Rastisha Smikle is an ER nurse who shares health, wellness, medical tips, and laughs with her online community on Instagram as @NurseStisha. Drawn to the excitement and gore of the hospital, Stisha’s calling to be a nurse became clear early on in life. Learn more about her nursing journey and her path to wellness.
What do you do as a nurse?
Stisha: I currently work per diem in an emergency room here in the Orlando area. The healthcare chain is actually all over the United States and I've worked on and off for them for 10 years since I started out as a baby nurse.
What made you want to become a nurse?
Stisha: As a young girl, I've always played doctor and I've always known I wanted to help people. My dad is a retired firefighter/EMT, so he was in the healthcare field. I always liked hearing the action-packed stories he told and watching medical shows on TV. My mom has always said that I've been a really good caregiver. What really triggered me into realizing that nursing was my calling, was when I watched an old movie. I don't remember how old I was when I watched it. It was Patch Adams. I love that movie. It was then that I knew what I wanted to do, I wanted to be able to make a difference. At the time, I wanted to be a doctor. Later on in middle school, a good friend’s mom was a nurse. When I told her about the movie and I made her watch it she was like, “Honey, that's more of what a nurse does.” I then knew it was my goal to become a nurse and to get the opportunity to change lives. I want to be that person to make a difference in someone’s life, even if it is for a small portion of their life. I ended up doing oncology for the first six years of my nursing career. That role really resonated with me.
Has there been a moment when you realized that nursing was your true calling?
Stisha: Yes, during nursing school. I got straight A's in school and everyone kept saying that book smart is different from clinical smart. I've always been out to prove that I'm not only book smart, but I have the clinical knowledge and skills as well. When I was doing my practicum, one of my preceptors gave me a rare opportunity to observe an open-heart surgery. I got to see how the cardiothoracic surgeon and the interdisciplinary team worked with the patient. They let me study the patient the night before and then the entire week following the surgery. When the moment came and I found out that she was actually getting open-heart surgery they asked if I wanted to go in. At the time, I didn’t even know that it was an opportunity that I could experience. My answer was of course, yes. I got to see the process come full circle. I saw the patient beforehand, talked to her, learned about her medical history, and what led her up to this point of deciding to get open-heart surgery. Once I was in there, I got to see the respect that the doctors had for the nurses. That was a pivotal moment for me.
How has COVID affected your life as a nurse?
Stisha: I recently became per diem and came back to the bedside. I was actually in a corporate job helping other nurses. I missed the bedside and it felt like something was missing. Even though I was helping nurses through their journey, when I would hear them talking about their experiences and journey I had a slight envy. I went back full time to the emergency room in May 2020 right when we were becoming aware of the COVID-19 Pandemic. Everyone around me kept asking if I was sure that I wanted to do this. I knew that there was no better time.
At first it was very challenging. I have never really known myself to deal with anxiety, but I know how my body is affected by certain things. I started to have chest pains and difficulty sleeping, which has never been a problem for me. My body began to respond to the anxiety in physical symptoms. I found myself very stressed days before my scheduled shifts. A lot of my anxiety stemmed from the unknowns because with the pandemic and this type of virus, it's not just about what you are doing to be diligent, it's about what other people are doing.
Contracting the virus was always on my mind. I would think, “I saw her do XYZ. She took her mask down. She took a drink, she's talking to me.” All of these things were going a mile a minute in my mind. The best advice that I received was to just stop thinking about it. You can't keep thoughts like that at the forefront of your mind, otherwise you're not going to be okay. I did my best to just stop focusing on it. It might not be the healthiest way to do it but it really helped me. While you're in the moment, it’s like a coping mechanism. It really showed me the power of mindset and my ability to control what I could control.
What do you do to make mental health a priority for you?
Stisha: I watched a lot of YouTube videos to see what other nurses were kind of going through. I wanted to make sure that I wasn’t going crazy! I really needed to hear other nurses. I was so grateful for people to share their story because a lot of times in the isolation you feel like you're all on your own.
My nurse tribe that worked alongside me was also very helpful in being a safe space to share my feelings and get support.
When it comes to seeking out help from EAP, like I put in my self-care article, people don't think they need it. They often think they can handle anything or that they have been through or seen so much worse. I am an ER nurse and I have seen terrible things. Sometimes I ask myself, “why can't I just snap out of this?” I'm a Christian, so I pray often. My prayer life is crucial to my mental health. I also journal and call my friends for a little talk therapy. I haven't used EAP yet, but I feel like if I needed to, I definitely would not hesitate. The company that I work for is a faith-based company and offers great spiritual support.
Do you see yourself wanting to work per diem and at the bedside for the remainder of your career?
Stisha: I have no idea. I often joke that nurses get the five-year itch. I will get it in my head that I want a change, and that I am going to do something different. When I first did oncology, it was my first love. I loved it. After five years, I did want a challenge. I wanted to advance my clinical skills and my clinical knowledge. So I feel like in the next few years I am going to get the itch again. The opportunity for me to work per diem, it does give me leeway to do other things like administering COVID vaccines and COVID testing. I had my hands in a little bit of everything. Since I have more variety than I ever had before, I don’t know that I will get the five year itch.
What advice do you have for other nurses?
Stisha: Try not to doubt yourself. There are so many options in nursing so if you feel like you are not a good fit in your role, there's always another option. Hospitals don’t want to fire you. They want to find a place that fits you. I think people are fearful of failing, but it's not really a failure. It’s growth. My biggest advice is just sometimes you have to try something new. Otherwise burnout is real.
What do you do on your days off?
Stisha: I love content creation. I didn't think that I would like it at all and I've come to love it. With working per diem, I have to do five shifts in a six week period. I typically choose to work on the weekends. During the weekdays, I spend a lot of my time on content creation, exercising, trying to keep fit, and trying to keep myself healthy.