Deborah McElligott, DNP, ANP-BC, AHN-BC, HWNC-BC, CDE is an Adult and Holistic Nurse Practitioner, and Integrative Nurse Coach, working with Katz Institute for Women’s Health in the Center for Wellness & Integrative Medicine.
With certifications in many Integrative Modalities, her background at Northwell includes cardiac surgery, integrative medicine, administration, education and consultation.
Her focus now is on expanding Integrative Health approaches to wellbeing & healing for providers, teams and communities throughout the Northwell System through various community and CME programs ranging from 4-hour to 10-month programs. She Chairs Northwell’s Integrative Health Collaborative.
She is faculty at the Donald and Barbara Zucker School of Medicine at Hofstra-Northwell, where she is a facilitator in the Healer Arts Program and the medical humanities elective. She has presented internationally, published and researched the topics in the area of health promotion and healing.
“Coaching adds the component of not knowing. It was so powerful for me because as an NP, you had to be the expert. You know, as a Nurse, you have to be an expert. You can’t give the wrong medication, you’ll kill somebody.
You have to be perfect. And this not knowing part of coaching, where you can hold the space for your client, your patient, your peer, and help them discover their best way of becoming who they need to be, was really powerful. You know, knowing that you can be an expert, but you can also be a not knowing person at the same time.” ~Deborah McElligott, DNP, ANP-BC, AHN-BC, HWNC-BC, CDE
Nicole Vienneau 00:00
Welcome, everyone, to the Integrative Nurse Coaches in ACTION! podcast. My name is Nicole Vienneau, and I am your host and I’m also a Board Certified Integrative Nurse Coach. And today our guest is— I’m excited about this, so I’m just like pausing for a minute, because we are welcoming Deb McElligott. And she is from New York City.
She is a Holistic Nurse Practitioner. And listeners, why it’s so exciting is that Deb was in the very first cohort of the International Nurse Coach Association’s Nurse Coaching certificate program. So she has been doing and participating and evolving Nurse Coaching since the very beginning.
So I am so thrilled to have her on the podcast, one because she has a wealth of knowledge, has contributed immense amounts of energy, time, skill and knowledge to helping Nurse Coaching become a thing, to helping Nurse Coaching evolve through research and articles and just awareness and programming and all kinds of different things that she has contributed to. So, we welcome Deb.
Deborah McElligott 01:20
Thanks, Nicole. Thanks for that generous welcome and introduction. And I’m excited to be here to share part of my story. Hopefully, people can learn from some of the challenges that I’ve had on how to move this Nurse Coaching forward.
Nicole Vienneau 01:34
Yes, yes. And so we are excited to hear your wisdom and soak it up. So we love to go back down history lane, and learn a little bit about how you discovered Nursing. What brought you there?
Deborah McElligott 01:49
That’s a funny story because I never wanted to be a Nurse. You know, people always say, oh, I wanted to be a Nurse since I was three years old. I always wanted to heal. I wanted to be a teacher. My grandmother had this really neat desk that I used to sit at and pretend I was the teacher giving homework and those types of things. But I had an active imagination when I was a kid.
I went to Nursing school because those were one of the few good jobs that women had when I was graduating high school. And I was in a work study program in high school. So my senior year, I worked from four to eight, a couple evenings, in a hospital. I basically left school at like one o’clock in the afternoon.
That was my introduction, because it was a job, it was something to do. I was scheduled to go to a three year program with one of my friends, and about two months before, my dad took me into the city to meet this Nurse, Mrs. Kirkwood. I mean, she was old then, God is probably blessing her now, wherever she is. But she’d said to my dad, no, you don’t want a three year program, you want a four year program.
So I was in the first Nursing program that was open admissions at Hunter College and Bellevue School of Nursing. So the Bellevue Nurses didn’t like us because we weren’t real Nurses because they were managing wards, you know, by the time they were a sophomore. So I don’t know how I got there. But, you know, I saw it… I liked it. I liked being in the dorm.
I liked Hunter College. I liked the… as I was introduced to Nursing, I liked it. But it’s so funny when people say how’d you get there? I have no idea. It was a bunch of lucky shots, really, that got me into a four year program to start off with. And then, you know, jobs were easy to come back then. And I spent most of my life in cardiac surgery.
And through that everybody was stressed. You know, I thought that was the worst diagnosis ever. Oh my god, you need open heart surgery, you need to have your chest sawed open. They’re touching your heart. I became involved in a lot of different integrative therapies to see how people could… how could they heal? How could they decrease their anxiety?
You know, how could they decrease their stress? And you sort of, I’m sure as many of your audience know, once you start learning one integrative therapy, you become a junkie, you know, you want to learn everything. So I took a long program at New York College in AMMA massage, that was massage done acupuncture channels.
And that introduced you to traditional Chinese medicine. And then I did my masters, you know, maybe 15 years after I got my bachelor’s at NYU. And you know, Dolores Krieger was there, Martha Rogers had just left. And I was introduced to all of this eastern philosophy there, and the spiritual part of healing, and I loved that program.
That was like my favorite program ever. It was part time, it was one evening a week. I felt like I was going, you know, on a date with my girlfriend who we were driving into the city with me while my whole family’s at home— my husband and my kids.
But that was exciting. So that really sparked my interest into holistic Nursing. So a long answer to a short question of how did I get into Nursing. I don’t know, but you know, there are no accidents and here I am, you know, over 50 years later, and I sort of can’t define who I am without bringing the Nursing part into it. It’s sort of, you know… it does become your life, as does the holistic Nursing.
Nicole Vienneau 05:18
What a story. I love it. Yeah.
Deborah McElligott 05:21
It’s, you know, you asked me a simple question, I can go on forever. How did I get into holistic Nursing? And, you know, how did I get into Nurse Coaching and all of that? So I’m working in cardiac surgery. And Barbie and Lynn Keegan wrote their book on holistic Nursing or cardiovascular Nursing, whatever it is, the book that she wrote about holistic Nursing and cardiac patients, and I was like, wow, she’s so right, this is right where I want to be.
And so I admired Barbie from a distance for a long time. Even have one of the books by Larry that he wrote early on, that I got at a bookstore near me, that was signed. So it’s interesting that I had this Dossey connection long before I knew Barbie, or even the AHNA.
