Healthy Nurse, Healthy Nation™ - #healthynurse Spotlight Series - Trang Dinh-Noonan, MSN, RN-BC
Nurse transforms her health and becomes a wellness crusader, impacting thousands.
In the health care industry, where nurses tirelessly commit to the well-being of their patients, it's easy for them to overlook their own health. In the past, this was all too familiar to Trang Dinh-Noonan, MSN, RN-BC. That’s why the #healthynurse decided to take a different path.
Trang had always been active. She grew up running cross-country and track and playing basketball. When she became a mom, she helped her children prioritize physical activity, too. But while she remained physically active, other aspects of her health were falling by the wayside.
While working as a nurse at Scripps Health, Trang’s job was to train new nurse graduates. It was during this time that Trang noticed a recurring theme among herself, those new nurses, and her coworkers.
"I became a nurse because I wanted to help my sister [who had type 1 diabetes],” says Trang. “But over the years, I realized that many health care professionals, including myself, were not paying attention to our own health.”
The Personal Health Wake-Up Call
In 2019, Trang faced a pivotal moment. She was at the lowest point of health in her adult life. She had gained weight and stopped prioritizing a healthy lifestyle. Around the same time, her sister was recovering from acute respiratory distress syndrome. The urgency to make a change was undeniable.
“I needed to do something to get myself into a better space and help my sister get to a better place in her life,” says Trang.
Trang decided to launch a health and wellness program with a group of 35 friends and family members. They broke into teams, each led by a dedicated team captain, and began competing against each other in the areas of physical activity, nutrition, mental health, and social support.
"I wanted to create something that was fun and would encourage us to build new healthy habits together as a group, instead of doing it in isolation," says Trang.
The idea was simple: Track their daily activity through Google Forms and see which team had the highest wellness scores after a certain timeframe.
Spreading the Wellness Revolution
Over time, Trang’s coworkers at Scripps Health noticed a change in her, so they asked what she was up to. When they heard about her wellness challenge, they asked if Trang could create one for the workplace. A few months before the COVID-19 pandemic struck, a group of 137 health care professionals joined the wellness challenge.
Getting active was one of the challenge’s main priorities. The nursing unit would squeeze in physical activity whenever they could, like doing wall sits during daily huddles. The culture on the unit immediately began to transform. Relationships became stronger, people had more joy, and the positive vibe was contagious. It didn’t take long for physicians and other members of the interdisciplinary team to join in.
Trang witnessed firsthand the positive change of the wellness challenges. "Micro-bursts of exercise created a healthier mindset, and attitudes shifted. Our relationships with colleagues, physicians, and other staff members improved significantly," she says.
The unit’s success drew the attention of the health system’s CEO, Chris Van Gorder, and the program soon spread to the entire hospital campus. It was clear that what Trang had started was more than just a wellness program; it was a wellness revolution.
Creating a Blueprint for Change
Trang knew that what they had was something special. In the face of overwhelming evidence that organizations needed sustainable and replicable wellness programs, she embarked on 6 months of intensive research. Trang was determined to bring her unique approach to a broader audience, and this paved the way for a larger program to emerge.
"We needed to create a culture of wellness within organizations and provide programs that were evergreen and usable for the long term," says Trang. As she adjusted the program, she grounded its components in U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and American Heart Association (AHA) guidelines and recommendations. This led to an evidence-based, comprehensive program.
The Birth of Pulsabilities, Inc.
In 2021, Trang took her commitment to wellness to another level. She returned to school, earning her master's degree in leadership in health care. With newfound knowledge and experience, she launched Pulsabilities, Inc., a comprehensive wellness program rooted in evidence-based practices.
Pulsabilities focuses on 4 pillars: nutrition, physical activity, mental health, and social support.
"Within these areas, every person has the ability to engage in some form of activity each day,” says Trang. “It's about being intentional and accountable."
And while Trang is impacting those around her, she’s also benefiting from the increased focus on self-care. She has seen a huge improvement in her own health, with daily workouts as a cornerstone of her routine.
Today, Pulsabilities has expanded to 5 hospital sites within the Scripps Health system and has over 3,200 participants. Trang's vision of fostering healthier lives and stronger connections has transcended her unit and impacted the entire health care community.
"I wanted to create a culture where we, as health care professionals, could be healthy and take better care of our patients,” says Trang.
It’s safe to say that she has accomplished this — and will continue to make a positive impact on nurses and their patients for years to come.
Trang Dinh-Noonan, MSN, RN-BC, is founder and CEO of Pulsabilities, Inc. She is also a nurse at Scripps Health in San Diego, Calif.
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