“Focus on quality of life” – Interview with Denice, retired nurse

Photo provided by and used with permission from Denice

Denice C, BSN is a retired nurse in Seattle. She’s a very inspiring person, traveling and adventuring all over the world, and I had the chance to sit down and talk with her about her career as a nurse and her wellness and life advice.

To start, can you tell me a little bit about your career overall?
Journey is one of the words I would use. I did a lot of things. That’s the great thing about the nurse avenue and the way I used my career. I spent a  long time in oncology, but I liked that I could work inpatient, in a clinic setting, full time, part time, it was flexible. I loved working in oncology. Seattle in oncology was cutting-edge and intellectual, I was working in research, working for company as sales support, I did nurse education, access to care for patients. That variety was important to me.

I got from all of this a real appreciation for health, working in oncology. It [the cancer diagnosis] wasn’t because of anything they did, but I learned not take life or health for granted, to focus on quality of life. That was a gift my patients gave me.

You said that you really got an appreciation for health from your job. What did you like best about nursing in general? Was that what you liked best or was there something else?
People said “Oh, you work oncology. That’s so difficult.” But like I said, it was really a gift that my patients gave me because the interactions I had with people I was working with were really important. They really helped me have that appreciation for health because they were doing everything they could to get healthy again.

The other thing is is when you work as a nurse, your patients are in a real vulnerable situation. They’re very open and they cut through all the small talk. They really allow you into their lives. I felt like that was a big gift that I got through nursing from my patients. From a nursing standpoint, I felt like what I had to give back to them is make sure that I treated them the same as I would want my mother or my sister or my loved one treated so that if I got to a point where I couldn’t care enough to do that, then I didn’t want to be in nursing anymore. That was the give and take of nursing for me.

That makes sense. How did you get into nursing in the first place?
Science. I always like science. I came in through the back door, and I didn’t declare my major until I was almost the end of my sophomore year. I just kept taking a lot of science and math classes, knowing that I would probably go that direction. It’s not like I knew I wanted to be a nurse when I was 5. From the things I had done in my early college, I just kind of ended up going that pathway. Not a lot of long term goals or anything.

Do you feel like it was what you expected?
I don’t think even when I graduated from college I really knew all of what was involved in the job, and how difficult it can be to stay current and just deal with all the challenges of the position: having a lot of patients to take care of, organizational skills, staying current on my knowledge, and staying compassionate. And just the physical demands of the job when I worked inpatient. It was a lot. I think when you get out of school, you’ve just barely scratched the surface. I felt like I really started learning after I got out of school.

If you could go back and tell yourself something, what would it be? With regards to your nursing career: What would you have told yourself? What would you do differently? Or, what did you feel like would have been really nice to know ahead of time, just out of school?
Well, probably the emotional challenges of taking care of really sick patients, and to make sure that you’re doing self care at the same time, so that you can provide the best care, but you’re also taking care of yourself so you don’t get burnt out. I’d probably do a better job of that than I did when I was first in nursing.

Did you feel like you were getting burnt out at the beginning?
I just felt like it was a bigger challenge than I realized. There was just so much to learn and so much to know. Then, when I worked with bone marrow transplants, I was only out of school a couple years. I was working with some really complicated multi-system sick patients. It’s a lot when you’re 20 years old. I think what I would tell new nurses is just to do really good self care so that you can do that.

Thanks for sharing that. Self care is very important. Let’s go broader – why should people pay attention to overall wellness in the first place? Like you said, sometimes you just get sick no matter what. Why should it matter? Why should people care?
Quality of life – if you stay healthy, there’s so many more opportunities in life, even if it’s simple things, like if you like to travel, being able to actually sit on a plane for 20 hours to do international travel. If you’re sick or immobile or whatever your illness is, you’re less likely to be able to see the world. From a socioeconomic standpoint, the drain on our natural resources for people who are sick are enormous. When we look at healthcare costs, if you can do things from a preventative standpoint – even from early in nursing, I think prevention vs. treatment is the way to go. Prevent getting ill when you can. Like I said, I worked with patients that didn’t have a lot of choice. That’s always been my personal philosophy, to work from a preventative health standpoint: to eat healthy, to exercise, to get sleep, to make sure you have a social network for emotional support. Then, you can deal with things that come your way a little better.

