Michelle Mortimer is the founder and president of Wellness Works.
At Wellness Works she leads the company’s strategic growth, partnership development, and oversees its expert and passionate nursing staff.
A seasoned nurse with over twenty years of experience, Michelle spent much of her early career leading award-winning teams in critical care settings. It was the experience of caring for people after they had become afflicted with preventable diseases, that inspired her to create a company dedicated to advancing the health of individuals.
Beyond Michelle’s professional work she is an avid outdoor enthusiast. When she is not working, you will most likely find her hiking a mountain or spending time doing yoga on her stand up paddle board.
Self-care means making sure that I have enough, that I am full enough on my own, that I’m eating healthy foods, that I’m managing my stress, that I’m noticing when I’m really stressed out, and like, taking a step back, and that I’m taking care of my physical being and also relationships; it’s all part of it, you know, we look at the whole being. ~Michelle Mortimer
Welcome to Integrative Nurse Coaches in ACTION! I am Nicole Vienneau, your host, and today we are excited because we are inviting Michelle Mortimer, president, and founder of Wellness Works from Vermont. And she is here to talk to us all about Nurse Coaching, things she’s passionate about, and her vision for Nurse Coaching in her community. Welcome, Michelle.
Thank you, Nicole, I’m so happy to be here with you. Thank you for inviting me.
I am thrilled to talk to you because you are doing some incredible things over in your state of Vermont. And I knew I had to have you on our podcast so you could share your vision for Nurse Coaching and all of the fun stuff you’re doing. So, let’s take a quick historical point of view and just a little snippet of why you chose to get into Nursing.
Sure! That is historical now as I’m looking back on my career. And I got into Nursing 23 years ago, so I’ve been a Nurse for more than a minute, and I started out really not thinking I was going to be a Nurse when I was younger. I didn’t know what I wanted to do.
I actually kind of vehemently didn’t want to be a Nurse because I grew up in a house with some brothers and my dad always would say to me, “Oh, you would be such a good Nurse, you’re going to be such a good Nurse”, and I felt like— I was like this tomboy— and I felt like he was just being sexist. So, I was like, I will not be a Nurse just because I’m a girl.
But what I learned a little bit later in my life was that my dad was right and that was a calling for me. I was a little sad that I didn’t become a Nurse, actually, ‘til after he had passed away, but I think he knows that’s what I did. So, I traveled a little in my youth, I had some fun. I was a ski instructor, I was a sailor, I did a bunch of fun stuff.
Then I settled down, had a baby, and went to school while I was a mom of an infant. And I did it bit by bit because that’s what was available to me and, as Nurses, it’s great that we can do that.
So, I was an LPN and I worked as an LPN while I got my RN degree, and then I worked as an RN as I got my BSN degree. And now, at my ripe old age, I’m starting a master’s program. So Nursing is a lifelong vocation; we can always learn more.
We can always learn more. And as I talk with more and more Nurses, it seems a lot of us go on this journey of evolution where we are always seeking to become better Nurses and we do that through education, or through different programs, or different connections with people, and it’s really fun to see how Nursing can evolve us as human beings.
So then, along this journey, you came across Integrative Nurse Coaching…
Speaking of evolving, right? I did, and I feel so blessed and lucky to have come across that path. It was the right time, it was the right place, the right program. It all just kind of aligned for me. I had worked most of my career in Emergency Nursing and I followed that right up the ladder, as I guess I felt like I should, you know?
I was an ER Nurse and I was identified as being strong in what I did, so I was promoted to a supervisor, and then I was promoted to a Nurse Manager, and then I became a Director, and then I wanted to pull all my hair out.
I knew that was not the path for me. I felt, I guess, really torn for a while in that because I loved the patient care. I loved being able to connect with my patients and there’s no more meaningful environment than in the ER where people are just at their most raw and their most real, honestly, and that ability to connect on that level with patients.
But at the same time, I felt so frustrated within the system, and not just the hospital system, but the fact that these people would come back again, you know?
