Getting to the heart of travel healthcare.

A podcast hosted by Sunny & Matt

Podcast Transcript


Cardium welcomes Julia Hebenstreit of The Kim Foundation to the podcast to talk about mental health and the importance of traveling healthcare professionals practicing self-care while they are on assignment.

Mental Health and Self Care While on Assignment

November 27, 2019


Voice Over: Welcome to Cardium from Aureus Medical, the podcast that gets to the heart of travel healthcare and asks, what's your why? With each episode, we explore the topics and issues that impact healthcare professionals in the fields of nursing and allied health. Now, here are your hosts, Sunny and Matt.

Matt: Welcome to another episode of Cardium. If you're a subscriber, welcome back, and we thank you for being part of the Cardium family. If you're a new listener, thanks for stopping by. We hope you enjoy the podcast and we would love for you to subscribe, so you can enjoy future podcasts. I'm joined here with Sunny, as always. Hi, Sunny.

Sunny: Hi.

Matt: How are you doing today?

Sunny: I'm good. How are you?

Matt: I'm well. How was the weekend?

Sunny: Lots of fun. How was yours?

Matt: It was good.

Sunny: Did you get to relax this weekend at all?

Matt: No, that's typical weekends. That's the way it goes. That's all right. Well, I'm happy that we're here today, Sunny. I'm really happy about the topic we're talking about.

Sunny: Yeah, me too.

Matt: Healthcare professionals have a lot of stressors in their lives, and their work days are almost always full of stress.

Sunny: For sure.

Matt: Traveling healthcare professionals have to deal with all those same stresses and all those same stressors, but they have to do it sometimes thousands of miles away from their family and friends and their home and it's a lot. It's a lot to put on them and it leads us to our topic of the today's podcast and I'm really excited about it. It is, Mental Health and Self-Care While on Assignment.

Matt: Our guest today is, Julia Hebenstreit. Julia is the executive director of The Kim Foundation. She received her Juris Doctorate from Creighton University and her bachelor of science in journalism from the University of Nebraska Omaha.

Matt: Prior to joining the foundation, she worked in the nonprofit sector in development, strategic planning and communications and advancement. She serves as president of the Nebraska Association of Behavioral Health Organizations as the national council for Behavioral Health's Hill Day, state captain and as an active member of the Nebraska Suicide Prevention Coalition, Metro Area Suicide Coalition, Connections Advisory Committee, RESPECT Advisory Board and Behavioral Health Education Center of Nebraska's Advisory Committee. Welcome again, Julia. That's a lot.

Julia: It is a lot. It keeps me busy for sure.

Matt: You've done a few things.

Julia: Just a couple.

Matt: Well, thanks for joining us today.

Julia: Yeah, absolutely. I'm excited to be here. I think that this topic is really interesting and oftentimes people don't think about the mental health of all healthcare professionals, but certainly as you mentioned, the travelers, that brings a unique perspective to their situation.

Julia: As healthcare professionals, people are taught to take care of others and that's why they serve and how they serve each day and they aren't necessarily as good about taking care of themselves or prioritizing that self-care for them. So, it's important and I am excited you guys are addressing this for them because it provides the opportunity to educate people on how you can take care of yourself, how you can prioritize your mental wellness and things to watch for while they're out there in the field. So, I'm excited to be here today and looking forward to the conversation.

Sunny: One of the first questions that we wanted to ask you is, why would a traveling healthcare professional reach out to you and/or The Kim Foundation?

Julia: Yeah. We get calls, I would say on average once a week probably from our various affiliates and the topics really range and the questions are all across the board. But I would say, the most common that we see is the residual trauma after a domestic violence incident, depression, anxiety, really just that loneliness and that whole transition period can cause a lot of stress and anxiety for people. And so, sometimes we're really fortunate that people reach out early and before they're in that crisis point, but we certainly have had travelers that are in serious need of care and we're able to connect them with some help and get them in a situation that can really lead to recovery for them.