What is something that people can do for their wellness? What is something they can focus on for prevention (something small that they can do today)?
Stay active. As I get older, I think the more important that is, that you stay strong and then you work on your strength and your balance and your social network. Those are things to stay healthy in older age. I think just moving, it doesn’t have to be aerobic classes. It can be a walk. I think being active is something you can do little. It’s easy and doesn’t require a lot of equipment or money or any of that kind of stuff.

The last question: what is the best advice that you’ve ever received?
Don’t wait to live life until you retire. It feeds into that health thing, working with oncology patients who said, “When I retire I’m going to travel. I’m going to do this. I’m going to do that.” To really be present and live life to the fullest in the moment because you don’t know. Nobody knows how long we’re going to be here.

Readers: join me in thanking Denice for this interview, and let me know – how are you focusing on the quality of your life, living it to the fullest?


Go outside for better health – OSC:Wellness tip

OSC:Wellness brings you “quick tip” changes for healthier living. A more balanced sense of wellness can come One Small Change at a time.


Go outside! Whether it’s for lunch, a quick walk, an outdoor meeting, or any number of other activities, being outdoors, especially in areas with green plants, helps improve mood, decrease stress, and provides opportunity for physical activity and social interactions.

–Shelly Najjar, RDN, MPH
Registered Dietitian Nutritionist,
Masters of Public Health

Be sure to sign up to make sure you don’t miss future wellness tips.


Lunchtime mini-walk – OSC:Wellness tip

OSC:Wellness brings you “quick tip” changes for healthier living. A more balanced sense of wellness can come One Small Change at a time.

This week’s tip is from Pat Giurgevich, a family nurse practitioner, who shares an everyday quick tip with multiple benefits.


Walk around 1 block at lunch.
It helps relieve eye strain from the computer screen at work; it gets the blood flowing, improves perspective, and only takes 10 minutes.

–Pat Giurgevich, ARNP
Nurse Practitioner

Be sure to sign up to make sure you don’t miss future wellness tips.

3 Health Lessons from Star Wars

Technology is your health accountability partner

R2-D2 and C3PO were created to help humans live better lives, and we have many tools that provide that same function today. From wearable tech and health-related apps that track steps, food, and medications to help you meet your health goals, to the availability of free recipes and health information online, technology makes it easier to live healthy lives.

Physical activity keeps you healthy

One of the most memorable scenes in the prequel trilogy was the fight between Yoda and Count Dooku. Yoda fights nimbly thanks to many hours spent in practice. Practicing martial arts (like light saber fights – or other more common activities like judo, karate, kickboxing, etc.) is just one way you can keep up your skills and meet the recommendation for 150 minutes of moderate physical activity or 75 minutes of vigorous activity each week.

Protect your skin

Those oversized hoods on the cloaks do more than create ominous shadows. They also protect the wearer’s face from the harmful effects of solar radiation. You don’t need to live on a planet with two suns to be exposed to UV radiation. Earth’s sun is the major source of UV rays for most people, but tanning beds or occupational hazards can also contribute to UV exposure. To protect yourself from the effects of UV radiation (such as dryness, wrinkles, dark spots, cataracts, and even cancer) wear sunscreen, sunglasses, and avoid indoor tanning.

What other health lessons did I leave out? Leave a comment…

Passed thesis, have plans, did guest post

Over the last few months, I wrote, defended, and submitted my thesis “Barriers to WIC Benefits Redemption among Participants in Washington State.” That means if everything goes well with the paperwork, I should be graduating this month with my Master of Public Health and be ready to study for the national registration exam for dietitians. My plan is to take this test in February.

I will have more information about the next two things soon, but I just want to introduce them now:

  • I will be speaking/writing in January and February, and am available for hire for events during that time. Click here to see my writing and speaking experience and contact me to find out more about how you can be my boss.
  • Of course, I will still be doing things on my Goal List (bucket list), and plan to make a separate blog for it, launching in January. (EDIT: The Goal List blog is live!)