But I think being in cardiac surgery and aligning with her book really perked my interest with holistic Nursing. And then I became a member of AHNA shortly after I graduated with my masters, and I was a clinical Nurse specialist. So that was a really neat role. You could, you know, do programs, you could do pre op teaching with patients.
And then I transferred hospitals after I got my masters and I became part of the Northwell Health System as a clinical Nurse specialist, which again, a role with a lot of independence and freedom to sort of deal with the whole person. Because at that time, you know, that that wasn’t a language that was used, it was team Nursing, was used most of the time, or it was just a different time.
But the connection to holistic Nursing was powerful. And then I don’t remember which holistic Nursing conference was my first one, I think I joined sometime in the 90s. And I never forget, I was at one of the conferences, and I actually saw Barbie and met her, and you know how gracious she is.
“What’s your name?” And then she remembers your name, which is such a beautiful skill. So I would see her year after year just as a little bit of a connection. But having that… having a book that says, you know, you can work with cardiac surgery patients and it’s more than just their physical heart and the arteries that are being bypassed, was really a deal breaker for me.
Because that aligned with the work I was doing, and pulled me into the holistic Nursing realm, which, you know, has so blossomed since… the internet’s blossomed so much. So these were the days when, you know, you didn’t email everybody all the time, you know, you sort of hope you saw somebody and spoke to them. So, sounds like another century. Oh, it was.
Nicole Vienneau 07:52
Yeah, it was another century. So, what a journey you’ve had, I mean, I’m imagining you sitting at the desk, you know, wanting to be a teacher as a little girl, and then evolving to realize, okay, the practical things of life, and let’s go into Nursing instead.
And then your journey through that, and really looking at being one of the Nurses in this four year program versus a three year. And then living in the dorms and learning all of that. And, you know, the history of Nursing and how that much has evolved over time as well. 50 years you said, 50 years of being in Nursing.
Deborah McElligott 08:34
And it’s really funny, because now I remember I didn’t become a teacher because I didn’t want to go to school for four years. Nursing was only three years. So I was like, oh, let me do Nursing, it’s only three years.
And then little did I know you’re in school the rest of your life, you know, how many degrees or certifications… we’re constantly in school and learning. Yeah, that was the initial deal breaker. Oh, who wants to go to school for four years? You know, that’s so long.
Nicole Vienneau 08:57
That’s a long time. Oh, and you’re so right about Nurses, we always want to have a certification or we want to take something new. And then you touched on holistic Nursing and then learning one therapy, which you mentioned, AMMA massage, which our last guest, Sandy Rousso, that’s how she discovered holistic Nursing.
Deborah McElligott 09:16
Yeah, definitely, that was a big program on Long Island. It was an expensive program, and you had something like 800 clinical hours, so it was no joke. You could have been a massage therapist, but I was like, I have a Nursing license. I don’t need to be a massage therapist. But it was a great program.
And they had one holistic Nursing meeting at the school one time, and that’s how I was actually introduced to it, as I was introduced to the integrative imagery, which was another holistic Nursing. You know, imagery certification, which again, was one of my favorite modalities. So yeah, you sort of, you know, go that route and then the therapeutic touch and the Reiki and and all of that, and then reflexology.
So those are like my— reflexology and imagery are my main modalities that I often use with my Nurse Coaching process. But you know, it’s a journey. And I came to a point where… I guess it was NYU first had a Master’s in Holistic Nursing. You could be a holistic NP, which I was like, oh, that’s what I want to be, I’m in cardiac surgery, I had to become an NP because our surgery sort of mandated it.
They wanted to get rid of residents and have an NP run service. So my lovely clinical Nurse specialist job became an NP job, you know, with not much freedom because you’re constantly admitting, managing, discharging, you know, caring for the patients in the hospital, although we did do some good programs.
But that holistic NP title that NYU had, because that AMMA training I had was so expensive, I called New York State and I was like, you know, I’m an adult NP, and I’m a holistic Nurse, I should be a holistic NP. So they said, put together your portfolio.
Because I had done my masters at NYU and I had done the AMMA training, I was able to show that I had contact hours and Nursing credits for everything that you needed for the HMP, which I was then given. That was the best thing in my life. I had a free New York state license that I have to maintain all the time, but it was a free, you know, holistic NP license in New York State.
The interesting thing is when… and I’m just speaking, you know, off the top of my head, so this may or may not be true, but my experience was that when holistic NPs graduated, it was hard to find a job. Because everybody was like, well, you’re a holistic NP, oh, you don’t manage meds? Oh you don’t treat a-fib? Or, you know, they wanted the adult NPs.
So I think, a couple years later, NYU merged their program, and I think people come out with a dual certification. But, you know, thanks to Carla Mariano for creating the program and recognizing the value of holistic Nursing for NPs, because that was always a very medical model. So, for me, that was the best thing.
And you know, not every NP wants to be a holistic NP. Many people are very happy in the strict medical model, which is fine. But, you know, I was really looking on how to merge those routes. And it was a challenge, you know, on how to merge the holistic and the NP.
You can be doing meditation with somebody or doing some reflexology for their pain, and all of a sudden someone’s in rapid a-fib, and oh, see you later, you know, let me just go see the person in a-fib. So, that role was challenging. So, I harassed my administration for a couple of years, and finally, the surgeon supported me.
And I was given a job as a holistic NP in the hospital, doing inpatient consults for pain, anxiety, and end of life, which was beautiful, but in those days, you got reimbursed for that. So for four years, I had that position, sort of my dream job, creating like inpatient consults and introducing integrative therapies into many different service lines.
But really, the bang for the bucks came with oncology, palliative care, and the bone marrow transplant— that’s where most of my patients were. But then, you know, budgets get cut, priorities change, leadership changes, and they said, “oh you’d be a really good Director of NPs.” And they said, “and you can still do all your holistic work.”
So I was like, okay, I’ll do that, you know, otherwise, I wouldn’t have a job. So I became the Director of NPs, which was huge, because we were just starting the NP service. And in one year, we went from a small number to maybe we hired like 25 or 30 NPs.
So they had to be hired, oriented, evaluated, trained, and it was just me who was the director, there was no educator at that point, there was no preceptor, there was no anything. So it was an all consuming role. So I think I maybe stayed in that role for about five years or so. But it exposed me to directors across the health system, to many different hospitals. It was a really good exposure.