We call them ‘frequent fliers’ and that’s not a very nice saying, but it comes about because of the frustration of our system and seeing these people just process through and process through— are given medication, given treatment, they go back out, they haven’t learned any new skills, they haven’t learned anything about modifiable risk factors and behavior modifications.
And I started to feel like that was what I wanted to do. Like, I didn’t want to just keep never hearing the end of the story. In the ER, you never hear the end of the story, you just you patch them up and you say goodbye, and I wanted to be part of that story.
And so, having no idea what that looked like, I took a course in Holistic Nursing, and I became certified as a Holistic Nurse, and that was great. And I think from that, the thing that I learned the most was there was this foreign concept out there called self-care. ER Nurses, we don’t do that, you know?
Like, your trauma’s coming in and everybody runs to the bathroom because that’s the only time you’re going for the next eight hours.
Never mind mindfulness and really caring for yourself. And that opened my eyes to the way that I needed to be in order to give the best care, and I know wanted to take that further, and so that’s when I sought out Nurse Coaching and that’s how I came to INCA. (Integrative Nurse Coach Academy)
And you speak of self-care, and we both had a little laugh when we talked about it, when we mentioned the word self-care, because my background is Intensive Care and so I understand the little laugh because we didn’t know anything about self-care, taking care of ourselves.
Instead, we were so focused on caring for everyone else. So, for our listeners and for people who may be in the positions of ER Nurse and ICU Nurse, can you tell us a little bit about what self-care means to you and, perhaps, some of the practices you now incorporate into your life?
Yeah, absolutely. When I was a Nursing Director, I was working so much, raising my family, feeling like, really, I never had enough to give, and I didn’t, because I wasn’t taking care of myself. I actually ended up having my cortisol levels checked and there was none left. And I got shingles at the ripe old age of 38 because of all of the stress. And that was when I entered that Holistic Nursing program and I realized that there’s truth to the story about putting on your own oxygen mask first, you know? You really do need to take care of yourself or you have nothing left to give.
And as Nurses, that doesn’t always resonate as true or as something that’s available to us, so I made a commitment to myself to change that.
It was funny, when I was still working in the ER, I quit the Director job and I went back to staff Nursing so I could figure out what I would do, and they’d be like, “Hey, we desperately need someone to work 12 hours tomorrow”, and I’d be like, “I’ve got yoga”, and just keeping that commitment to myself.
nd so, for me, self-care means making sure that I have enough, that I am full enough on my own, that I’m eating healthy foods, that I’m managing my stress, that I’m noticing when I’m really stressed out, and like, taking a step back, and that I’m taking care of my physical being and also relationships; it’s all part of it, you know, we look at the whole being.
And so, I do that for myself and I think, one: It makes me better for the people that I’m working with because I’m feeling good, and second: I feel like I would be a hypocrite if I didn’t. It’s the number one tenet of Holistic Nursing, and when I’m talking to people about carving time out of their busy lives for self-care, I feel like I can bring that to them.
Yeah. And so, in your Nurse Coaching practice, I mean you run a very successfully built business called Wellness Works, can you tell us a little bit about how you’re utilizing Nurse Coaching within that practice?
Yes, absolutely. So, Wellness Works is a company that brings Nurses and Nurse Coaches into businesses. And we do that with the mindset that a healthy employee creates a healthy business, right? If your employees are unhealthy, if they’re unwell, if they don’t feel cared for, businesses end up spending a lot more money, and so we’re fortunate that we’ve been able to connect with a lot of companies who really believe in this. They believe in the return on investment and investing in their employees.
So, there are a few different ways that we do it— I feel honored actually, recently, we’ve been doing a lot of work with hospitals and, for me, that is just like a passion and a dream come true because we’re nurturing the Nurses and that never happens, as we know, right? So, some of the hospitals in our region— and we’re in Vermont, we’re in New Hampshire, and we’re also in Massachusetts, so we’re kind of in this tri-state region— they’re hiring us to do 12 week coaching programs.
We set that because, as Lewin taught us with change theory, it takes 12 weeks to get something to stick.
