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Healthcare burnout meets spiritual refreshment at upcoming women’s retreat – InForum

WIMBLEDON, N.D. — It eventually all caught up with Nichole Haugen: the nursing career that had brought her to the bedside of the dying through hospice, and the deaths of her parents within close succession in 2019 — all while mothering six young children.

“I was surrounded by death and dying all the time,” she said. “It was so intense.”

When her marriage began suffering just before the Covid pandemic, the fallout showed up. “We were now stuck together, but not liking each other,” Haugen ssaid of the added time spent in close proximity to her husband, Will.

But solace came as she discovered life coaching. That, combined with her Christian faith, helped revive Haugen’s tired, despairing spirit.

“Initially, I just wanted to lose weight,” she said. “But when I lost 40 pounds in a few months, I realized, ‘Oh my gosh, what you think gives you results in your life.’ And it changed my life.”

Her renewed mindset also renewed her marriage, she says, and Haugen felt driven to help other Christian women in the healthcare field find balance, including other mothers.

Guilt is one of the obstacles women, especially mothers, who work in the healthcare field — or any field — face, she said. “You feel guilty when you’re working because you’re not with your kids. And then when you’re with your kids, you feel guilty if you can’t help out at work” when needs arise.

Additionally, many in the healthcare profession struggle with perfectionism and people-pleasing, she said. “You keep taking on more tasks and saying, ‘Yes,’ until you’re so bogged down, you have no time left for yourself.”

Lack of self-care eventually prompts a spiral. “We’re so busy giving — and we feel good when we do it — but when we do have time to ourselves, we don’t even know anymore what fills us up.”

Having benefited from life coaching, Haugen pursued certification, with a special emphasis in reaching those struggling with the work-parent balance in the healthcare field. She became certified in October of 2022 and now does this primarily, offering an initial consultation to assess individual needs.

Participants then can partake in six one-on-one sessions over Zoom. She’s also started a group coaching session specifically for Catholic nurses twice a month to talk over the unique challenges within that subset and hosts the Catholic Nurse Coach podcast.

This month, Haugen will lead a spiritual retreat for women in the healthcare industry, with the spiritual component being key. “If we have no truth behind our thoughts or rooting in the sacraments or Scripture…we can become off-kilter,” she says, adding that grounding oneself in faith prevents one from just “floating.” “(Faith) becomes your anchor.”

Ultimately, she added, “There’s no point in doing any work at all if there’s no love in it and God isn’t calling you to do it.”

Will has watched the changes most intently and supports her pursuits wholeheartedly. “The biggest thing is she now has an outlet for her stress,” he said, noting that previously, he tended to be that outlet.

“I work at a grocery store, so I go in, and clock out, and don’t think about work until the next day,” he said. But in nursing, “You’re on the clock whether you’re on it or not,” and often dealing with life-and-death issues. “When family dynamics get thrown in, you can’t shut it off.”

Downtown Dental - 2022

Whitney Bruins

Contributed / Jacy Jo Photography

Whitney Bruins, a dentist with her own practice, was trying to mother young children, but had begun feeling like she was failing.

“I kept slipping up, getting behind on my charting at work, and forgetting the little things (at home),” she said, like snack day at school and other “little” things that seemed big. “It would just eat me up.”

Bruins, who’d known Haugen since growing up as friends and “neighbors” in rural North Dakota, noticed a post on her Facebook page offering life coaching, and decided to give it a try. “She’s just helped me put things into perspective, because really, these little balls that you drop, they’re not as big as your brain makes them out to be.”

Haugen gave her mental and spiritual tools to help in daily management of life, she says. For example, she’s helped her understand that stress and anxiety — and any emotion — aren’t in themselves “bad.” “If I didn’t care so much how well I did this filling, I wouldn’t be a good dentist.” But when we let them take over our lives, “we can’t perform at the level we want, or you might snap at your kids or your husband.”

Haugen also has helped her reclaim the things she’d let go of in pursuit of her career—like running, playing the piano, and reading. “Nichole has helped me get back into the things I’ve loved, and that have made me who I am.”

A Lutheran, Bruins said she also appreciates how Haugen has helped her become more in tune with God. “I still fail, I still miss some things, but she’s helped me understand that that’s okay. We live in a flawed world.”

Betty Gemmill had previously worked in marketing, but around 2018, went back to college for nursing. “I fell in love with caring for people,” she said, first becoming a licensed practical nurse, and then this past year, a registered nurse.

Healthcare burnout GEMMILL (1).jpg

The Gemmills are pictured at Northland Community and Technical College in East Grand Forks, Minnesota, after Betty Gemmils’ RN pinning ceremony earlier this year: Betty; Mary 8; Robert, 5; Matthew, Gianna, 9 months; Joseph, 6; Kaylee, 14.

Contributed / Betty Gemmils

As the stress increased, however, Gemmill began seeking support, specifically yearning to connect with other Christian healthcare workers. “I was searching all over, but then I found Nichole, and realized she was right down the road,” said Gemmill, who also lives in rural North Dakota.

A mother of five, Gemmill shared the work-family balance issues, along with moral challenges, such as being asked to provide medications or procedures that conflict with her beliefs, and “standing up for those things.”

“There are Catholic-based nurses and doctors who need to have a place to talk about these things,” along with “how to get through nursing burnout.”

Haugen, she said, is providing “a huge space to talk openly, lean back on God, and focusing it on prayer—both before our day and at the end of our day.”

She’s helped her see things in new ways, like how caring for people all day had been leaving her depleted. “I noticed I was going to work and caring for others with this openness and positive attitude,” Gemmill says, “but then I would be short with my husband or children.” She realized she needed to be “a new mom and spouse,” in a way. “That was a beautiful thing that was unveiled to me.”

In discovering this, and after medical trials within her own family, Gemmill says she has experienced renewed peace, comfort and trust in her profession.

God made us to be in communion and community with people, she says, though we often get trapped in thinking we’re on our own. Haugen, who “has studied and prayed over a good, structured way to get through some of the work-life burnout,” has been a gift to her.

“What a great way to bring us closer together, to share our stories and lives, whether in work life or home, and then bringing in the faith life as well,” Gemmill said, “God is definitely a part of what she’s doing: bringing us closer to God and each other.”

As Haugen said of the upcoming retreat, which is open to all women in the healthcare realm who seek spiritual renewal: “Find renewed hope, reconnect with the Lord, and rest.”

What: Catholic Healthcare Retreat for Women

When: Thursday, May 30 to Saturday, June 1

Where: Maryvale Retreat Center, 3150 116 Ave. SE, Valley City, N.D.


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