Then one of our surgeons… as I’m hiring NPs, I’m looking at a posting, there’s a posting for NP out on the island, to work on community wellness, and that’s what my focus was. So I left the hospital, and people couldn’t believe it. I went into another sister hospital. And I started doing my same consults out there until their budgets got cut and changed. But being out there is what introduced me to the desire to be a coach.
Nicole Vienneau 14:35
Ah, so now we’re getting into the coaching.
Deborah McElligott 14:38
I mean, you know, Nicole, I’m sorry, but I could just keep talking forever. So I’m the NP out at this community hospital, and there’s a conference, a lunch and learn for the residents. And it’s being given by a wellness coach, and I’m thinking who’s a wellness… there’s no wellness coach in the hospital.
So I go to this conference, and I listen, and there’s this woman who was very stunning, very slim with long, beautiful nails, a pocketbook that was gorgeous, that matched her shoes. And I’m in the middle of doing my DNP on… I was looking at health promotion in Nurses. So I’m in, you know, run down in the middle of the day, sweaty, you know, no makeup on, looking pretty scuzzy.
And here’s this very put together woman who has her own business, who’s a coach, and she’s talking to our med students or interns about, you know, send me your patients with diabetes and, you know, I can help them lose weight. I can help them, you know, exercise. Here’s the book I wrote, here’s my card with her picture, the book with her picture, all her laminated handouts.
And I’m like, wow, this lady really has it together. So I go up and talk to her, and I was like, when she’s done, I was like, oh, so nice to meet you. And she shakes my hand, “what’s your name?” And she repeats it three times. So she’s like, real business savvy. And I said, you know, what’s your training?
You know, where did… how did you get started in all of this? And she looks at me with a big smile, and she’s like, “oh, I have life experience.” So the steam starts to roll out of my ears. And I’m like, oh, that’s wonderful. What kind of life experience? She goes, “Oh, I coached Weight Watchers for five years.”
So this is me, I don’t know how many years into my Nursing career, how many degrees, certifications, you know, running around sweating, loving to have an audience like interns to talk about holistic care, and here’s a Weight Watchers— and nothing bad about Weight Watchers, very effective program— but, you know, her expertise sort of tipped me over the edge.
So that being said, I’m stressed, I’m tired. I packed my bags, and I go to the holistic Nursing conference, which was maybe three days later. And as I’m there, Barbie, who now I had a connection with and knew me from previous conferences, comes up. She’s like, “Oh, Debbie—” and I can’t do her accent really well, because she has a beautiful accent.
She’s like, “I have to let you know, we’re starting a coaching program.” And I was like, “Really?” And she’s like, “Yes, it’s a new area for Nurses…” And she goes on and on, and I was like, sign me up the minute she said it. And I told her my story, I was like, this is so needed. I don’t want these other people coming in with no experience coaching my patients with diabetes.
So they lose weight, is she going to tell them to adjust their medication or test their sugars each day? Or know what their sugar levels are? Or know their comorbidities? You can’t have anybody doing this with people with chronic diseases, you need Nurses. So I was so in line with her. And that was cohort one that she and Susan and Bonney started. Talk about timing.
Nicole Vienneau 17:39
Yeah, that’s right, the synchronicities of all of this, too, for you. And I really, really was envisioning this coach up at the front with all of her… looks like all of her stuff together.
Deborah McElligott 17:54
So together, you know, and then imagine yourself as a Nurse, as an NP in the middle of a shift, trying… you didn’t have lunch, but you want to hear what the speaker is, and you rush in trying to find a seat with all these young interns. And here she is, you know, really put together.
Nicole Vienneau 18:09
Really put together and practicing just with life experience. And you know, that of course, as we all in Nurse Coaching have years, and like you say, multiple degrees, certifications, and we have the skill of being a Nurse, in addition to life experience, you know. And the wisdom and the art and so many healing modalities.
And we are using now layering on Nurse Coaching to all of that on the coaching ways of you know, appreciative inquiry and motivational interviewing and so forth. So I do want to back up because for our listeners who don’t know who Barbie is.
So this is Dr. Barbara Dossey, who is one of the cofounders of Nurse Coaching, and of course, has her own theory of practice and in Nursing practice and is an incredible human. Susan Luck is also one of the Co-directors, and Bonney Schaub.
Deborah McElligott 19:12
And also, you know, Barbie and Susan were part of the founders of holistic Nursing, being in it from the very beginning. So just really powerful figureheads and leaders in the holistic Nursing world. So when she’s starting a program, it’s just energy, knowledge, skill, experience that you just want to be around.
Nicole Vienneau 19:33
Yes, oh my gosh, and so much positive energy and just that… you knew that you were moving into something that was calling you. Okay, so now we know that you’ve signed up for this coaching program. It’s the first one, so tell us a little bit about that— cohort number one.
Deborah McElligott 19:53
It was exciting. You know, like any Nursing… you know, I’ve done a number of Nursing programs where you’re away for like three or four days at a time. So you’re sort of removed from the world so you can really be immersed into it. And that’s how it started with cohort one. We had no textbook, it was all printed copies that they would bring. And it was really holistic Nursing.
But it… how can I say it… for me, the coaching is a way to explain my holistic Nursing role. Because again, I’d say I’m a Holistic NP, and people would be, oh, so you don’t give medications. But if I say, I’m an Integrative Nurse Coach, they’re like, oh, wow, you coach people, that’s really neat. How do you do that as an NP?
And then you have those conversations. So it pulled together all my different modalities, all my years of holistic Nursing, and my practice, you know. And when they talked about the Integrative Health and Wellness assessment— so there’s a long form and short form that’s really the tool that’s based on Barbie’s theory, looks at her eight dimensions of wellness, which really resonate with me.
And you know, no matter where you look in wellness, everybody has a wellness wheel, everybody looks at different parts of the person, but this, coming from holistic Nursing, really looks at the person, the body, mind and spirit. It looks at the relationship.
Susan brought in the whole environmental piece, which was really new for me. You know, I always ate like, pretty clean, just because I like to cook, but never really thought about the toxins, never really thought about, you know, the house shouldn’t smell like Clorox. To me that meant clean, you know, that’s how you were brought up.
