Synapse Spotlight: Michelle Waddell talks Nurse Mental Health

Welcome to Synapse Spotlight where we feature an interview with an inspiring NICU healthcare professional.

Today we interviewed Michelle Waddell, RN, BS, RNC-NIC on nurse mental health and coping strategies.


Tell us who you are, your NICU professional journey/accomplishments, and what you are up to now.

My name is Michelle Waddell and I am proud to say I have been a nurse for 38 years and a NICU nurse for 35 years! The first 3 years of my career I worked Adult ICU and Open Heart ICU. I learned so much and loved that part of my career! I came into the world of Neonatal Nursing quite by happenstance; my husband was transferred and when I applied for an ICU position they didn’t have any available, but they thought I might like the NICU…and were they ever right! I have been in love with Neonates ever since, especially Neonatal brains and all things neuro-development. In my 35 years of Neonatal nursing I have been a Staff Nurse, Flight and Ground Transport Nurse, Advanced Practice Nurse, NICU Supervisor, NICU Director and NICU System Director in a large healthcare system. I also started traveling to teach neuro-developmental programs 20 years ago and I have never stopped. In 2013 I started my own consulting business, Neonatal Excellence. I consult with healthcare systems regarding Nursing Leadership development and training and I do NICU neuro-developmental training. I also speak nationally at conferences to share my passion on a variety of topics related to nursing leadership and Neonatal ICU.



Can you tell us more about what you found when you started your research into the prevalence of mental health issues in nursing and self-care best practices?

The biggest “aha” moment for me was the prevalence of mental health issues not only in nursing, but in our country. Latest data says 1 in 4 people in the United States suffers from anxiety or stress related mental health issues. The second biggest “aha” was the lack of attention given to mental health issues in nurses, especially at the hospital or unit level. Increasing awareness of these issues and allowing nurses to safely disclose their mental health issues is the biggest first step to helping them. No shaming, no guilt, no minimizing what they are feeling. This needs to happen at the peer level and it absolutely needs to happen at the nursing leadership level! 


What is the most rewarding part of your job (when you were in the NICU full-time or now in your consulting work)?

When I worked in the NICU at the bedside, working with families to feel comfortable with their baby was amazing. I also loved babies that were different and trying to figure out genetic issues and outcomes. As a nursing leader, growing and mentoring new NICU nursing leaders brought me so much joy! Now as a consultant, I am able to meet nurses and doctors and families all over the country and internationally, make life-long friends, and share my passion for a profession that I dearly love!

What is the top challenge for nurse leaders in the NICU today as it relates to your expertise in nurse mental health and wellness in the workplace?

I think the biggest challenge is not knowing who really needs help because there is such a stigma around mental health. I also feel nursing leaders are not educated enough about mental health issues and strategies to support their staff.



How do you stay on top of the latest trends and technology coming to the NICU?

Conferences, lots of reading, researching trends, and staying in touch with colleagues in current practice.

What advice would you give to new nurses just starting their career in the NICU?

Spend several years at the bedside before considering Advanced Practice roles such as PA, NNP, ARNP, or CRNA. The education you receive working at the bedside is invaluable as you further your education and career.

 What is one thing you do every day to keep you sane in the midst of NICU chaos or just in your everyday life?

Everyday I write down or at least acknowledge 2-3 things I am grateful for that happened the previous day. That could be an event, a person, time for a long walk, really anything that brought me joy. I also try to consciously release negative or stressful thoughts that weigh on my soul, though sometimes that is easier said than done. I try to do at least one hour of walking or exercise, and I am a faithful essential oil user.



Why should nurses attend the ONE Conference or watch the 2019 recordings? What makes the ONE Conference unique?

The ONE Conference is a group of like-minded NICU professionals who are passionate about NICU brains, Neonatal neuro-development, and neuro-protection. It truly is the only conference of its kind!


Michelle Waddell, RN, BS, RNC-NIC


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