Julia: People always ask, "Well, how do you help them, if you're...". We're in Omaha, Nebraska and they're maybe out in California or Utah or Maine. And we, through our national affiliates, are able to have connections across the board through associations we belong to and really do research within that community or reach out to counterparts and try and find them some different options. We certainly will never endorse one provider over another, but provide options so they can see what best fits their need and their situation, depending on insurance and payment and all of that. So, the calls really vary, but those are our most common and how they reach out.

Julia: I mean, people can contact us directly at the foundation, but most often we're connected through their account manager and recruiters. I think too, we've seen it both ways where some people are a little nervous about reaching out to their account manager or recruiter and saying and admitting, I need some help. I'm not at my best self. Sometimes, once they make that step and reach out for help, they're always happy to find that their account manager is excited, not... they're excited that they have the resources available to them that they know how to help because they are taught, okay, we have the foundation here, we can find them the help that they need. Most people are surprised at how easy that process is.

Julia: All across the board, not just with health care professionals, there is still a significant stigma around mental health. And so, that keeps anyone from reaching out for help sometimes, but especially when it's your employer that's involved. And so, it's important that they reach out, understand that they will have a welcome audience on the other end and people that connect them to the help they need.

Matt: Yeah, recruiters really are the lifeline in many ways. Even though, folks that are traveling may have family friends that they've left behind, so they can start this traveling adventure, which is fantastic. But oftentimes, the recruiters really are the lifeline. They're sometimes the very first go to.

Matt: This leads me to the next question, and I know we're diving in here, but the warning signs, because not all of the calls are from people that are necessarily needing the help themselves, but they've run across someone, whether it be a co-worker, whether it be a recruiter that actually has recognized some warning signs. So, can you talk a little bit about that?

Julia: Yeah, absolutely. You're right, we do have people that are either concerned, yes, about themselves certainly, but maybe concerned about a sibling, or their own child that's traveling with them perhaps, or recruiters that reach out and say, "You know, my traveler is, you know, she said this or she's doing this. And usually she's really on and she shows up for every shift and I'm just really worried about her. What can I do?" And so, some of those signs that anybody can look for really that isolation piece, they start withdrawing from their normal activity. That's the most significant thing is to look for that change in pattern of behaviors, so maybe it's withdrawing, maybe it's the sleeping patterns.

Julia: Recruiters could potentially be getting emails or calls at all hours of the night when normally that traveler should be sleeping during that time because they're working days or vice versa, if they're working nights and just some sporadic behavior, really irrational and some change in terms of their reaction to certain situations. Maybe they suddenly have... they lean towards anger or lashing out when it really doesn't fit the situation.

Julia: And then also, just calling in sick, not showing up to their shift, or really anxious about what are the next steps or especially around some of the domestic violence pieces. People are worried about, how can I get out of this situation? What's next for me? Is that even going to be something that's possible? And so, asking a lot of questions maybe that seem to have pretty tense and a lot of anxiety around them.

Matt: So, you guys handle all of those calls. And even if it's someone maybe they need help recognizing those signs... we at least put them in touch with people that can help them walk through maybe those patterns that are just not normal that they've seen before in people they care about.

Julia: Yeah. One thing, people are always like, "Well, I don't see them, so I don't know if they're eating too much or eating too little, or I don't know if they're sleeping too much, or sleeping too little." All of us have had gut feelings and we always encourage people if you get that gut feeling, act on it and ask the question because that's the most important thing is no one ever is going to be upset with you or mad that you took the time to care enough about them to ask.

Sunny: I think that's the important thing to remember is just to ask the question.

Julia: It's okay because that's a myth out there too is, we don't talk about suicide, we don't talk about depression, we don't talk about anxiety, because then it's going to give the people ideas. That's been proven time and time again to be a myth. And so, it's actually very important to ask those questions and to have a conversation with people.

Sunny: What would you say for, if you're the nurse or if you're the healthcare worker yourself and maybe you don't know that you are going through something, what are some signs that you need to recognize within yourself?

