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Katie Duke on fitness: “Do something you love, but also something realistic.”

Lionel Cassini for Scrubs Magazine Print Edition Fall 2014

Lionel Cassini for Scrubs Magazine Print Edition Fall 2014

We’ve all heard it a million times: Exercise to stay healthy. Everything in moderation. Keep calm and…well, you know the rest. But nurses know, perhaps better than most, how hard it can be to maintain a healthy lifestyle in today’s hectic world (especially one with 12-hour shifts!).

So what can a busy nurse do? To help answer that question, we sat down with ER nurse and NY Med star Katie Duke to discuss fitness, including physical health and nurses’ mental health. Check out her answers below, then tell us how you stay healthy, both physically and mentally, in the comments.

Psst! Want more Katie Duke? Read her cover story from the Spring 2014 issue of Scrubs here!

Scrubs: What’s an essential mentality to have as a nurse?

Katie: You have to understand that you cannot fix everybody. You have to be willing to accept that. You cannot go into the nursing profession thinking, “I’m going to save everybody,” “I’m gonna heal everybody,” “I’m gonna make a positive difference in everybody’s life” … ’cause you know what? You’re not. And that is a very harsh reality about nursing.

You do a lot of good work throughout the day, you touch a lot of lives, you make a lot of positive change and improvement in people’s lives, and you save a few lives. However, there are also those more realistic days where you can have a patient who dies and no matter how hard you try, they are going to die. And you have to be ok with accepting that.

And there are also those days where you come in and you have a patient who is diabetic, hypertensive and they’re eating a bag of McDonald’s in front of you and no matter how much to tell them, “Listen, you have to take your medicine, to follow up with your physician, you need to listen to me and my instructions,” they’re not gonna do it. And you want them to get healthy and to get better more than they want themselves to get healthy and to get better.

And so, you have to be ok with understanding, “You know what? I can’t fix you because you don’t want to fix yourself.” And it’s a very hard thing to realize and accept as a nurse because we are good natured people and we want to help people … so the number like one thing I think above everything else is you have to realize that you just cannot fix everybody, save everybody or help everybody.

You mentioned in the Spring 2014 issue of Scrubs that you balanced your hours on the job with lots of exercise. What suggestions would you have for a nurse who is trying to get into that habit of exercising?

First you have to get a schedule down. You have to find whatever days or hours that you are free and you don’t need tons of free time. You could use 30 minutes a day. Or you could have an hour on Monday, an hour on Wednesday, and hour on Friday. First you have to figure out, “What’s a realistic time for me?’”

Second thing you have to do is figure out your goals. “Do I want to lose weight? Do I want to tone? Do I maybe want to strengthen my back a little more, so I have less pain at work? Do I maybe want to drop a couple inches in my waistline? Do I want stronger arms when I do CPR?” What do you want to do?

And third, you should consult with somebody. I tell a lot of people that they should consult with a personal trainer, or maybe a fitness friend, or maybe go to the local gym and say, “Hey, I want to start a new regimen. Can you help me sort through some things, so I can get started on the right foot?”

I have ran marathons and half marathons and I’ve always been a fitness kind of person and I love working out. I do hot yoga at least once a week. And that is a very good stress reliever for me as an ER nurse because that is where I release a lot of tension. But also a good healthy activity.

The second thing I do is I box. And I don’t mean like kickboxing. I mean, my trainer competes in the Golden Gloves in NYC. Like I get in the ring, and we like punch each other. Boxing. But it is such a good workout for not only my arms, but my back, and you know what? It’s a stress reliever! That patient that cursed me out and spit on me the night before, I get to let that out in the ring and it feels good. And I get an amazing workout. It’s good cardio. It’s strength training. So those are my two personal choices.

Do something that you love, but also something realistic. Don’t say, “I’m gonna do yoga,” but there is no yoga studio within 10 miles of your apartment. You’re not gonna stick to it. You say, “OK. I’d like to do yoga, but you know what? There’s a gym that’s a mile away from me. I can get there in my car, I can walk, I can take the train. And you know what? I can realistically get there two days a week for an hour.” Now set that up. Make that happen.

Is there such a thing as too much caffeine for a nurse?

I don’t know because everyone tolerates caffeine differently.  I mean, I’ve never finished one cup of coffee. I only usually drink like half of it, but that because it’s usually cold when I get to the bottom. But, you know, another nurse might be able to drink a whole pot, and she still is feeling whatever. It’s a drug; you’re going to build a tolerance for it at some point and time. But I guess you can always have too much of something. People might say, “Duke, is eating an entire pizza yourself okay?” And I’m gonna say, “No, of course not.” Who am I to judge caffeine?

How do you remedy a bad work day?

I honestly don’t take my work home with me.  I learned to stop doing that a long time ago. If I have a bad work day, who cares? It’s part of the job. Now, if I’m having a bad work day because I got written up, or my manager just ringed me out the wazoo, then yeah I’m gonna take that home with me, you know, because that’s affecting my job security. So I have to identify: What’s the problem? Why did this happen? Is it something I can fix? Is it something I can avoid in the future? And put those pieces together and change it.

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