Planning for summer fun

Photo by Thomas Lohnes/Getty Images
Photo by Thomas Lohnes/Getty Images

Why take time off? And how can you make the most of it?

At Atlanta’s Northside Hospital, nurses are encouraged to focus on self-care, and that includes taking time to vacation, reboot, and recharge, says Nikeisha Whatley-Leon, manager of Northside’s Behavioral Health Services.

“Time away allows one to gain perspective on your priorities, and it’s a great way to set boundaries to protect your health, physically and emotionally,” she says.

Lisa LaMorta, a nurse in the cardiac stepdown unit at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, takes that to heart.

Lisa, who is in her second year of nursing, has several getaways on her calendar this year.

She recently toured California wine country with her best friend and college roommate. She’s also planning to attend two out-of-town weddings and to make regular weekend visits to her parents’ house on Lake Allatoona this summer.

But all that’s just the prelude to the big event: a trip Lisa, family, and friends are planning to the tropical resort Turks and Caicos this summer.

They’re renting a five-bedroom house on the beach and planning to lounge in the sun and go snorkeling.

“I really try to remind myself that work-life balance is a very important thing,” says Lisa, who rotates every six weeks between day shift and night shift at Children’s.

If you believe the research, showing that vacations can be a cure for burnout, fatigue and even high blood pressure, then a nurse could surely be the poster child for a cruise or wine-country tour.

Yet a study from The Project: Time Off Coalition found that 55 percent of American workers – nurses included – did not use all their vacation time in 2015.

These so-called “work martyrs” had 658 million unused vacation days, including more than 200 million that were lost to the possibility of being paid out or rolled over, the study found.

The use of vacation days has been declining steadily among American workers. In 2015, full-time workers earned almost 22 vacation days a year but only used 16. The most common reasons: fear of returning to a mountain of work; not having anyone else to do the job; and the inability to afford a vacation.

Denell Cravens, a 41-year-old mother of three an ER nurse at DeKalb Medical Center, will be taking a 7-day cruise in the Eastern Caribean this summer.

“This will be my first cruise, so I am extremely excited,” says Denell, a 14-year nurse originally from Des Moines, Iowa.

She says she makes vacations a priority.

“My motto; I work hard, play hard,” Denell says.

Northside’s Whatley-Leon says there are plenty of upsides to taking that vacation.

“Often times while on vacation, one may begin to miss the structure of the workplace and/or the social aspects of work with colleagues,” she says. “Time away allow you to regain perspective on the joys that your profession gives you. It reminds you of why you chose the field, and this, in itself, helps to break up the emotions and behaviors that lead to burnout.”

At Northside, Whatley-Leon says the nursing leadership often calls on the Behavioral Health Department to provide education and training on ways to avoid compassion fatigue, ways to cope with complex cases and ways to manage stress.

“Taking a vacation is a huge way to manage stress,” she says.

In the past six months, the hospital has brought in best-selling author LeAnn Thieman to implement a Self Care for Healthcare Program that promotes physical, mental and spiritual health for nurses and other healthcare professionals.

Not everyone sees summer as a time for kicking back with a good book at the beach. Some see it as an opportunity to tackle something that’s exciting and that helps others.

We found several nurses who teach at Emory University’s nursing school, who have ambitious summer plans. Here are their stories.

Dr. Queyan Phan, DPN and clinical instructor, will be taking students to Peru to provide Pap smears and HVP vaccinations to the indigenous population in the Cusco region. She and the students also hope to visit Machu Picchu.

The Cusco clinic was established in 2006 by Dr. Darron Ferris, a physician and faculty member at Augusta University’s School of Medicine, to deliver cervical cancer prevention, screening, diagnosis and treatment to all women. Dr. Phan went to the clinic two years ago as a graduate student at Augusta University.

Now, she’s going back with 21 nursing students and a couple of other faculty members. In mid-June, they’ll spend 11 days providing Pap screening tests to several hundred women and HPV vaccinations to hundreds of girls and boys with the goal of preventing the viral infection that causes cervical and penile cancer. It’s a critical mission: cervical cancer is the No. 1 cause of cancer deaths in Peruvian women ages 15 to 64, Dr. Phan says. Most Peruvian women with cervical cancer are diagnosed in the advanced stages when treatment options are limited, and the survival rates are poor, she says.

