January 31st, 2012
By Jennifer Olin, BSN, RN
“Nurses aren’t really the best at taking care of themselves.
That’s where I can help.”
And so begins my introduction to Nurse Keith, aka Keith Carlson, RN. Over the phone, Carlson is soft-spoken and considered in his answers to my questions about this relatively new specialty by nurses, for nurses. Good traits when you need someone to listen. Carlson is part of the up and coming field of nurse coaches; health care providers who help others discover, or rediscover, what drew them to nursing in the first place and how they can find greater satisfaction and joy in both their professional and personal lives.
How did you come to be in this field, nurse coaching?
”I have been a nurse for 15 years, and I’ve worked in a variety of clinical settings. I’ve specialized in home health, community health, and case management. I worked in in public health, hospice, and even nursing education. I taught in an LPN (licensed practical nurse) program. I did a fair amount of precepting in home health and I precept case management nurses.
”My wife and I both did coach training over the last few years. It was a way I could offer my skills and services in a way I couldn’t as a nurse. At first I was planning to offer health and wellness training to the general public, then I determined that nurses were the people I knew best."
What about nurses stood out to you as a good audience for personal coaching?
”Nurses really work under a great deal of stress in general. A nursing career can really raise a lot of questions about your chosen career path. Nursing has changed so much in the last 20 years. Nurses are reevaluating their professional roles and their personal lives. “
Your client base, is it more new nurses or experienced RNs?
”I actually hear from both. I think new nurses enter the profession with very high expectations. We’ve painted this picture of nursing being such a great career path; we’ve told them they will get a job right away and yet in the current economy so much of that hasn’t panned out. Older nurses aren’t leaving the profession, hospitals are not hiring. There’s a lot of disappointment out there. A lot of new nurses have skipped the frying pan and landed right in the fire. It’s hard for them to hold on to their equanimity.
”Older, experienced nurses are facing their own issues: mandatory overtime, caring for more patients. The nurses who are staying in the system really need support. “
On his website, Carlson cites toxic workplaces, heavy workloads, stressful work conditions, and unhappy, cynical colleagues as sources for leaving nurses feeling undermined in their attempts to be healthy and happy in their work and at home.
”The healthcare industry is so financially driven and nurses are suffering in that. Nurses are the largest portion of employees in healthcare and yet in our training how much time is spent on teaching self care? It’s an area where we fall down. It’s an area where I care. “
What is the first thing you do when a new client contacts you?
”Just the other day I had a new nurse, only six months in as an RN, contact me for my coaching services. In the initial consultation the first thing I did was determine what areas of life he wanted to work on. Some people want to concentrate on relationships, some on finances, others on better use of their leisure time. They don’t necessarily want to focus on the nursing aspect all the time. “
How do you know if you and the client will be able to establish a helpful, healthful relationship?
”A lot of what I do is intuitive. Sometimes what the client is presenting doesn’t fall in the realm of needing a coach; it’s more a need for psychotherapy. Coaching isn’t for dealing with depression or anxiety; we don’t take that on. I am very honest and if they want something I can’t deliver I tell them. While I have a history working in mental health that is not what coaching is focused on. We utilize techniques like ‘motivational interviewing’ and ‘non-violent communication' in order to uncover blocks, obstacles, and challenges to success, as well as to elucidate clients' various strengths."
So do you then jump right in or is there a set amount of time you think you need to coach someone?
“The coach/client relationship takes time to develop. I prefer to not speak with someone just one time. With my clients I prefer to commit to a weekly call or at least every other week with e-mails in between. I would shy away from a monthly session since the time between contacts is so long and so much can happen. I generally suggest four sessions to start, it’s a good enough time to see how the coach/client relationship develops.“
You say calls and e-mails—is that the standard way nurses and coaches meet?
“Most meetings are over the phone. I am open to a video component like Skype but that just hasn’t come up yet. A majority of nurse coaches work over the phone, some Skype and a there are some that have offices.”
What do you see down the road for this field of nurse coaching?
“I assume at some point in the future some organizations will be jockeying for being the certifying body for nurse coaches. Eventually there might be several organizations that take that on since it's currently an unregulated industry. There may eventually be a single certification process for nurse coaches. At the moment no governmental agency requires licensing, specific training, and continuing education requirements to be a nurse coach. I foresee sub-specialties in coaching like the aging nurse or the new nurse. Already some of us work in health promotion and other specialize areas.“
With all the news lately about caregivers and compassion fatigue — raging statistics about obesity and other health concerns in this country, and the economy still not passing its checkup — maybe the services of a nurse coach are what we all could use. Everyone needs someone to listen to him or her, to act as a sounding board. Nurses, it’s time we focused on ourselves, as much as our patients.