ANA Healthy Nurse, Healthy Nation® Spotlight - Heather Meissen DNP, ACNP, CCRN, FCCM, FAANP 4782

ANA Healthy Nurse, Healthy Nation® Spotlight - Heather Meissen DNP, ACNP, CCRN, FCCM, FAANP


Nurse shares her passion for resiliency and retention

Identifying a problem isn’t helpful unless you try to find a solution. That’s how #healthynurse Heather Meissen, DNP, ACNP, CCRN, FCCM, FAANP, has always felt. It’s also why — when she found herself experiencing burnout as a critical care nurse practitioner— she desperately searched for a way to fix it.

“I stepped back and thought, ‘What can I do, and how can I fix this? What direction can I go in?’” Heather says. “I decided to go back for my Doctorate of Nursing Practice (DNP) and focus on executive leadership and nursing education. That’s whats so great about nursing — there are so many career options. Finding an alternative path challenged my mind and brought back the joy I had for critical care practice.”

But throughout her studies, Heather couldn’t shake some nagging thoughts: Why did she choose this path versus leaving the profession altogether? Why could she recover from burnout while other nurses could not?

“There’s a lot of literature describing burnout, but there’s nothing that gives us a solution,” Heather says. “Organizational programs tend to focus on wellness — which is important for creating healthy work environments. But they don’t teach us how to recover from negative experiences. They don’t fully fix the burnout problem.”

Understanding the Difference Between Wellness and Resiliency
Heather has always practiced wellness, which helps keep her balanced. But she knows it was resiliency that helped her fight burnout.

“Wellness is the day-to-day active integration of healthy behaviors to promote good physical and mental health,” Heather says. “Resiliency is the ability to overcome distress that stems from negative experiences.”

Heather explains that burnout typically involves one or more of these issues:
  • Emotional exhaustion resulting from continued stressors or accumulated stress, such as caring for critically ill patients or feeling pulled in many directions by work and family
  • Depersonalization means feeling cynical about your work or detaching yourself from your work as a caregiver
  • Lack of personal accomplishment is the feeling that your hard work goes unrecognized or doesn’t make a difference

Once Heather understood the symptoms and causes of burnout, she realized the solution may lie in resiliency.

Discovering the Importance of Resiliency Training
When Heather had to choose a topic for her DNP program project, she knew she wanted to focus on ways to reduce burnout and improve nurse retention. Her project’s research revealed that resiliency is a learned behavior.

“I’m passionate about workforce development,” Heather says, “so I was excited about the potential of teaching resiliency to nurses with an end goal to improve retention.” But her devotion to the issue didn’t end there.

Heather led a small and unpublished pilot study that involved teaching resiliency to nurse practitioners and physician assistants in the critical care fellowship program she directed. The study showed a trend toward reduced burnout among participants.

Now, as a professor and program director, Heather teaches DNP students who are repeating her study. However, they are doing it on a much larger scale focusing on nurses.

What resiliency training involves
Since Heather is not a psychologist, she relied on established resiliency training models to learn how to teach resiliency.

“We can train our minds to help us fight burnout,” Heather says. “We need to actively push ourselves to deal with each stressful or traumatic event when it occurs, so stress doesn’t build over time.”

Heather’s resiliency training for burnout involves:
  • Stepping back: Identify and evaluate the driving force that made you feel this way.
  • Active thought and engagement: Acknowledge the situation emotionally by talking through the situation and your response to it. Doing a deep dive into the experience will help you cope with the outcomes that occurred.
  • Building your toolbox: Establish tools for future use during stressful events. Pausing (taking a moment after a patient passes) is one resiliency tool that allows your brain to acknowledge and process the situation.

“You’re not going to have a career free of complications and bad outcomes,” Heather says. “How we respond to negative experiences sets us apart and helps us grow.”

Creating an Environment of Resiliency That Leads to Retention
Heather was part of a team that published a study about burnout among health care providers in a critical care environment. The team evaluated burnout both before and after the COVID-19 pandemic.

“What we found is that nurses are the ones experiencing burnout at the highest levels,” Heather says. “All types of providers have burnout, but nurses are statistically experiencing it the most.”

Heather believes that instilling resiliency in nursing students may be the answer. As a leader in her community, she fosters an environment of resiliency by:
  • Sharing her story: Heather is open and honest when she speaks to nursing students about her experience with burnout. Bringing it out in the open creates a safe space for students to discuss their struggles — which Heather believes is the first step in building resiliency.
  • Establishing touch points: Heather performs “pulse checks,” asking students how they are doing and feeling. She encourages them to talk about their issues so they can address them together.
  • Keeping her eye on the prize: The ultimate goal is nursing retention, and Heather believes that seeing retention numbers improve over the next few years is critical.

“Nursing is a tough career,” Heather says. “But recognizing that fact and creating a community focused on resiliency helps support nursing students during their training and throughout their careers. The whole purpose is to find a long-term solution, not just define the problem.”

Heather Meissen DNP, ACNP, CCRN, FCCM, FAANP, is an associate professor and program director for the MN+MSN pathway at the Nell Hodgson Woodruff School of Nursing, Emory University. She is also an acute care nurse practitioner in the surgical intensive care unit at Emory University Hospital.

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Blog #healthynurse Spotlight 07/08/2024 8:54am 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.