And so, we are doing, and the hospitals are providing for their employees, 12 weeks of health coaching with one of our Nurse Coaches and it’s been wonderful. And we go back time after time; they do them in sessions, and so I love doing that and I feel honored to be able to give back to our people, you know?
And then we also go on site on a regular basis, so there’s several companies where Nurses go anywhere from one to five days a week and they are part of the culture within that organization. And they work to create wellness programming, they run wellness committees, they work one-on-one to do health coaching, do group health coaching, we offer different— now with COVID, especially— we do tele-health, and we offer webinars, interactive webinars.
I just did one, which I loved and I felt really honored; I was asked to do it for BlueCross BlueShield. So that was a nice honor, that they asked me to do that. And I did do it for them, for all of their clients in the region, on self-care and how effective it is to boost your immune system. And so, I did a little teaching on immune health and self-care and it was great.
Wonderful. I see it as the invisible mask, your immune system.
Yeah, our invisible mask. And you’re right, what an opportunity to be able to present on topics you’re passionate about to BlueCross BlueShield and their constituents and sharing your knowledge and your passion for what you do.
Which leads me to a next question about the difference that you see, potentially, the difference between Nurses doing health coaching and, say, a layman person doing health coaching, because you employ Nurses in your company, correct?
I do. I do. And I don’t have any lay-health coaches and there is definitely a reason for that because I do see a difference. Not that there can’t be really good health coaches who are laypeople, who have educated themselves and done a lot, but as Nurses, we bring to the table all of that scientific background that we have learned; all of our training.
We bring our assessment skills, we bring our critical thinking to the table, we bring all of these things together and with that we can coach, I think, so effectively.
Example being, maybe someone’s struggling— I mean, we coach for all reasons— but maybe someone is struggling with weight loss, and they have just tried everything, and they don’t understand why. And so, we’re looking at them and, visually, we’re seeing some signs that maybe they’re having a thyroid issue, you know?
And so, we’re doing a visual assessment, we take a history, we kind of start thinking about what might be going on with this person and then, with their permission, maybe talk to them about getting some lab work done, you know, other things.
We can pull this whole picture in as Nurses and— not that we’re doing a ton of educating, because we are doing coaching— but we have that perspective that we bring with us that doesn’t just turn off when we become a Nurse Coach and I think it’s such a valuable addition to the role.
Yeah, I see that too. You know, Nurses have such innate knowledge and skill level for assessment, for processes, for disease process, but also have this whole other layer— especially with a board certification in Nurse Coaching— of the wellness approach, the holistic view, and being able to layer that view over the scientific view to really create what’s necessary to meet people on an individual basis, where they live, work, and play.
Yeah, I love that, and I love the way that you said layer because that’s so true. Before I understood Nurse Coaching, before I knew what it was about, I couldn’t really understand the difference between educating and coaching. And again, going to my background, my hospital background, and especially in the fast-paced environment that you and I both worked in, Nicole, it’s like, “Okay, this person is here, for an exacerbation of their COPD” so we need to tell them, “You need to stop smoking, you need to eat right, you need to do this, you need to do this, okay, goodbye!” Right?
And how is someone going to change their life that way? That person is so overwhelmed that we told them they need to stop, so now they’ve just walked away with some guilt and they’ve got to go have a cigarette because they’re really stressed out, you know?
And in the coaching role, you really learn how to be present for that person and how to talk to them: “Tell me about what’s going on. I can hear you saying that you’ve been sick and that you don’t want to smoke. Where are you out with that? Talk to me about it.”
And listen, and then from that listening and that deep, deep awareness, you can bring out things that maybe they didn’t even realize they were saying or thinking and help them come to their own goals and, as we know, that’s so much more successful.
Absolutely. Creating the safe space. Being with versus being at someone, telling them what to do. Instead, we become partners.
Yeah, and it’s such a powerful partnership. It’s taught me a lot, for sure.
Me as well, and still so much learning to do, which is fun, to talk to you about this, because as we all journey in creating this vision for shifting the paradigm of healthcare and how we interact with patients, you’re doing something that’s a little bit different. You’re going into work environments and you’re meeting people where they work before they get sick.