Julia: Well, one thing I encourage people to do, and especially travelers who are going maybe to unfamiliar cities is, do some research ahead of time, so that you know if something is happening here is who I can reach out to, here's what's there for me, but also establish a wellness plan. And so, you know what you look like at your best self and even write it down. Sometimes people are like, "Well that's cheesy. I don't want to do that." But when you're in a healthy spot, it's much easier to identify what you look like and what you're doing when you're in a good spot as opposed to when you're feeling unhealthy and you're at that crisis point, so write it down, put it in your phone, put it in your tablet, wherever it may be.

Julia: And so, then when you start identifying things that you're concerned about with yourself, whether that's you can't sleep, you're not eating, you're having a lot of anxiety, one significant symptom that's overlooked most often is physical pains, whether that's headaches or stomach aches and you can't identify why that's happening, that certainly can be a sign of both anxiety and depression, and so when you start identifying those, pull out that wellness plan. What do I need to do to get back to my best self? Maybe that's outpatient therapy. Maybe you've been on medication, but you'd stop taking it. Maybe it's just identifying some better self-care practices. So there is a lot of different... And it can be a combination of things.

Matt: You had mentioned self-care and I think it's important too that we talk about some of the ways people can, healthy coping mechanisms while they're on assignment because there are many times they're by themselves and even though they make friends while they're on assignment, they're there temporarily. So, they're there for a little while, and then they're moving on and making a whole new set of friends. So, can you give us some examples of healthy coping mechanisms?

Julia: I think sometimes when people hear self-care or healthy coping mechanisms, they think it's really foo-foo and out there and it has to be this big grandiose thing, and that's not the case. All of us participate in self-care every day, whether we don't, we may not identify it as that, but it's happening. And so, it can be as simple as breathing exercises, it can be journaling, it can be getting fresh air, or if you have a pet with you interacting with that pet, getting out and like today enjoying the sunshine out there and getting that little vitamin D, but there is so many things. You just have to find what works for you. It can be yoga, it can be meditation, it can be physical exercise of any kind. You talked about, you're into biking. It can be getting out there and taking that bike ride or going for a jog. So, there is many different things that people do and it's just a matter of finding what works for you.

Julia: I think self-care is so important, so I could talk about this all day. One of my favorite quotes out there is, "You can't serve from an empty vessel." I think healthcare professionals, again, you're there to serve others and that's what you're trained to do, but if you're not taking care of yourself and you are that empty vessel, you're not serving others at the level you'd like to, so it's important.

Matt: That's so true. You see people, healthcare professionals, especially and they're giving their all, and they're pouring their heart and soul into the patients and patient care and you wonder what's left for them at the end of the day, at the end of the shift? Self-care obviously is a pathway for that. How important is that?

Julia: It's so important. I come from a family of nurses and my mom is still a nurse actually almost 40 years now. I think for a long time, especially when there is kiddos involved or family and you're trying to please everybody, you're going to work and you're serving patients, you're coming home serving your family there is not a lot left for you. And so, it's important that you take that time and really find again, what's that practice that you need to get to your best self? We're always the ones that get put on the back burner because we're taking care of everybody else and it's important to realize you have to prioritize yourself too.

Matt: Amen.

Sunny: If you had to narrow it down to top three things that you would advise travelers on the road, especially when they're starting and having that anxiety going into a new assignment, or moving from place to place, what would be the top three things that you would advise them to do to have that self-care?

Julia: Well, I would say just mental wellness as a whole, if I could broaden that just a bit is, well the self-care. Identify what your self-care plan looks like and keep consistent with that because that can be hard when you're traveling, so make sure it's your self-care involves things you can do when you're not at home necessarily. But also just with your physical health, when you're traveling you know, if let's say you're on heart medicine or cholesterol medicine, you know to make sure your prescriptions are ready or you know where you're going to... what pharmacy you're going to get them refilled at.

Julia: Take that time to also research, what do I need to make sure I'm at my best and mental health as well? We all have physical health, we all have mental health, and so it's important that you treat them both the same and do that research ahead of time to know what you're going to need and who you could reach out to.

