself: If you don’t take care of yourself, who’s going to? It’s easy to get burned out if you don’t prioritize yourself, and it’s OK to feel good for doing it.
  • By taking care of yourself, you’re setting an example for your patients (and your family): You’ll do a better job if you’re a model of what health and wellness looks like. For example, if you’re talking to your patients about not smoking or losing weight, but you’re a smoker yourself or overweight, they may be less likely to trust you. Talk to them about your struggle (if you’re comfortable doing so) and what you’re doing to try to be healthier.
  • Make a plan and try to stick to it: If scheduling all meals, time for mindfulness, and exercise feels like too much for you right now, start small. At the beginning of the week, plan to work out 3 mornings and make sure you follow through. Or plan, shop for, and prep healthy lunches for the week. Once you get into a routine with one new healthy habit, start planning and following through with a new one.

Shaquita Starks, PhD, APRN, PMHNP-BC, FNP-BC, is an Assistant Professor at Emory University Nell Hodgson Woodruff School of Nursing.

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Blog #healthynurse Spotlight 08/09/2022 2:46pm CDT

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The #healthynurse Spotlight is a shout out to nurses who are making changes in their lives to improve their health and wellness. You can too! Read their stories for inspiration here.