Yeah. Or sometimes they already are sick and they don’t know it. It’s amazing, especially— I’m sure other cultures have this, too— but New England is known for being like, very stoic, you know? There’s that hardened, stoic, we don’t ask for help, kind of New England fortitude.
And a lot of times when we’re in places, especially where it’s industry and manufacturing, and there are a lot of men, but women as well, who haven’t been to a doctor, it’s like that one where, “No, I don’t have high blood pressure.” Well, it’s because nobody’s checked your blood pressure in 10 or 15 years, right?
And then you can develop the relationship, which is what I love about our company. They see a Nurse over and over again and they develop that relationship, and then there’s a trust, and then you can get them on that path to wellness that they didn’t even realize existed for them.
Opening up doors, opening up opportunities. Beautiful, beautiful. So, I’d love for you to tell us, maybe, a little story about a client that you’ve worked with that has impacted you and your work.
I know I’ve told you some stories before; I’m going to tell you a different one this time.
Good, I love stories.
There’s so many good ones, right?
Yeah, so much fun. And this is what I love because we get to see the end of the story here. I was doing health coaching; it was one of the 12 week programs that we did and it was actually one of my first ones after I became certified so I was a little nervous and, you know, trying to figure it all out. And I was working— again, such an honor in this case— I was working with a group of caregivers who provide mental health services for an entire county in Vermont.
And so, these are people who really need it, and needed the health coaching, and they just needed a place to do some self-care, right? I had a young man that I was working with and he was so delightful. I mean, he was in his late 20s, still, and he had not been under 300 pounds since he was 12 years old. And he really struggled and really just… he struggled with wanting to be healthy.
He had this vision around his health that was sad to me, honestly, because he just had already made up his mind that he was going to die young because that’s what had happened in his family because they had a family history of obesity. But at the same time, he had this shining light, and he was going to change something for himself and it was all him.
It was the perfect coaching experience. This guy, with a little permission to educate him on some things, he took it, and he ran with it and next I knew he was dropping weight left and right. He started by going for walks, he joined a 5K with his friends, he joined the pool, he put it up on his fridge, he had his family members doing stuff with him. He was so determined, and he was very successful.
But long after I had finished that 12 week program, I got a message from him that he was 290 pounds and he was going to continue going. And that was, I mean, that was huge for him, just so huge for him and the way it changed— and he had gotten a promotion at work, he was dating someone— it just changed his whole life.
And it wasn’t really the weight, I mean, we always know or, at least, I always feel like I know that weight is usually not really and necessarily about the weight, right? It’s other things. And he was able to see himself in a different way and that self that he saw was empowered and felt strong and felt healthy and then it started showing. So, it’s really cool.
Wow, what a wonderful story. And working with him…
Yeah, and just watching him blossom, honestly, because he would set his goals and he was so great. He’d come in the next week and he’d be right on time, waiting for me, and he would tell me about the goals that he had accomplished, and he was like, “…and I’ve thought about my goals for this week.” I mean, he was so easy to coach, honestly. It was wonderful.
And we are going back— so it’s been over a year since we coached with that group— and we’re being invited back in the spring to do tele-health coaching, so I will be very interested to see where he’s at.
That’ll be really fun to see where he’s at. So, what do you think about the whole relationship— that relationship with him and with you as a coach— what do you think about that, that transformed him or helped him to be able to make those changes?
Well, I think part of it was creating a safe space, right? So, we started out, right away, going over our guiding principles, creating a safe space. I’m letting him know, kind of, what coaching was about because he had never experienced it before.
And I think, in my relationship with him, it was important that someone was hearing him without judgment because he made it clear that he had had a lot of judgment in his life.
And the more that he could express himself, and that it was acknowledged and validated and then, you know, making those smart goals, starting small, him having those small successes and then building upon them, just really… it really works. That whole process works.
So, it’s not just magic?
No! If it was, I don’t know if anybody… nobody would be able to do it, maybe, I don’t know! It’s all the good stuff that we learned at INCA.