I’ll Comet the sink, we get everything shiny. So the environmental toxins, the environment, and then Barbie with her whole philosophy of local to global, and we’re more than just the Nurse in our unit in the hospital. You know, so the Integrative Self Assessment was a big step for me. Because up until that time, even though I’m a holistic Nurse, I never really assessed my self-care.
You knew what you needed to do, but this was a deeper dive. I mean, I had done it with the imagery, I guess I had done it when I learned the massage because they assess you from a traditional Chinese medicine standpoint. So your emotions are attached to your organ channels.
So I’ve had some experience assessing myself, but not like this where someone’s not assessing me, I’m assessing myself. So a simple example— and this is why I love holistic Nursing— so when I was getting my first massage in traditional Chinese medicine, the lady’s massaging down my arm, and I’m like, “Oh, that’s tender, oh, that’s tender.”
And she goes, “Oh, are you a smoker?” And I’m like, “No, I’m a Nurse, my dad died of lung cancer, I would never smoke.” She says, “Do you have lung issues?” And I was like, “No.” And she goes, “Well, your lung channel is really congested.” So she sort of spooked me. And then she said, “Have you had any grief or sadness in the last five years?”
And if you talk to anybody that has a family, you know, and cousins and aunts and uncles, you know, you have tons of things going on. Plus, you know, this was before 911, but there was just a lot of things going on. And so when I actually spoke to her, she said, “Well, you know, in Chinese medicine, in the lung channel, that’s where you hold grief and sadness.”
So that was like a big aha, proof of 1000s of years that people believe that you know, what you feel, what you think, that whole mental, emotional, spiritual connection is very real and manifested in the body. So as we’re doing Barbie’s tool, that just made so much more sense to me that they’re looking at these eight different areas of wellness, and you making this connection.
And then when they brought in, you know, the imagery that I was very familiar with, that I loved, that sort of resonated again, with a great way to use this, you know, during the coaching process. You know, as you spend time with people, it would give me time for hands on with some reflexology.
So for me, it was a way to embrace my skills, my practice, under one umbrella as the Nurse Coaching. So that was a nice aha for me, especially as I was still being immersed in that NP medical role.
Nicole Vienneau 24:11
Right. Yes. For our listeners, we will put a link to the Integrative Health and Wellness assessment, where you can go into the assessment and take this assessment yourself. And so you can understand better and deeper exactly what Deb is talking about. And it’s a tool that we learn in the integrative Nurse Coach, as an integrative Nurse Coach, then we can use that with ourselves and we can use that with our clients and patients and communities as well.
Deborah McElligott 24:38
Yeah, because I think the thing that really resonated was, you know, again, when we look at the core values of holistic Nursing, we know self-care as a core value. When you look at the components of the Nurse Coaching model that Barbie and all of them developed, there’s the components and there’s one whole component that’s self development.
So that includes self-assessment, self-evaluation, self-care, self-reflection, I mean, really, really important for us as Nurses. And again, it highlights that you have to walk the talk, not that you have to be perfect. Not that you have to be like a number nine, or whatever it is, and have all your labs in perfect order and can’t have any diseases or disorders.
But just that you’re aware, and you’re doing the work with self-compassion, and you’re trying to be your best self, and you’re seeking help as needed. So, for me, that was really welcomed, especially, you know, at the time that we were starting in cohort one. And it was a really fresh look at yourself and time for self-care.
And the cohort met a couple of times, you know, and again, it was away. And it’s interesting, when you’re away, sometimes those days, it’s like, you almost forget to call home because you forget this isn’t your life, you know, this is what I’m diving into. So I mean, many ways to learn the program.
I’m a person that often… that liked, then, I only liked in-person. And then since COVID, now I’m a Zoomie. I just love to do things on Zoom. You know, people are like, oh, come here, we’ll meet as a group, I’m like, I can meet… I love zoom, I can see your pictures on my screen.
Do I really have to go and schlep somewhere? So you get spoiled. But I think the whole… the theory aligned with me, even though I’m not always a big theory person, and the tool aligned with me. And, you know, we wanted to… you know, everybody wants a validated tool, so a bunch of the Nurse coaches have worked together, you know…
Nicole Vienneau 26:34
Oh, let’s pause for a minute before you go there. I did want to bring it back to when you were talking about some of the… kind of the foundations of holistic Nursing, which are… self-care is a piece of that. And I also wanted to bring up for our Nurses who are not necessarily calling themselves holistic Nurses.
Because provision five of the Nursing code of ethics, from the ANA, also says the Nurse owes the same duties to self as to others, including the responsibility to promote health and safety, preserve wholeness of character and integrity, maintain competence and continue personal and professional growth.
So I just wanted to bring that back up for our listeners who aren’t yet calling themselves a holistic Nurse, that this is part of the Nursing practice, that we do care for ourselves. Self is before patient in the code of ethics.
Deborah McElligott 27:32
Thank you, Nicole, because you know, really, all Nursing is holistic Nursing. I just felt so differently about the holistic Nursing certification process, and the Nurse Coaching journey and training and certification, which then also enables you to take the holistic Nursing exam, because it’s a community of Nurses really focused on this.
So we’re all holistic Nurses, it often gets lost in the translation. And the self-care often gets lost in translation. And that was part of my doctoral work, you know. And part of the way I introduced the different modalities into the health system was through research, because when I first wanted to use guided imagery, people were like, oh, you can’t do that, they’ll have psychological crisis.
So we did an IRB study with guided imagery to prove that it didn’t kill anybody. But it was good in those days to go through the IRB, even though it was torturous, because the whole committee had to become aware, the word got out way better than you could market it. It was pretty torturous, but you know, it was fine.
So I did a study on that. Then, you know, when I learned the AMMA massage, I wanted to use that on my cardiac patients. I was like, oh, that would be great, you know, that could really help them with their pain post op. And the feedback was, oh, you can’t massage people in the hospital, you’ll be given them PEs and you know, you just can’t do it.
So we did a study on Nurses, using AMMA massage on Nurses. And we tried really hard. I was working with Mary Beth Holtz, who was also in the health system, and she’s the one that really had us do a good control. So we did a control group for the massage.
So some Nurses came in, all Nurses came in… 40 Nurses came in or 20, I don’t even remember, on their day off for a massage, and were randomly selected either to a real massage, or fake massage. And they didn’t know, unless they had a massage before. So this is like 2009, so not everybody had had massages.
