Sarita M. Taylor, BSN, RN, OCN, shares how she mentally recharges outside of the clinic.
Burnout and compassion fatigue are well recognized issues that impact the nursing community.1 These problems are multifaceted, as are the solutions. However, it has been suggested that, on an individual level, oncology nurses can combat burnout by practicing work-life balance and mindfulness.2-4
But how can oncology nurses practice work-life balance? Do habits of mindfulness really work?
Oncology Nursing News spoke to one individual, Sarita M. Taylor BSN, RN, OCN, an infusion nurse with the Georgia Cancer Center at the Medical College of Georgia, about how she finds space for herself beyond the clinic. Through painting, Taylor finds a way to rejuvenate and recharge, so that she can be more present with her patients—and her family.
“It is something I choose to do, not something I am expected to do,” she explained. “At work, I'm expected to show up all the time. I'm expected to do X, Y, and Z on my task list. With painting, I am free of choice. It is 100% mine.”
Taylor has spent the last 15 years working in oncology but has only been a nurse for 7 of those years. Her career began with her working as a certified chemotherapy technician. However, she wanted to have a closer relationship with patients.
“It gave me the opportunity to learn about the different medications,” she recalled, “but it took me away from the bedside.”
Wanting to have an impact at the bedside, Taylor went back to school and got her associate degree and became a medical assistant, before finding working in an infusion center, and launching her oncology career.
“I loved it so much [that] while working there, I went to nursing school and got my bachelor's degree, and I stayed,” she said.
Today, Taylor works in an outpatient infusion center.
“From my morning to my evenings, I am giving some type of treatment regimen, whether it be for solid tumors or bone marrow transplant,” she said. “There are some oral therapies we do as well, lots of treatments throughout the day.”
Her favorite part of the job is the relationship she is able to build with her patients.
“It is the long-standing relationship you are able to build with the patients [that matters],” she said. “It's scary getting that diagnosis. And all this new [information], half the time, it does not sound like we are speaking English to them.”
“Even though you try to bring it down to a level that they'll understand, it's just a lot of information. They don't know who to trust, you know. [Outpatient care] gives us the opportunity to have that repetitiveness —seeing them over and over again—and build that trusting relationship with them. It makes it a little easier on them and the staff when you have that good rapport with them.”
When Taylor is not at the clinic, she has an even more important job to attend to; she is a mom to a 23-year-old son and a 16-year-old daughter.
When asked how she creates a space for herself amid constant concern for others, she answered that it is through her artwork.
“I like to paint,” she told Oncology Nursing News. “I have liked to paint for a long time—even as a little girl. My mom worked a lot, and we couldn't go off while our mama was working, so we found things to do around the house.”
Alongside her sisters, Taylor discovered that she was drawn to sketching and painting. Over time, painting became something that helped her escape from the real world for hours at a time.
“I find that when I am painting, I have tunnel vision. I am so focused on what I'm doing. I'm not even thinking about what my kids are talking about in the background. I am just in that painting. I'm lost in it. It literally takes me away from all of my surroundings.”
“I am not thinking about anything but that painting,” she said. “It is a nice break, not just from work, but from being a mom—from being a sister [even]. It is a break from everything. My time to do what I like to do.”
According to Taylor, painting helps her practice mindfulness because she has created a space where she is able to freely create. There are no rules, grades, or expectations in her art.
“At work, I am always worried about doing a good job,” she explained. “As a mom, I'm worried about keeping my kids happy, making sure they're satisfied. But I don't have to worry about that with my painting. It's mine.”
“I'm not stressed [by wondering] am I doing a good job? Are they going to approve? All of that is out of the window.”
With her brush against canvas, she is uninhibited. Taylor will paint whatever suits her fancy that day, whether it is a still of a coffee cup, to a neon green bird that has no business flying around Augusta, Georgia. Some of her favorite pieces are silhouettes, in which she deftly found shortcuts to overcome the tricky business of painting facial expressions. If she dreams it, she paints it.
“My sisters have always been better at drawing people’s faces than I have,” she shared. “They were so much better at eyes, nose, and lips than me. [But] I found a way with paintings that are faceless. And those are my favorite ones.”
Her passion is not expensive—she gets most of her materials from 5 Below or the Dollar Tree. It is not about making something perfect; it is about making something that is hers.
Ultimately, Taylor believes that everyone—but nurses especially—need to find a space that is theirs so that they are able to find a sense of self and fulfillment beyond the clinic; a place with no rules beyond self-expression and reflection.
“I have no deadline. There are no directions,” she said. “It is just freeness. I think we all need a little bit of that.”