Insights from Audrey Ho Van

Submitted 2022-11-01

If you were to enter my room 2 years ago, you would not be able to see the soft white carpet floor I had under my mountains of dirty and clean clothes, books, and possibly any other household item you could think of. It was not because of my inability to clean or organize my belongings, but because of my inability to put myself first before work, family, relationships, and responsibilities. I valued other aspects of my life more than my own well-being without realizing it. Although I did not fully understand a few years ago, I now know the great correlation between caring for yourself and caring for others after working as a healthcare provider.

Immediately after high school, I juggled many jobs to save up for the one day I make it into a nursing program. After working tirelessly as a chiropractic assistant and a waitress for two restaurants, I realized that the emptiness I felt at the end of each day came from unfulfillment. I spent more days working than spending time on bettering my mental state and taking care of myself physically and emotionally. The endless cycle of only coming home to shower, to sleep and then going straight into work the next morning became my normal routine. It took me a while to be able to recognize that I was doing more harm to myself than anything else could by neglecting my own needs.

I first began my healthcare journey as an in-home service provider. It was a great experience for me as I learned how to assist an elderly woman with her day to day life. However, I was still spending most of my days helping someone else live their life while neglecting my own. It was not until I got my first job as a Certified Nursing Assistant when my views on balancing work and my own personal life changed completely. I worked at a nursing home and rehabilitation center where I spent 8 hours a day feeding, showering, and tending to patients as if they were my own family members. I had to be able to transfer patients that were three times my weight, and if there was an emergency, I was expected to think fast and act quickly. Professional stressors surrounded me daily as I worked with patients with missing limbs, patients who were quadriplegic, or patients in their final life stages, in an intensely fast-paced environment. Basic life support is an essential skill I had to learn during my CNA classes; however, I learned much more about efficiency after seeing critical medical emergencies through my experience assisting elderly and terminally-ill patients. Working alongside nurses during these life-threatening incidents gave me confidence in my abilities moving forward as a nursing student.

Soon, I noticed that assisting with the rehabilitation of my patients would only be possible through maintaining a healthy lifestyle to prevent burnout. Shifting my focus after work to implement self-care strategies helped me deal with professional stressors. Tending to my own personal wellness meant more than getting adequate sleep or exercise. While I saw that my performance was best on days where I had enough rest time from my previous shift and at least 30 minutes of exercise to prepare myself physically for any potential emergencies at work, there are still multitudinous ways to achieve personal wellness. The National Wellness Institute (NWI) addresses the Six Dimensions of Wellness, which include the emotional, occupational, physical, social, intellectual, and spiritual aspects of our lives. The “Wellness Wheel” is a valuable tool to encourage self-awareness and is a great reminder of every facet of life professionals or students must also fulfill outside of work and school.

I cultivated a way to rebalance my life by prioritizing my relationships with encouraging friends and family members who made the biggest impact on my journey as a healthcare provider. I also became better at time management in order to foster hobbies such as journaling, reading and painting to help mend the spiritual, intellectual, and emotional aspects of my life. Learning how to cook healthier meals instead of ordering out also helped me physically as I maintained a more nutritionally well-balanced diet that in turn bettered my gut health and gave me more energy to assist patients at work. Now, as I am studying at West Coast University and entering my first year of the RN-BSN program, I am mindful of what it means to care for myself first in order to be academically prepared to perform my best during clinicals and my nursing core classes.

I learned the hard way that the only way you could care for someone else is by taking care of yourself first. Now, I keep my house tidy and my room neat as a reminder of the importance of proper self-care. It is true that working as a healthcare provider can be stressful, but I found that the most rewarding moments in life come after perseverance and hard work. The most important reminder is to be kind to yourself and to make time to accomplish the “little things” that make you feel your best so that you will be prepared mentally and physically to perform those basic life skills that patients trust us to be adept in. Because healthcare providers must be prepared to enter any situation fearlessly, we must have the right coping mechanisms at home to be able to have the energy to focus on performing our skills to the best of our abilities when we are in the field.