So the Nurses that got the fake massage would mimic the AMMA treatment with hands on the head, counting to like 20 at each spot, and then move down. But when the first Nurse came out of her fake massage, she came over to me, she’s like, “Oh, Debbie, that was wonderful.”
And then the practitioner who was an ED Nurse and didn’t believe in energy work or anything, she came out and she’s like, “Wow, that was really something. My hands started to get warm. I was feeling something.” I’m like, you’re not supposed to feel anything, you’re supposed to be counting. So, I knew right away, the study just wouldn’t… you can’t control for the human factor.
But what did come out of the study is that Nurses were stressed. They were so stressed that they came in on a day off to lay on an exam table in a cardiac surgery treatment room and get a fake massage. So then we did another study that showed, you know, guess what, Nurses really are stressed, We look at health promoting behaviors. And they were stressed.
In fact, they were stressed, they weren’t eating right, they weren’t taking care of themselves. And our cardiac surgery patients, who I gave the same tool to, just for some of the programs we ran, they were healthier than the Nurses. And these were people that were like 30 years older, had heart surgery.
So when I did my doctoral work, my focus was health promotion in Nurses. So as I mentioned, I started Barbie’s program towards the end of my DNP work. So it all aligned, and the self-care just aligned with the work that I was doing. And the coaching model provided a way to bring this forward without me even knowing it.
So, as I’m doing Barbie’s… I call it Barbie’s… as I’m doing the Nurse Coaching program, I’m finishing up my doctoral work. And what we did was they were introducing collaborative care models, shared governance, and everyone had to go to an eight hour class. And I was able to co-lead that class with some self-assessment, not the IHWA at that point, because I hadn’t finished the program yet.
But with some self-assessment, with sharing circles with, you know, people on a unit being together and reflecting on the appreciative inquiry. What would they like their unit to be like? What’s the best day that they had? Using all these skills, and then choosing how they wanted to be healthy.
So one unit chose massage, one chose walking, and another chose healthy eating, they were going to like lose the doughnuts at lunchtime. And at the end of three months, all those units were successful. And it was cardiac surgery, neurosurgery, and I think probably CCU across those lines.
But it worked because we brought it down to the unit level, gave them a voice and they decided what they wanted to do. Coaching process, that, then I didn’t really identify, but as I’m finishing the program, it’s a perfect group coaching model, you know, for improving employee wellness at the unit level, rather than telling people you will do the meditation, you will… you know, rather than dictating it, letting them choose.
So hence, you know, that aligned really well. And I thought once my doctoral work was published, that’s it, you know, I have the answer to self-care for Nurses on the units. But then again, administrations change, competing priorities come into play, you know, other things happen. And it wasn’t such a clear path probably until like, I left the hospital for two years, I took an early retirement to deal with family, elderly family members, that were sick.
And that’s when I did a lot of work with the Nurse Coaching Academy, or actually it was INCA then, and I did do some teaching, and we ran different groups. Again, this is when the program was all in person across the country. And those were really special days and nights.
And I can remember saying to one of my friends who was another INCA facilitator, who could believe that, you know, at night, we’re in our pajamas in the same living room as Barbara Dossey, and all these people that I had admired for so long, that you’re actually, you know, colleagues with them.
And teaching programs and adding your, you know, bedside experience to what’s been thought of and done and planned and how there’s room for everybody, which those were really special times that we had, you know, and certainly all prior to COVID. I don’t know if those times can be replicated or if they need to be, because we’ve made such progress now with online communities, with ways to mentor people.
But just you know, taking advantage of the different opportunities out there to enhance our practice and remember the self-care part of it, again, with the self-compassion. Like, no one ever said, “Oh, you’re too overweight to be a Nurse Coach. Oh, you’re too old. Or, oh you’re too Judeo Christian.”
You know, it’s just, you know, you look at the whole person, you look at the whole coach, and you operate from the heart. So it gets rid of all the labels. And that’s been my experience with the holistic Nursing, and especially the coaching, forever.
And it resonates with people, in my experience, of all walks of life, all creeds, all colors, because deep down most people don’t like to be told, unless you’re going to fix them. If you’re going to fix somebody on the spot, you can tell them what to do, but if you’re not going to fix them, you know, they want to be a partner.
And coaching taught us, taught me to hold the space, and it also, you know in Barbie’s model, when you talk about the ways of knowing, the coaching adds the component of not knowing, which is… it was so powerful for me because as an NP, you had to be the expert. You know, as a Nurse, you have to be an expert.
You can’t give the wrong medication, you’ll kill somebody. You have to be perfect. And this not knowing part of coaching, where you can hold the space for your client, your patient, your peer, and help them discover their best way of becoming who they need to be, was really powerful. You know, knowing that you can be an expert, but you can also be a not knowing person at the same time.
So, many lessons that that I’ve learned through the coaching that sort of helped to frame who I am. And I mentioned before, that sort of translates into your life. In fact, now I get the sentence from family members “stop coaching me.”
Nicole Vienneau 35:49
Deborah McElligott 35:51
Sorry! I didn’t mean to coach. Next time, I’ll tell.
Nicole Vienneau 35:58
Well, it becomes part of your life. It shifts the way that you show up. And it’s interesting, when I ask some people, oh, please be on my podcast, our podcast, we’d love to hear your story, and some Nurses will say, oh, well, I’m not really, I’m not really practicing Nurse Coaching.
And I just have to say, yes, you are practicing Nurse Coaching. Because now once you’ve learned these tools— and you know, in the practicum, we have to do many, many practice hours— you’re using the skills, that it becomes part of you, it becomes part of how you show up, and you’re releasing some old patterns.
And because there’s a beautiful parallel of that self-care throughout and discovering yourself and who you are and what makes you tick and what your strengths are throughout the whole program, it just really shifts the way that you’re practicing as a human, number one, and then as a Nurse as well. And so we’re really using the skills every time we’re showing up in the world. And sometimes some of us don’t even realize that.
Deborah McElligott 37:06
No, you’re so right, Nicole, because, you know, so many people will come up to me, and even when I had that job for four years doing the inpatient consults, “Oh, how do you get a job as an NP rubbing people’s feet?” And you know, “I want your job. I have to be a real NP.” So there’s always this scuttlebutt out there, but you can take this wherever you want.
