Cultivating Joy in Your Nursing Career | The Nurse Keith Show, EPS 120

At the time of this recording, It’s summer, and that means many of us take time out for vacation, fun with family and friends, and other leisurely pursuits. Some of us head for the beach, others go to the mountains, and some head to cities far and near. In short, we seek out leisure, fun, and joy. (My apologies to those listeners in the opposite hemisphere who are now in winter; you can apply these reflections to your current situation, or wait until summer rolls around and listen again!)


Here in Santa Fe, tourists flock by the thousands to take in our singular southwestern architecture, high desert beauty, and New Mexican art and cuisine. Although summer is the high season, they certainly come to our small and fair city year-round.

Nurses work hard, and there’s something about us that sometimes feels we can’t take a break because things will fall apart without us. But does the world really end when we go away? Do people really not pick up the slack? We may feel indispensable (and perhaps we truly are) but that doesn’t mean we don’t deserve time away from work.

We nurses can be terrible perfectionists, and that perfectionism can lead us to lives as nurse martyrs. Are you a nurse martyr? If you are, something has to change.

Vacation is like a reset button, the engaging in an entirely different head space. When was the last time you allowed yourself such a luxury? All work and no play makes for a very grumpy nurse.

Caroline Cardenas

Speaking of Joy, my dear friend Caroline Cardenas is a master’s-prepared oncology nurse in San Diego who’s actually in the midst of earning her PhD in Somatic Psychology. She’s been a guest on RNFM Radio, and the reason I bring her up is that the heart of her work in the world is teaching people how to experience more joy, especially through what she calls body play.


Caroline at work

You see, Caroline is a hoop dancer – as in hula hoops – and, believe it or not, her Masters thesis was based on her research on the use of hula hooping as a methodology for the prevention and healing of nurse burnout. Her simple message is that when we’re more embodied and more in touch with what makes us happy, then we can be more naturally joyful and have a greater zest for life. If you think about the crusty nurses you’ve ever known, imagine what might happen if those who were willing picked up a hula hoop laughed together from the utter joy of it?


Caroline in her element

My friend Jess Carmen Young, a hospice nurse in Portland, Oregon, finds her joy in dance.
Jess Carmen Young

Jess Carmen Young

While Jess is indeed a healer, a nurse, and a medical professional, she tends to her joy through participating in all kinds of opportunities to dance, both professionally and non-professionally.

Jess Carmen Young

Jess in joy

Yet another nurse friend of mine is also pursuing his joy. Thom “T” Namaya, formerly a nurse practitioner and homeopath, has found his mojo in performance poetry and visual art. His nursing background still informs how he sees the world, but Tom has moved beyond his healthcare professional days to serve the world in a new way, one that powerfully taps his creativity.

T Namaya

T Namaya, poet & artist

Tom and his wife Zoe Kopp run a wonderful non-profit — GraceCares –shepherding many highly impactful international projects.

Elizabeth Scala on the mic

Elizabeth on the mic

Meanwhile, my colleague and fellow nurse podcaster Elizabeth Scala is very much an advocate of fun and pleasure. On her Instagram feed, she’s very open about how experiencing pleasurable experiences is at the top of her personal priority list. Her mission is to live the best life she possibly can, and she does just that.

I’m using Tom, Jess, Elizabeth, and Caroline as examples of nurses who have found something in their lives that brings them joy. For some of you, your joy may come in doing crossword puzzles, knitting, writing the great American novel, singing with friends on Friday night, or taking a month off every summer to live off the grid in Montana.

You don’t have to write a masters thesis to make your point, as Caroline did. You don’t have to become a professional dancer or performance poet like Jess or Tom — but you could.

The fact is, nurses, your joy and your form of personal play are up to you. No one can prescribe it. No one can make demands about when and where to go on vacation, what hobbies to take up, and what novels to read this summer. They can make some suggestions, but the rest is up to you.

As I leave on vacation, my admonition to you is to think about what brings you joy and replenishes your body, mind, and spirit. What is it that clears your psyche and delivers you to a healthier mindset?

Nursing and healthcare can be a slog, and if we don’t make time for ourselves, few people are going to give us a hard time about it.

So here’s my prescription: give yourself permission to find out what your true joy is, or set about rediscovering a joy that you left in the dust some years ago.

This is about you, your joy, your leisure time, and how you spend it. It’s about self-care, wellness, well-being, rejuvenation, and the longevity of your nursing career.

Nurses, find your joy.

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Be well, dig deep, and keep in touch!

Keith Carlson, RN, BSN, NC-BCKeith Carlson, RN, BSN, NC-BC, is the Board Certified Nurse Coach behind and the well-known blog, Digital Doorway.

Keith is co-host of, a wildly popular nursing podcast; he also hosts The Nurse Keith Show, his own podcast focused on career advice and inspiration for nurses. Keith was previously the resident nursing career expert at

A widely published nurse writer, Keith is the author of “Savvy Networking For Nurses: Getting Connected and Staying Connected in the 21st Century.”

He has also contributed chapters to a number of books related to the nursing profession, and has written for,, MultiViews News Service, LPNtoBSNOnline, StaffGarden, Working Nurse Magazine, and other online platforms.

Mr. Carlson brings a plethora of experience as a nurse thought leader, online nurse personality, holistic career coach, writer, and well-known successful nurse entrepreneur.

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