Julia: And then I think also know that you're not alone. I think, again, mental illness can be so isolating for people and especially now travelers who are potentially cut off from their familiarity and their world that they knew beforehand. And so, if you add mental illness to that, it can be even more isolating. And so, know that you're not alone in this. You're not the only one experiencing the feelings you may be feeling. But also, there is people there to help and it's important that whether it's your recruiter, whether it's someone within the health system, or a facility you're in there is going to be someone that you can reach out to and it's important to make that connection.

Sunny: Usually no matter where you go, you also have support groups, so depending on what your mental health issue is there is a support group for you. And being a former addictions counselor, if that's your thing, if that's what you need help with there is usually a church group. There is a AA, or an Al-Anon, or something that you need support with, you can always find a church group to go to. You can also ask your counselor, what resources can you help me find? I'm going to be away for 13 weeks, can you help me find someone in this area? There is always someone to reach out to.

Sunny: Part of being able to take care of yourself, self-care hint, is to be able to take a proactive approach to your own. You have to be able to take responsibility for your own self-care, so by doing that.

Julia: I think sometimes that's the hardest thing with someone who is experiencing a mental health condition. Again, they feel very isolated and reaching out may seem like the hardest thing for them to do at that time. But it's can turn and ultimately be the most important thing that they do.

Sunny: Yeah. It's not a handout, it's a hand up. Right?

Julia: Yep.

Matt: You touched on this a little bit before and I think it's really important. What should someone, if our listeners, someone out there, they need, they recognize help, what's your first piece of advice you give them? They recognize that they need to talk to somebody. What would you recommend they do first thing?

Julia: Make sure that you reach out to someone and not bury it and be like, oh, maybe I'll feel better tomorrow, or maybe I'll feel better next week because if you truly do have a mental illness and it's left untreated, it can lead to very serious, I hate to say consequences, but certainly it can lead to serious situations. And so, if you have depression or anxiety and that's left entreated, it ultimately could lead to suicide, or thoughts of suicide, and we want to make sure everyone is as healthy as possible. So number one, reach out to someone.

Matt: Recruiters included, correct?

Julia: Recruiters, absolutely. They can always connect you with us too if you need. There is so many resources out there, no matter where you are that remain consistent throughout the country, and so I can touch on a few of those right now if you'd like.

Julia: But, the Suicide Lifeline is 24/7. You'll be routed to a crisis counselor. There is about 200 call centers throughout the country, and so you're routed to someone as close to you as possible that can, that knows your community and knows where to get help. And that number is 1-(800)-273-TALK or 8255, and so that is I think the best number to know and I encourage people to put that in your phone because I rattle that number off 10 times a day, but when it came to myself, or my daughter, or family member needing the help, I might not be able to remember that, so put that in your phone. (800)-273-TALK.

Julia: There is also the Domestic Violence National Hotline that no matter where in the country you are, you can call that. That's 1-(800) 779-7233. On our website, there is a list of national resources and it'll link to, there are dozens if not hundreds of resources on there for all different parts of the country and you can link through to those directly from our website.

Matt: Yeah, that's pretty important. There is a lot of resources out there and a lot of people that are there to help. Julia, you've been with The Kim Foundation since 2000-

Julia: 2011.

Matt: ... 11 and before that you've done a lot of things as we read your bio. How many people do you help a week, a month through The Kim Foundation directly, would you say?

Julia: Oh, gosh. Well, the foundation is not just me, so I say as the foundation as a whole, we reached last year, just through our presentations, reached more than 37,000 people and that's just on the education piece. I would say the calls and emails we get on a weekly basis probably range between five and 10 from just local community members not knowing where to go. We get national connections from people just not knowing where to go is the biggest concern, or what to do, or how to help someone they care about, so there is a lot out there. But, that's what we're here for and we continue to do it.

Matt: Pretty important work.

Julia: Yeah.

Matt: Julia, there is so much to talk about, about mental health and self-care while on assignment or not. There is just so much there. You could talk for days about it. Yeah, I think you probably have days of notes that you could talk about it. If you had to leave the audience, the listeners with some last pieces of advice, some things that you would really want someone to know, what would that be?