And you know, for many people, especially friends working in institutions that have a job that pays the mortgage, that gives them health benefits, that has a nice pension, you can take it to your job, you don’t need the title. And I usually tell people if you’re seeking just the title, just be aware that.
You know, I used to liken that role to like a little monkey in the jungle, jumping from tree to tree and just trusting that a branch is going to be there to grab, because you may not have that branch, you know. Budgets get cut, and often these positions are considered fluff.
Unless the hospitals go on for magnet. So, many suggestions that I have for Nurses that want to incorporate this, because this is really the time where everybody’s looking at health and wellness, looking at health and wellness for employees, looking for it for education, looking for it for the community.
So you know, think about where you are, and what can be changed, you know, what you can change or what your institution or your place of business wants, what are their values, and I’m sure there’s a way that you can work in with that. So my current job for the last six years, I’m at an integrative health and wellness center.
Prior to COVID, I was doing a lot of in person presentations, groups, individual consults. Since COVID, it’s morphed into mostly virtual, because I can find I can reach so many more people. And there’s many ways to bring the coaching and the holistic philosophy into the healthcare arena where it’s really needed.
So every employee wellness program is struggling, because they’re all offering millions of things for employees and nobody has time to do it. Hence the coaching model, you know, bringing it down to the unit base, what does the unit want? What does their collaborative care model want? How can you help to be a facilitator for that, or be on that model.
If your institution or place of learning has a code lavender, team lavender, perfect place for coaches to meet staff when they’re in crisis. If you’re part of a leadership team, you know, one of the programs that I do is for our leadership team. So I should mention, so I’m part of the Northwell Health System. 80,000 employees. 22 institutions.
They have a corporate center for learning and innovation where people take different classes, and I’ve done some programs, you know, for them, but most of the programs that I do are on my own through our wellness center, which is part of a virtual institute for the health system focusing on women’s health.
But you know, everybody wants to know everything, everyone wants to learn everything in five minutes. So hence, I’ve taken like 60 hour imagery program and condensed it to like six hours. And then do a two hour intro for people on the team lavender.
You know, I’ve taken reflexology national certification and turned it into reflexology techniques for staff that want to learn some techniques to use with their patients. Because if you’re licensed to touch, you don’t have to be nationally certified in reflexology, although it’s a wonderful thing. But trying to see how we can give people skills to bring this to their patients.
You know, working with service lines, working with teams that want retreats, you know, many teams just want… they want like a four hour away from the place and they bring their team to our center. And we do some meditation or someone does some yoga, or we do like a sharing circle, or we do a prompt and some reflective writing.
So many different ways to use the coaching, if you’re working within an institution. If they’re on a magnet journey, no matter when magnet comes, they’re looking for what are you doing to care for the whole person, and they’re really looking for holistic Nursing modality so that you will be part of a magnet team, very easy to write the standards when you’re coming from this coaching practice.
And then you know, just the self-care. So I’m talking mostly employees. When we look at community needs, developing programs for communities, you know, on overall integrative wellness, a four week series is something that’s easy to do. So, you know, you can teach many things through the coaching approach, as opposed to the telling approach.
You can give people an overview of what integrative health is, an overview of what integrative Nursing is, and, you know, seek your champions. Who in the institution has a need that you can sort of help to fill? And it’s interesting, most of my support has come through physicians.
It was the cardiac surgeons who first let me introduce, they paid for the guided imagery tapes that we bought years ago, with cassette players. Cardiologists set me up in this integrative wellness center. So again, you know, you don’t have to wait for the position, because they’re often few and far between, although I’m sure they’re becoming more abundant.
You certainly can do your own practice. I learned early on that I’m not a private practice person. And many people have heard this funny story, but I think it’s an example because you think about how stressed you are. Nursing is so stressed, I can’t stand that I have nightmares at night— did I write five milligrams of Coumadin or 50 milligrams?
So for awhile, I was selling Mary Kay Cosmetics. And I was doing okay, and I was on my red jacket, I was heading towards the car. And I needed to make a decision because now I was getting a team. So do I do Mary Kay or, you know, do I stay at the hospital? And you know, one night, I wake up in a cold sweat just like I did with my Coumadin nightmare.
Oh my god, did I give that lady True Beige or Foreign Beige? So I knew that it was me that was like neurotic. And for me, a business would be 24 hours all consuming. Hence, I chose to remain with institutions. But when you look at your choice to leave Nursing, one of the powerful things that I did was, you know, an imagery exercise with one of my peers.
And it was a deep experience. This was as I was doing the training, but you formed an image for your conflict. And you work through it. And my image for my conflict was a prison, like the job was just holding me in a cage and wouldn’t let me do what I wanted to do. And I’m in a prison with that job.
And I needed to be free, I needed to get out of there. And my image for freedom was like Tinkerbell, you know, flying around, free to do whatever Nursing I want to do. And then as it goes deeper— this, again, this was an integrative imagery process— as it goes deeper, the cage and the little fairy talk.
And the cage said, “My door is always open. You know, you can come in and fly in and you can fly out.” So when the little ferry flew in, the whole cage lit up like Peter Bell… like Tinker Bell and Peter Pan. And for me, the takeaway was it wasn’t the hospital holding me back, it was me holding me back.
And how could I tweak things, change things and, you know, start small and do the work that I love to do? Because I could do it even when I was the NP being annoyed doing it, there was still a way to incorporate this. So I mean, so many of us, you know, get so frustrated because there’s so much wrong with healthcare, but you know, many opportunities for us to improve it.
Maybe not fix it totally, but certainly improve it and have the freedom to move around in different roles with these coaching skills that you can use in any role that you’re in. I think that’s the nicest thing. You become an integrative Nurse Coach and you’re a coach for life.
Yes, you have to renew every five years, but you don’t have to keep changing jobs to advance. That becomes part of who you are, and you can take it anywhere you want.
Nicole Vienneau 44:56
Yes. And then the beautiful connection of coming back to self. What is important to ourselves. And in the imagery of the cage and with Tinkerbell and the cage… my door, my door has always been open. And you can come in anytime. And you realize that it was yourself.
