Innovation for Wellbeing: The Key to Addressing Burnout in Healthcare
By Taura Barr, Phd, RN NC-BC, FAHA
Burnout is a hot topic right now, and rightfully so, it is really jeopardizing our individual and collective health. And everyone seems to know how to address it, with self-care, mindfulness, meditation, even a 4 day work week. But I’ll bet you never heard of anyone suggesting that a cure for burnout is to start a company. But that is exactly how I cured my burnout! In fact, I started two companies at about the same time, and it was the best thing I could have done for myself. And I’m going to share why.
In 2013 I was beyond burnt out and it led me down a very unhealthy path, leading to a pulmonary embolism when I was 12 weeks pregnant. The ER physician said I was incredibly lucky to have lived, because the blood clot in my lung was so huge. By the grace of God, I delivered a beautiful baby boy but after that delivery I had complications and had to regain my strength through cardiac rehab and discovered that not only did my work contribute to my condition, but I was a nurse who had no idea how to take care of herself. So, I decided to make a radical change. Within a year I left my position as an academic nurse scientist and created Valtari bio, a stroke diagnostics company and Deep Roots Healing, a nurse coaching and Wellness company.
What I learned in my experience is that innovation can be a path to well-being. When we embrace creativity and innovation and use our skills and talents in a way that gives us joy, we are more engaged in our work, have higher levels of productivity and are more satisfied with life in general. For organizations and employees, embracing a culture of innovation is really a win-win! And given the strain on our healthcare system there is no better time than now to do this.
When we talk about building a culture of innovation there are a lot of competencies that we can discuss, but the three I’ve found to be most important in my work and teaching are— creativity, courage, and teamwork.
Seventy five percent of people think they are not living up to their creative potential. And worse yet, most people think they are not creative at all. We really have a creativity crisis going on. And there is something you need to know about creativity. As long as you have a functioning brain, then you have the capability of being creative! And innovation simply does not happen without creativity. In fact, creativity is the seed of innovation and just about anyone can be creative; it just takes some effort. This happens by nurturing a culture of curiosity and a spirit of inquiry. Choosing to engage in a creative activity just once a day can lead to a more positive state of mind and help you to get into the flow, which is that state of mind in which everything seems possible and you’re just… rocking it. At the Ohio State University, we have the Innovation Studio, the brainchild of my colleague Dr. Tim Raderstorf. What I like most about the Innovation studio is that this model gives everyone an opportunity to be creative. We don’t need permission to innovate from anyone but ourselves.
I had a coach explain courage to me as the ability to walk through the unknown, stumbling a few times, but continuing to keep your eyes solely focused on the goal ahead. Courage isn’t a lack of fear or failure. Courage is the ability to continue despite fear and failure. When you are courageous you recognize that mistakes are wisdom and have incredible value. And guess what, courage and psychological wellbeing and innovation are highly correlated. Why might you ask? Because the ability to act in a congruent way with your values despite opposition, risk, and fear is a human ideal and trait that makes innovation possible. Courage is vital for challenging conventional thinking and envisioning new possibilities. Innovation only happens when we are not afraid to do things differently.
The last innovation competency I want to introduce you to is teamwork. I know that teamwork isn’t new. We know teamwork is critical for innovation, but now I want you to consider teamwork as social connection and highly correlated with well-being especially when teamwork is based on true camaraderie and collaboration. Being part of a team eliminates isolation, it enhances your ability to make an impact while you share the load of responsibility. This didn’t always come easy to me. When I was a young professor, I was the lead on a community engagement project in rural towns West Virginia. I felt thoroughly overwhelmed by what I needed to do for this project, and I walked into the first team meeting with our community engagement partners with an agenda an outline of the project and what we were going to do pretty much figured out. The team lead looked at me and smiled and said, “We’re glad that you are so excited about this, but we would really like the opportunity to Co create this with you so if you would put those away, we can start over together.” Being part of a team requires you to set your personal vision aside. And co-create a shared vision. When you do that, you recognize that things are bigger than you, that other people matter, and being socially connected to your team cultivates true collaboration.
Now as I close, I want to highlight something important. What normally gets the most attention from my story, is that I created two businesses after a near death experience and those businesses are still active. But what I want you to really remember about my story is how creating those businesses impacted my wellbeing through creativity, courage, and teamwork. And this is why I now dedicate my career to helping innovators and entrepreneurs create businesses they love while taking care of their health and wellbeing.
The next time you think about innovation I want you to think about wellbeing and recognize that cultures of innovation and well-being can go hand in hand. As organizations it’s time to start taking innovation seriously as a means by which we can enhance wellbeing, because when we do, we create an environment where we are not only engaged and productive, but where everyone thrives and flourishes. And as innovative and entrepreneurially minded individuals, we are all being called to create from a place of authenticity to be a source of healing for our broken world. What I discovered in my own healing journey was that to truly experience joy and peace in my career, I had to build everything from a place of alignment—Knowing who I am and what I’m here to do and aligning with that every single day.
Dr. Taura L. Barr PhD RN has spent most of her 17 year career as an academic nurse scientist, internationally recognized for her work in stroke and the immune system. In 2015 she left academia to launch Valtari Bio and Deep Roots Healing LLC (https://www.taurabarr.com/) She recently returned to academia as Associate Professor and the First Entrepreneur in Residence at the Ohio State University College of Nursing to launch the Innovation for Wellbeing Faculty Fellowship, which has been shown to enhance wellbeing and life satisfaction. Aside from her academic and industry experience, she is also an integrative nurse coach, certified yoga instructor and mom of four. You can reach Taura here: firstname.lastname@example.org