Julia: I think being self-aware of how you're feeling both physically and mentally is so important and watching for some of those warning signs and that change in pattern and behavior either in yourself or in someone you care about and that you're worried about. I think it's important to remember, we all have bad days. Some of us even have bad weeks. The important timeframe to watch for is two weeks or longer is what they say. If you notice people's they're eating too much, eating too little, sleeping too much, sleeping too little, withdrawing, having a lot of impulsive behavior, risky behavior, just not really caring about what the consequences are out there, if that's going on for two weeks or longer that is certainly a time that you need to reach out for help.

Julia: But, I always caution people with, if you notice that or feel, get that gut feeling after a week that doesn't... Don't be like, well, Julia said two weeks. You have to know yourself and know those you love. You do know them best. And so make sure, again, if you get that gut feeling that you asked the question, how are you doing? Are you doing okay?

Julia: If you're really concerned and they're having suicidal thoughts or conversations, be very direct with them. I'm worried about you because I've noticed A, B, and C. Are you thinking of suicide? Are you thinking of killing yourself? It's important that you're as direct as possible and that you're specific about why you're worried about them. And if it's you, yourself, again, if you identify those signs in yourself, just please reach out for help. That's the biggest thing. Don't ever just feel like I'm going to take this on myself, I can handle this, I got this it. You don't have to do it alone and it's important to reach out.

Sunny: There is so much we can dive into, and so will you promise to come back later on?

Julia: Sure. I'd love to.

Matt: Yeah, we want you back.

Sunny: We'd love to have you.

Julia: Okay, great. I'd love to come back.

Sunny: Okay.

Julia: Yeah.

Matt: Well before you leave, I have another question for you.

Julia: Okay.

Matt: We love to ask this question and it's a real simple one. What is your why?

Julia: Yeah, I think my why of why I do this is I've had family members who have been impacted significantly with mental illness and have lost friends to suicide, and it's important to me that no one ever feels like they're alone in that and feels like they don't have someone to turn to. That's what we do at the foundation every day is make sure to help others and make sure the community knows that we're here for them. We'll keep doing that for sure.

Julia: That's the biggest thing for me is just the days that we get to help people and know that we help them. Don't get me wrong, there is a lot of days that are really hard and emotional and we're learning of people who have died by suicide, or who have attempted or are just really struggling. But, those are outweighed by then the days where we know that we've helped a family or an individual get the help they need, so that's why we do it and we'll keep going.

Matt: Pretty important. Well said. Well, thank you again for joining us, Julia.

Sunny: Thank you, Julia.

Matt: We will have you back.

Julia: Thank you. I'd love to come back.

Matt: Great, thank you.

Julia: Yeah.

Matt: We just heard Julia's why, and what a great why and I think it's such a good part of this, the health awareness. The self-care that Julia spoke about is really knowing your why and knowing the core of what you're, what are the reasons you're out there doing it.

Sunny: Yep, and I think what probably resonated most with me was when she said that, "You can't serve from an empty vessel," and just a reminder to whether you're healthcare traveler or serving in a different capacity, just any healthcare provider out there, just remember to take care of yourself and that we appreciate all that you do, but appreciate yourself number one.

Matt: We also love to hear the whys from the healthcare travel community. Let's listen in.

Rebecca: My name is Rebecca and I've been a traveling PT for almost a year now, and what really got me interested in it is in PT at first was the fact that I had to go to PT myself and I really appreciated that the therapist not only got me better physically, but also helped me emotionally. I thought it was a really cool job to work closely with people and getting that great of a relationship and outcomes. And then doing travel, I think it's really great because you get to help all different populations and see the world and have fun while enhancing your career and your opportunities and your network.

Matt: Well, that's going to wrap up today's podcast. We'd love to hear from you, so please drop us a review. Let us know your thoughts on today's topic or anything else you'd like to discuss. Sunny, it's been great.

Sunny: Thanks, Matt.

Voice Over: You've been listening to Cardium from Aureus Medical with your hosts, Sunny and Matt. We're the podcast that gets to the heart of travel healthcare. To subscribe, access show notes, or to learn more visit, C-A-R-D-I-U-M, or wherever you're listening, be sure to rate us, review and subscribe. Thanks for tuning in, until next time.

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