That if you could shift the way that you are showing up in your way that was unique to you and your needs, then you can come into any place and do what it is that calls to you, that speaks to you, that that fills you up, instead of trying to morph into being and doing the things that the cage was, you know, really wanting to… you know, that you thought it was.
So I think that’s a beautiful lesson and beautiful connection to allowance of self and recognizing self and our own needs and what calls to us.
Deborah McElligott 45:54
Yeah, and it’s a story that you can only share with certain people because as I tried to tell my family, the cage, and they’re like, what are you, nuts? You know, so it’s Nursing perspective, but you know, many ways to self reflect and get the answers that we need.
And, you know, that’s a skill that we really learn through the Nurse Coaching program, and having the peer coaching through the program, which is huge, because as we learn to coach people, we ourselves are coached.
So, you learn to be the recipient of the coaching process, which is, you know, for many Nurses, if you haven’t gone through any therapy, this is like the first time that any one’s listening to you and holding space while you make decisions.
Nicole Vienneau 46:39
Yeah, yes. And that in itself is invaluable. It’s indescribable sometimes, because it’s true. And you know, chatting with your girlfriends, and having that kind of chitter chatter, and you know, those kinds of connections, which are wonderful, but they’re much, much, it’s much, much different, when you are in a coaching relationship, and being on that level of very deep listening and open presence.
Wanting the best for the other person as you’re listening to the story, you know, it’s just… it is a wonderful experience, and learning and growing from that.
Deborah McElligott 47:14
Yeah, and I think the interesting thing about, you know, when you’re coaching clients, you’re not coaching them forever, you’re coaching them through whatever issue they have or goal they want to set or thing they want to achieve. And then they go on, you know, so it’s not like you’re holding this client load of, you know, 250 patients that keep coming to you.
And the same thing with groups, you know, my experience has been like, I may coach groups of a unit, may do retreats for different people, and maybe they come back like once a year. So for me, this group process is really powerful. And the last thing I should just say is, you know, one of the things that I’ve done as people asking more questions about integrative care, functional medicine, and all of that.
So I run a year long integrative certificate program for NPs and PAs, because I wanted to introduce them to all the things that we know because they don’t know what reflexology is, they don’t know what Reiki is, they don’t know traditional Chinese medicine. So this is a year long program that the health system now supports with this cohort is starting in July.
And we’ll have 50 people, 30 ACPs, that’s NPs and PAs, and 20 physicians for the first time. So they don’t come out expert in anything except some comfort in meditation and mindfulness, which they often take back to their teams.
But they come out with an awareness of what’s out there and what possibilities are, so that when patients start to say something, or if they ask a question, you know, have you ever considered this, it can really enhance the patient care. And then hopefully, you know, some of them may go on to other organizations to become certified.
But I found it as a way to introduce it, and of course, they get CMEs for it, so that’s the attraction. So again, many opportunities. We first had a grant for this through the health system for a short program, but you know, now it’s sort of self sustaining.
So just another example of the coaching process— even though I’m providing information, we have them break up into peer groups and the first half hour of each monthly session is a report from their peer groups on the self-care, just like we did in our coaching world.
So they use the IHWA, they do their self-assessment, they set a goal, and at the same time they have a pre-read on some integrative therapy. So again, many opportunities to take our coaching role wherever we want to, you know, education practice, you know, any area of the medical world or the community.
Nicole Vienneau 49:44
Right, we don’t need to be in the cage, and besides, the cage isn’t locked anyways so we can open up and we can create and that’s one of the things I loved the most about Nurse Coaching. I mean, I love so many things, but I love the ability to be creative and to build and to see what is it that my community needs?
Deborah McElligott 50:08
And you’ve certainly done that, Nicole, with your whole menopause movement. I mean, that’s such a great program. And you’ve done that so well. And you combine your expertise in the physical activity part with the coaching part and creating a warming place for women to focus on their self-care and movement and knowledge, you know, about the importance of it.
Nicole Vienneau 50:30
Yeah, yeah, that’s what I did. I took my expertise in the physical and movement and combined it with coaching and my skills in Nursing and those abilities. And there are so many… and all of our podcast guests are doing that too. And I guess my intention of saying all of that is that we can create, and we do have the incredible experience of life and Nursing, knowledge and art, and all of the things that we’re passionate about. When we combine those things together, we are truly unstoppable.
Deborah McElligott 51:07
Wonderful statements, Nicole. You pull it together really well.
Nicole Vienneau 51:12
Thanks! Must be the coaching background. So, Deb in our few last minutes here… man, we’ve learned a lot from you and feel very inspired listening to all of your work in Nurse Coaching. So we’d love to ask, I love to ask the question: what is on your heart that you would like to share with our listeners today?
Deborah McElligott 51:37
I guess the main thing on my heart is, you know, listen to your heart. See how you can take a couple of moments to focus on what you want. I guess throwing it back to the group— what’s on your heart? You know, how can we help people find their meaning in our practice?
How can we, you know, focus on the powerful work that we do as Nurses? I mean, you know, again, the most trusted profession, bringing ourselves to the place, it’s more than the rat race, it’s more than the …used for documentation. It’s more than the admissions and the discharges.
But, you know, how can we really reflect and offer a sense of gratitude for the possibilities that we have? And I guess on my heart is for people to see their possibilities, to see the possibilities in your work, in your expertise in translating your meaning into practice. Not that I’ve done that, but it sounds like something I should write down and do.
But again, you know, seek the possibilities, and be part of this community that has so much to offer. And I mean, many people do it way better than me. I mean, we have Nurses from my cohort that meet monthly and I haven’t really been a part of that, just because I have it at night. I set little timers, I plan to do it. But, you know, seek support.
And there’s many ways of doing it, but you know, stay connected, really powerful to this group, you know, stay connected to the INCA group. And offer your resources and share, and if you can’t find a place for it, keep looking, you know, network with people, because there’s so many needs out there.
And, you know, I thought somewhere along line, we had the logo, you know, “Nurse Coaching is the answer.” And it really is. When Nurses, we can hold the space, and we can really help people change, change communities and change the world. So I guess it’s the hope and the possibilities that we really have, and the perseverance.
Nicole Vienneau 53:43
Deborah McElligott 53:44
More than one word, but…
Nicole Vienneau 53:45
Oh, it was not one more word, we just wanted to know what’s on your heart. Those are very powerful things that are on your heart to share with us. And thank you, thank you for diving into your heart.
