Case Study #2 Brian Park: Nurse Entrepreneur and Founder of Nabee Socks
I'm excited to add another nurse feature to the Burnout Book blog! I am always on the lookout for nurses who have found ways to deal with burnout and become resilient, even if that means doing something outside of traditional bedside nursing. I want to share their stories with you so that you know you aren't alone in feeling things like moral distress, compassion fatigue, and the mental and physical exhaustion and frustration of burnout. I'm also hoping that sharing these interviews might even spark some ideas of what you'd like to do in your nursing career!
Brian and I connected when I was writing my first blog, The Days When I'm Not a Nurse when I did a review of his compression socks. He's donated socks for Nurses Week giveaways over the years, even during my manager years when I wasn't formally blogging! Brian is one of the coolest people I know and is a serious jack-of-all-trades kind of guy. He's generous, talented, and humble and I could keep going on, or you can just check out the interview below. :)
1. Tell me about yourself and your nursing (and non-nursing) career up to this point. Where do you see yourself going in the future?
I graduated with a biochemistry degree in 2008. There was a recession at that time and it prevented me from being able to find any kind of job. My dad also got sick that year with stage III stomach cancer and had a low chance of survival (he’s still alive and well today). The lack of career opportunities and my dad’s illness drove me to the “advanced-second degree” program at Georgetown University. I liked that the nursing field had so many different specialties and options. Additionally, it was within my wheelhouse of science and biology. I graduated in 2010 after a 16-month program and immediately went to work in a surgical ICU. My unit had a great variety of patients: oncology, cardiac, and trauma. It was a tremendous experience, but after three years, I was already feeling burnt out. That’s when I decided to move away from the bedside and give entrepreneurship a go. Nabee Socks was the result and took me about three months to launch from ideation to my first sale. I used Kickstarter.com to get my funding for the company and raised nearly $13,000 in one month. That was five years ago and entrepreneurship has been my passion ever since.
The last five years have been filled with global travel, new businesses, real estate purchases, and finding lots of new talents. With that being said, I’m not much of a “planner” and can’t say for sure where I see myself going from here. However, I have recently pushed myself to do more public speaking at nursing events, universities, and launched an online course that teaches nurses how to start their own businesses.
2. Merriam-Webster dictionary describes burnout as "exhaustion of physical or emotional strength or motivation usually a result of prolonged stress or frustration."
Have you ever felt burned out (as a nurse or entrepreneur)? How do you avoid getting burned out again?
I have definitely felt burnt out as a nurse and as an entrepreneur. Owning a business can be stressful, but I feel so passionate about the work and have the flexibility to take a break that any feelings of burnout are always short lived.
However, burnout developed for me as a nurse in the hospital fairly quickly and lingered until I left the bedside. It was for all the typical reasons that nurses cite: unsupportive peers, poor staffing, unfair assignments, lack of resources, and feeling overworked. My primary coping mechanism at the time was going to gym and experimenting with new diets. My years as a nurse were the healthiest I’ve ever been physically. With that being said, I didn’t take care of myself mentally and emotionally, which resulted in me being continually burnt out and miserable. I wasn’t well versed in self-care at this point in my life and suffered as a result.
The primary thing I would have done differently at that time in my life is find a hobby with a big, supportive community and participated as much as possible. Having a non-nursing “tribe” to clear my mind of hospital stressors and participate in something I love would have gone a long way to keep me mentally-emotionally strong.
Strangely, I kind of have my own kind-of “burnout book” that I’ve kept at my bedside for the last 4 or 5 years. It’s a tiny Moleskine notebook that I’ve filled with strategies to deal with stress. The cover reads, “Strategies for Living: For a Better & More Fulfilling Life!” All the strategies were slowly collected or created over the years and acts as my toolbox for effectively navigating difficult times. Here's one example from my notebook:
For Anxiety Before Bed:
Write down the source of your anxiety
Write down a solution to eliminate the source of your anxiety
Fold up the piece of paper and save it for the morning
Tell yourself, “The solution will be waiting for me in the morning. So, there’s no point to thinking about it now.”
I’ve used this tons of times when my brain is spinning out of control or just dealing with problems that’ve been eating at me. It’s not perfect for every situation, but I have 20+ other tools for those other times 😊
3. Imagine you've just had a really rough week at work. What do you do on your days off to recover and get ready to bounce back for the next shift/work day?
I go rock climbing everyday because it gets me a daily exercised-induced endorphin boost and feeling of accomplishment, especially if I was able to climb a difficult route. My Saturdays are spent performing magic at pediatric hospitals through a local non-profit, Open Heart Magic, and my Sundays are frequently spent supporting my dog rescue group, New Leash on Life. This volunteer work goes a long way to create meaning in my life, which acts as armor against burnout and life’s hardships. Every week, I know that I’ve made a positive difference in areas that I truly care about and that feeling keeps my momentum moving forward. Honestly, I don’t really “recover” on days off in the typical sense. I’m passionate about a number of things and doing work within those passions reinvigorates me and makes me excited for the next week.
4. If you could change one thing about nursing to address burnout, it would be:
Nasty, mean nurses.
5. How long did it take you to feel "comfortable" in each new role you've taken on? Any advice to nurses who are experiencing the stress of starting something new?
It took me about 4 months to feel comfortable in the ICU. The experience was “trial by fire,” which forced me to learn quickly, but initially hurt my confidence.
Nurses starting a new role with a preceptor should ask for strong feedback using direct language to learn quickly and also relieve anxiety. The questions I’d suggest are:
- What can I improve?
- Follow-up: Do you have any tips on improving ______.
- What can I stop doing?
I find that asking what can you stop doing is helpful because it inevitably leads you to be more efficient and think critically on how you can be more effective. Asking all these questions in general helps to alleviate my anxiety by removing the self-doubt that usually comes with asking myself, “Did I do a good job?” or “Could I have done better?” My stress and worrying tend to go away once I stop second guessing myself.
6. What is the hardest part about being a nurse entrepreneur? What is the most rewarding part?
The hardest part about being a nurse entrepreneur is working alone without any support. There are no managers, fellow nurses, or an organization that has my back. I’m the one on the hook for anything that goes wrong and have to figure out a solution by myself. More times than not, I don’t know what I’m doing and have to do A LOT of research.
With that being said, entrepreneurship is incredibly rewarding. The most satisfying aspect of “nursepreneurship” is knowing that everything I build is entirely mine and successful because of me. There’s also the fact that I am entirely living my life the way that I want. I can travel anywhere and do anything at any time. That flexibility and freedom is incredible.
7. Any advice for nurses who want to start their own business?
Nursepreneurs are awesome because all of the characteristics that make a strong nurse also makes a great entrepreneur. The best suggestion I can give to any nurse looking to start a business is: do it now. Every potential entrepreneur’s biggest obstacle is starting. So, don’t wait for the “right time.” If you feel passionate about your idea, take action.
8. I keep my spark for nursing alive by ________.
Walking away from the bedside left a big emotional gap in my life. Honestly, I was surprised that I missed being nurse since I was feeling so burnt out when I left. Not saving lives every week took away much of the meaning from my daily work. My solution was pretty simple: volunteer at non-profits. I’ve already talked about it, so I won’t go into it too deeply, but rescuing dogs and performing as a hospital magician has gone a long way to injecting tons of meaning and passion into my life. Even more than when I was at the bedside because I’m not dealing with the red tape and bureaucracy that typically goes hand-in-hand with working in a hospital.