Also: I wrote two guest posts for CoreChair, a company in Canada. The first post (10 Minutes a Day to a More Active Life) went up today, and the second will be up by the end of this month.

Click to visit the article

Lessons from leading online health challenge

Photo Credit: photostock via FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Photo Credit: photostock via FreeDigitalPhotos.net

In October, I had the opportunity to lead a health challenge for an online community group. It was my first time leading a health challenge and I tried to apply lessons from classes, as well as from webinars and other training on wellness programming. Overall, I think it went well, but there were some things I’d change if I did it again.

What worked:

Mixing it up: Every week there was a different way to get bonus points. People seemed to like the change and many chose to do the bonus activities each week.

Personal messages: When someone hadn’t posted activity or points in a while, I messaged them personally to remind them to submit activity for points. This was time consuming, but it was a smaller group so it ended up being okay. I wouldn’t do this for a large group, and I stopped doing this halfway through the month even for this small group. Instead, I sent a general reminder with the description of the new weekly bonus.

Incorporating many aspects of health: I tried to focus on different aspects of helath throughout the challenge when designing the activities that would earn points. I included physical health (physical activity, food tracking), goal setting (goals for the next month, motivation, setbacks, barriers), emotional health (stress), and social health (social support, physcial activity with people, recruiting a health buddy who will support goal for next month). Participants seemed to like these and find them useful and fun.

Not taking lack of participation personally (but I should have explored it more): It was difficult for me at first to deal with the emotions of having someone be very excited to sign up and then never participate, even when I sent them a personal message. However, I realize that things come up and sometimes participation in an event or activity you thought you had time for isn’t possible. Reminding myself of this was helpful for my emotions, but I think I ended up forgetting about them, which wasn’t so good. Many of the people who signed up and didn’t participate were new to the group. I wonder if they had different ideas about how the challenge was going to go (I should have asked).

Discussion boards: Each team had its own discussion board to post what they did (to get points) and to discuss with their team. One team ended up really using their board and the other team did not. However, they didn’t really use the board to discuss until I incentivized it by giving bonus points in the third week.

What could be improved:

Discussion boards: As I mentioned, I didn’t think about giving bonus points for participation until late in the month. Had I started with bonus points for interaction, I think more people would have done it.

Maximum points per week: I had it set up so each week had a total of 14 points maximum, one from 20 minutes or more of physical activity and one from the week’s bonus activity. This seemed like very little after a while and I wonder if it did not seem like enough to get people to be inspired to do the minimum required.

Minimum time required to get point: One of the suggestions I received at the end of the challenge was to reduce the minimum time required to get the point for physical activity from 20 minutes (with a cap of 1 point per day for physical activity) to 10 minutes (with additional points per each 10 minutes, with no physical activity points cap per day). The reason I had originally done the points cap and 20 minutes minimum was because that was what was done in previous months by other leaders, but it ended up being that only a few of the people in those challenges were even in this challenge. (It was hard to know who was going to sign up because most people signed up late, after the rules were established. So I should have changed them partway through when I found out, but somehow it didn’t occur to me). I knew that there were many people new to exercise and I wanted to make sure they knew that any activity was good and that they had the potential to help their team get the same number of points as the other team, no matter their ability to sustain physical activity. However, following this logic, it would have been wise to do 10 minutes minimum for 1 point, with a maximum of 6 points per day (for 60 minutes). This follows the recommendation that it is okay to do moderate to vigorous physical activity 10 minutes at a time, and it still wouldn’t provide incentive for obsessive physical activity. It would have been realistic and more motivating.

Asking for feedback sooner: I asked people when they signed up to tell me what they wanted to see in the challenge, and only a few people answered. Most of them said they didn’t have any expectation because it was the first one they participated in. When I asked the next time, it was as part of the bonus activity in the last three days of the challenge, and by then, not too many people were still participating. However, those that did answer the questions gave very valuable feedback. I would ask more frequently and earlier to get feedback on things that could be changed, and I would ask the people who signed up but aren’t participating what could be changed to make the challenge more appealing.

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Have you led a health-related challenge? What worked for you? What would you change for next time? What is your advice for people just learning about designing and administering health programs?