And coming from your authentic space. Your authenticity.
Yeah, I think that’s true. I remember— because again, from my background, it was teaching and talking to or at, you know, not with— and I think it was you, Nicole, in the program, who taught us the acronym: WAIT. “Why am I talking?” I hung on to that like a life preserver when I started because I didn’t know what to do with silence. And that was, really, such a simple thing, but it helped me to be a better coach.
Sometimes I take that a little bit further, that acronym, and I say: WAIST. “Why am I still talking?” (laughter) I still hold on to that acronym because sometimes we can get excited and go off on a tangent, so then I tell myself, “Wait, wait, Nicole. Silence.”
Exactly. And that magic— we speak of magic, there is magic in it, there’s magic in that pause, in that space— and the magic is that it allows that person you’re with to connect with their true self and bring it up and that’s when the magic happens.
So where do you see Nurse Coaching leading to?
I’m so excited about this. I see that we’re in the midst of a big paradigm shift, as you and I have talked about. There are physicians who are trying really hard to do good work, and Nurse Practitioners, and you know, mid-levels of everywhere, and we see wellness is now becoming something that is talked about more; that is becoming more integrated.
And there are people who are really passionate and want to see that shift and it’s very hard for providers in our, kind of, traditional health care system because they’re held accountable, through insurance, for seeing a certain number of patients a day, for meeting all these quota and criteria, and I see Nurse Health Coaches as the partner to that.
I am very hopeful that, soon, it will be readily reimbursable by insurance, that we will be able to partner with our physician and mid-level practitioners, that we will be able to offer these services to people on their insurance, and that we will be able to be that extension and really help people.
So you go to the doctor and you find out that you have, I don’t know, diabetes or whatever you might have going on, and instead of just going home with a paper printout that tells you all these things, you’re going to work with a Nurse Health Coach and they’re going to help you process that and really work through it. I see that as being a huge opportunity.
I also see Nurse Coaches as leaders in their own right and that we will be able to really connect with people in our community. I know one of the things that I’m looking to expand within my business is creating a wellness center and really being able to offer things, even through grant funding, to help people learn how to cook with local foods, you know, with whole foods, to offer teaching kitchen kind of things, to work with groups of single moms.
I have a Nurse Coach friend that I went through the program with who’s so interested in working with parents with young children, and how do you raise kids in a healthy home and a well home, and I see us being leaders and on the front of all of that!
I see us being leaders on the front of all that, too, and who better and who more to trust than a Nurse?
Absolutely. One of the most trusted professions.
Absolutely. Eighteen years and counting in the Gallup polls! We’re proud of that.
So how do we find you at Wellness Works? And just give us a little bit about that.
Sure. So, I have a website which has a way to contact me. My website is www.wellness-works.net and if you go on there you can see a little bit about our business, you can see a little profile about me—although I think I kind of told you everything that’s on there— and there’s a connect button there, so feel free to reach out to me by email.
I feel like I’m not part of that old paradigm of Nurses: “eat their young”, and I don’t think any of us in this health coaching profession are. And the more we help each other, and the more positive energy we put out there, the higher the vibration and the more that comes back to all of us. And so as busy as I am, I would always be willing and honored to answer questions, or help in any way, for someone who’s trying to figure it out.
I definitely know that about you. You are very open and true to who you are and, also, your willingness to see other people succeed, as well. So thank you for that.
Yes. Is there anything else you’d like to share with our audience before we say our goodbyes?
I guess I would just like to say, I’m not sure who’s going to be listening to this, but for anyone who is, I’m so glad that you found this space because if you found it, it’s the right place for you to be.
And INCA is an amazing program. It’s so well structured, both in the scientific background and also in the healing arts. It’s such a great program and I welcome you to explore it and ask any of us, really, anything. And welcome to the profession if you’re considering it. We’d love to have you.
Yes, we would. We definitely love our Nurses and welcome, all of you. So thank you, Michelle, for spending some time with us today and we will definitely share all of your information in our show notes. And thank you, again.
Thank you, Nicole. It’s been great.
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