Putting a Positive Spin on Nursing

Nursing is a challenging profession. We deal with sick patients, anxious families, short staffing, strange hours and a variety of other issues. Yet, the science of positive psychology has found that flourishing requires at least three positive emotions for each negative one. Dr. Barbara Fredrickson calls this ratio the tipping point or threshold that gives us passage into a “broaden and build” mindset.

Nurses and nursing students are probably familiar with the science of the sympathetic nervous system – the one that changes brain chemistry into fight-or-flight mode. Imagine that positive emotion provides the same sort of brain changes – these allow us to broaden and build resources. While there is no specific hormone involved, the science holds up in research on marriages, teams and disaster survival.

Nursing is at a time in its history were it is challenged to “broaden and build” in order to meet the needs of our aging baby boomer population. Yet, by nature, our world is filled with many challenges. Could this help explain the nursing shortage? I think so.

As an advanced practice nurse and positive psychology coach, I began to see the connection several years ago. Developing a course on positive psychology especially for nurses became a passion. I was fortunate that the University that I teach for was very interested. That was four years ago, and today the class is alive and thriving at Colorado Mesa University’s nursing program.

The course focuses primarily on three areas:

  • Application of individual positive psychology exercises to raise individual wellbeing. These include the best of the evidence-based exercises – including “three blessings”, gratitude letter and savor a beautiful day.
  • Application of the science on workplace wellbeing through exercises to raise positivity/engagement at work. These include identification of vital friends, development of a personal vision and use of strengths at work to create a state of “flow”.
  • Application of the science of positive psychology into work with our clients. That is, how can we foster wellbeing and flourishing in our clients through our interactions and nursing interventions? This includes optimism building, recognition of strengths and development of nursing-specific positive psychology interventions applied to the clients we serve.

As far as I know, the course is one of the few positive psychology courses available that counts as a BSN elective (400 level course). It is fully online and so could be taken by interested students who meet college enrollment criteria. Of course, each student needs to check with their program to see if the credit is transferable if they are not a Colorado Mesa University student.

Nursing students have given me feedback that stressed the importance of a course like this to improve resilience during nursing school experience. They have also told me it was a “life changing” course. I am also in the process developing a non-credit, private, on-line through my coaching business, Midwife of Changes. Please contact me for further information on either course or visit my website.

Author Bio
Cathy Hartt, RN, MS, CNM is an advance practice nurse and positive psychology wellbeing/wellness coach. She has over 20 years of nursing and advance practice clinical experience. She also has a variety of leadership and quality improvement experience in the healthcare arena. Cathy completed Positive Psychology Coaching with Dr Martin Seligman in 2004 and has been teaching and coaching in this field since that time. Cathy’s website is www.midwifeofchanges.com and her contact email is midwifeofchanges@q.com.
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