Profession
  • A Conversation on Mental Health and Wellness

    AANA Wellness Video from Association Studios on Vimeo.

    The COVID-19 pandemic has driven stress and burnout among healthcare workers, some to crisis levels. The American Association of Nurse Anesthesiology (AANA) cares about the well-being of CRNAs and SRNAs. AANA’s Wellness program offers a multitude of resources and educational opportunities, so that CRNAs and SRNAs can live a balanced personal and professional life.

    AANA President Dina Velocci, DNP, CRNA, APRN, was recently joined by Donté Flanagan, DNP, CRNA, co-chair of AANA’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee, to discuss health and wellness. In 2020, Flanagan worked over 3,750 hours in a hospital – equivalent to an average of 72 hours per week. His patient load, coupled with the demands of COVID-19 and the changes in delivery of care, had taken its toll. He described the past two years as the most “devastating and traumatic experience” of his 20-year career in nurse anesthesiology.

    In his video conversation with Dr. Velocci, he shares the story of how he navigated the past two years and offers advice for others who may be struggling. An edited and condensed sample of their conversation appears below:

    Dr. Flanagan: When the pandemic first began, I was working in New Orleans, which became a hot spot. Just prior to the pandemic, I had just taken a trip with my family to Africa.  The pandemic had just started to show its face there, so we were traveling with masks, but we just didn’t know how bad things were going to be, or how bad things were until we returned stateside.

    Then within two or three weeks, everything changed.  I went from doing 10–12-hour shifts, three or four days per week to, 24–36-hour shifts.  Even though we cancelled the elective procedures, we (CRNAs) were still the ones responsible for maintaining airways, overseeing ICUs, putting in A-lines, and we were on the turn teams, to help turn patients.

    Many times, a person only had seconds to pray or anything else they needed to do to find closure before they were intubated.  Sometimes I had to have a very honest conversation with the patient that this is where you are and we’re going to try to do everything we can to save your life, but we can’t promise anything.  Doing that day in and out, for what ended up being weeks and months on end, it just had a heavy, heavy toll on myself.  And for myself I was already seeing a therapist before that, which is another piece of the puzzle.

    But I felt this dire need to help those who didn’t have the same access to therapy, and I just thought about the students as well, and the populations that were getting hit the hardest. Last year we put a Zoom conference call together as a wellness support group for students, where they have a safe space to talk and share.  Having a community, we didn’t have before, and even more having that community that they didn’t even know they needed.

    Dr. Velocci: Can you share with our viewers about how you prioritize self-care now?

    Dr. Flanagan: During the pandemic I’m sure many of us stopped going to the gym on a regular basis, eating healthy, meditation and yoga. That’s something I used to do on a regular basis.  The pandemic was so heavy, I put those things to the bottom.  Now that’s something I put at the forefront because I know that mentally and physically, I’m in a better place, and I know that, that makes me better all around.  I can think of innovative things and have the energy and give the energy that helps motivate others to want to be where I am and come to our profession.  And it allowed others to see that it’s okay to say no and it’s okay to create boundaries.  And that was one of the biggest things I’ve learned and have implemented in my life intentionally since the pandemic.

    Dr. Flanagan and President Velocci’s full conversation can be viewed here.

    For drug and alcohol concerns, call the AANA Helpline at 800-654-5167 for a live, confidential, around the clock response to CRNAs and SRNAs.

    For mental health and/or suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255 or visit aana.com/suicide.