Dr. Dorothy Jordan, DPN, APRN, PMHNP-BC, PMHCNS-BC and an assistant clinical professor, will be returning for a 35th year to Camp Sunshine, which she founded for young cancer patients. She’ll be at the camp providing mental health support for campers during teen week, June 17-22.

“Addressing the need, it is evident that adolescents generally experience stress, peer pressure and normal developmental challenges,” says Dr. Jordan, an advanced practice pediatric nurse who added mental health as a specialty 10 years ago.

“The diagnosis of a life-changing and potentially life-threatening illness can present additional significant challenges. Some of our adolescents have a diagnosed mental health disorder, and many just appreciate the added support provided by the Camp Sunshine community. I am happy to also manage typical camper issues such as homesickness and peer challenges.”

Dr. Brenda Baker, PhD, RN, clinical assistant professor, and expert in maternal, newborn, and perinatal health, will be taking 10 nursing students to a state women’s prison in Alto on days when the inmates’ children visit.

“Through my work with Motherhood Beyond Bars, a prenatal program we provide to pregnant women in the Georgia Department of Corrections, I saw the opportunity to teach Talk with me Baby.

“So many of the women I work with come from challenging backgrounds with limited resources and really want to know how to stay connected to their baby while they complete their prison sentence,” Dr. Baker says.

“We added the Talk with me Baby content to our prenatal education program as the first step.”

Books also are distributed to the families to take home, with the goal of encouraging reading and literacy among a very high-risk group of children, Baker says.

“We know that children who don’t read on grade level by 4th grade are at high-risk of being incarcerated,” she says. “So my hope is that we can impact the cycle of incarceration many families in Georgia live in.”

Dr. Sydney A. Spangler, PhD, MSN, CNM, and assistant professor, is taking a group of six to eight students, all registered nurses and trained as certified nurse midwives or pediatric nurse practitioners, to Guatemala to train indigenous midwives with the Ministry of Health. She also will travel to Tanzania.

Anne Sayre, an alumna of Emory’s nursing school, approached the school in 2015 about establishing a partnership with the Ministry of Health in Guatemala to help strengthen the training program for midwives in the region. The need, Spangler said, was apparent: the local rate of maternal mortality is nearly 20 times the rate in the United States and comparable to rates in some rural communities in sub-Saharan Africa.

Dr. Spangler said she and a colleague, Dr. Jennifer Foster, worked previously in health development in Guatemala, specifically in midwifery and women’s health.

The goal of the trip will be to provide three or four workshops with 25 to 50 midwives, focusing on common problems such as postpartum hemorrhage, obstructed labor, infection, gestational hypertension and preeclampsia, as well as newborn care. They’ll also be bringing needed supplies such as blood pressure cuffs and LED head lamps.

Road trip tips

You can make memories to last a lifetime on a road trip. Spontaneous side trips and stops are all part of the adventure. But that doesn’t mean you can’t do a little-advanced planning to ensure that the trip is up to expectations.

1. Have a reliable resource to help you find your way. There are plenty of options for help, including google maps, GPS or even a paper map.

2. Make sure you have a vehicle that’s reliable, sized to fit your travels and meets your needs. A convertible may be the dream of many road-trippers but is it the right vehicle for the mountains or desert?

3. Music and the open road are generally a winning combination. Make sure you’ve downloaded some playlists to your smartphone, and don’t forget the USB cable. Local radio also can give you a sense of the places you are visiting, so leave home with the radio in good working order.

4. The road less taken can lead to unexpected adventures. Highways are faster as a rule, but they provide less chance to meet the locals and check out the local scene.

5. There’s a goldmine of information and options across the globe at Check it out.

6. Eat local and stay local. That means steer clear of the chain restaurants and motels and give the Mom&Pops a try, especially if you want this to be a different type of vacation.

7. Be prepared like the Scouts. Have water, food, and snacks for the just-in-case times.

8. Try to make sure your travel mate has the same interests and temperament. Know that road trips can make or break a friendship so plan wisely.

9. Book ahead for certain attractions that sell out months in advance. It doesn’t mean the trip can’t still be mostly spontaneous. But it can guarantee that those must-see concerts, shows, tours happen.

10. Watch the gas gauge. Try to be conscious of how far you are from the next gas station. Think about filling up when you still have half of a tank just in case the next station is farther than you think.