Deborah McElligott 53:58
Thanks for this opportunity and good luck to everybody out there. And you know, please make use of the wonderful resources that we have now. And I’m so proud of the way that INCA has evolved to the Nurse Coach Academy, all the work that Karen and Ronnie are doing.
I mean, super leadership and creating a super team. So I couldn’t be more thankful to feel this connection, even though I’m not always there and not on monthly calls with the the group that I started with. But I still feel connected.
Nicole Vienneau 54:29
Yes, yes. Energetic, an energetic connection.
Deborah McElligott 54:33
Yes, send my love to Barbie and Susan for all the work they’ve done in the mentoring. So there’s a deep sense of gratitude, Nicole, for helping me sort of reflect as I speak because I wasn’t really sure. So you’ve actually been like coaching me for the last hour. Holding the space while I ramble on. So, namaste and thank you!
Nicole Vienneau 54:52
Namaste! Exactly! Namaste. Well, namaste a few more minutes because we have some fun questions to ask you too. Before I go there, though, I did want to ask, would it be okay to share some of your articles that you’ve written in our show notes?
Deborah McElligott 55:09
Oh, definitely. Yeah, you can, you know, and that’s another encouragement. You know, if you’ve never written before, write for Beginnings, they’re always looking for articles.
Nicole Vienneau 55:17
Yeah, The American Holistic Nurses Association Beginnings magazine.
Deborah McElligott 55:17
Right, and I’ve published many articles. I’ve been rejected… some of the articles, I think I was rejected, like, seven times before it was published, you know, so you just have to be a dog with a bone. Find a place to publish it. Talk to your peers as people. Where do you think this might be published? You know, who would want to work on it with you?
Nicole Vienneau 55:43
Yeah, get our words out. Okay, well, good. So now, here comes our fun questions. These are ones you can’t think too hard about. Okay, ready? Here we go. Deb’s like, okay, Nicole, what’s gonna happen now? They’re really easy. Okay, here we go. Florida or New York?
Deborah McElligott 56:05
Oh, I can’t… I have to… I like both. That’s bad. I have a house in Florida that I love because it’s a community, and New York, I live near the ocean. So I’m thinking of splitting the two. 50/50. Not 50/50. It depends. My family’s in New York. So right now New York is the place, you know.
My mom’s 96. I’m not going anywhere. My grandkids are mostly here. So for now, it’s New York. But I do run to Florida for a couple of times because we have a house down there. And it’s a community of over 55, which we swore we’d never go to. But it’s a new life, you know, of oh, do you want to play golf or do you want to play pickle ball?
Do you want to do bocce ball? You want to go to the pool? It’s like, I don’t play, I work. So that’s the place to learn to play in the area that we’re in on the West Coast. New York is where I’m living now. And I guess that’s enough.
Nicole Vienneau 57:04
I love it. Well, this could be an “and” maybe it doesn’t have to be an “or”. It’s an “and”. Florida and New York.
Deborah McElligott 57:13
I have to say, you know, out of both places, I stay out of the political arena where I’m living because politics change. Nature doesn’t change, the trees around my house in Florida have been there for like 70 years. You know, the ocean has been here forever. So no matter what the political climate, I’m choosing my place and surround myself with people that I resonate with.
Nicole Vienneau 57:35
Yes. I love that.
Deborah McElligott 57:38
That’s been a big question for people, you know, and I mean, politics can change every four years and who would want to move every four years? Not me.
Nicole Vienneau 57:46
That’s right. And like you say, the ocean has been here, the trees have been here, they’re not changing. Okay, next question. The Integrative Nurse Coaches in ACTION! podcast. All right. So action is an acronym. It stands for these following words: authentic, curious, truthful, inspiring, open, nurturing. Which word stands out for you? Authentic, curious, truthful, inspiring, open, nurturing.
Deborah McElligott 58:27
I’d have to go with the inspiring, because I love to be inspired. I mean, all of them are truly important, but for me, I just love inspiration.
Nicole Vienneau 58:37
Beautiful. What ways do you find inspiration?
Deborah McElligott 58:41
I find the inspiration whenever I can take the time. You know, a simple thing, although the sunrise is too early now for me to walk to the end of the block and watch it rise over the water because I’m lazy. But you know, watching a sunrise, watching a sunset, and the gifts of nature are truly inspiring.
I’m inspired by faith based communities, and I find that comforting and inspiring. And I love to see people, no matter what faith being with the faith based community, seeing families in faith based, that’s truly inspiring for me.
You can get inspired, many inspirations, you know, and that’s… that’s one of the things we use in a three question journal when we work with the med students, because I’m also, you know, I’m part time volunteer, part time faculty at School of Medicine. And we give them a three question journal.
This is teaching med students to reflect. So the first thing is what surprised you today? What inspired you? And what touched your heart? And the goal is for each day to reflect on, you know, what inspired you? And the more you think about it, the more you get inspired. So that’s definitely a big word for me.
Because who doesn’t love inspiration by something? You know, I get inspire by my newest little grandson heading down the stairs head first, and people videotaping him instead of grabbing him. And he finds out after two steps, oh maybe I should turn around and go down, you know, the right way. So, I found that pretty inspiring. So, many things out there.
Nicole Vienneau 1:00:17
Beautiful. Yes. And just asking yourself the question then leads to inspiration. Yeah, yeah.
Deborah McElligott 1:00:23
That’s appreciative inquiry, you know, you’re lead by the questions that you ask. If you’re asking what’s the problem? That’s what you’re going to be seeking. But if you’re looking, you know, what inspires me or what can I change? What’s the best way? Then that’s where you’re headed.
Nicole Vienneau 1:00:40
Yes. Beautiful. Well, Deb, thank you so much for all of your time today, for your wisdom, for just being with us and your true authentic self, and for all your contributions, of course, to Nursing in general. And we just love you.
Deborah McElligott 1:00:55
Oh, thanks, Nicole. Love you guys too. And thanks for holding space for me, letting me ramble on. I truly appreciate it and certainly a big shout out to the whole INCA leadership team.
Share this podcast with your networks
Are you seeking a deeper sense of meaning in your nursing or nurse coaching career?…
Ever feel like you are posing as someone who knows what they are doing… when…