Christiaan Letsinger, an ICU nurse at a Midwest hospital, is a rising social media influencer bringing attention to the common challenge nurses face with burnout and lack of self-care. Known to his community of followers on Instagram and Facebook as Red Beard (@RedBeardRN) — derived from his trademark facial hair — Letsinger uses humor, creativity and wit to ignite online dialogue with other nurses about the importance of keeping a healthy lifestyle. His posts are full of comments from nurses sharing their own stories and tips for managing burnout and balancing work and life. Letsinger’s interest in self-care comes through his own experience and health struggles, which have ultimately led him to be a more compassionate and effective nurse.
You’ve developed a following on social media as an advocate for nurse self-care. Why is this important to you?
As nurses, we try our best to go in every day and just be able to provide this endless caring, but if you’re not caring for yourself, that starts to get impacted. There are studies correlating burnout versus quality of care, so when we have our nurses getting burned out, that impacts the care that they’re providing to people.
If we’re not taking the time to make sure we’re cared for, eventually we’re not going to be able to care for others in the way they need. You’re going to hit that point where you’re burning out. And it’s not necessarily all on us, because there are other factors that come into play such as the organization you work for. You have to be somewhere where they’re making sure they’re taking care of you and preventing burnout as well. But if you’re not watching out for yourself, it’s going to get there faster. If you’re not making sure you’re taking time for yourself, you won’t be able to do this for the long run.
What prompted you to start advocating for self-care and burnout prevention?
When I finished nursing school and became an ICU nurse, I also took a second job in another ICU. For a year and a half, I was working between the two ICUs, sometimes 60 to 70 hours a week on night shift. The only time you have is for work, sleep, eat and repeat. So there wasn’t time for self-care. I would talk to my patients about the importance of eating properly and getting adequate sleep, but I wasn’t following my own advice.
Then it all came to a head in December 2017 when I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, called latent autoimmune diabetes of adulthood. While I thought that maybe all of my bad habits or lack of self-care from working too much contributed to it, I think it might have just been something that was going to happen regardless.
After you were diagnosed with diabetes, how did social media factor in your journey?
All of a sudden, when I was diagnosed with diabetes, this became a do-or-die situation where I needed to make self-care a priority — my health depended on it. That’s where my social media presence as Red Beard started to take shape. It was a platform where I could share my health journey and spread awareness about the importance of self-care.
I feel like social media can sometimes create an inflated sense of self — a grandiose idea of living. You scroll through your feed and everyone has these amazing lives. But that’s not real life. We all struggle. We all have days where we’re just tired and exhausted. I wanted to bring some of that realness out there and talk about the stuff that’s almost taboo to discuss. I try to reach people that way.
What has been the response to your posts?
One of the cool things about social media has been not only connecting with nurses and seeing that we’re all in this together, but learning about the challenges that physicians and other medical staff face, too. Some people work 15 days straight without a day off — 24 on, 12 off. The schedules are not conducive to trying to maintain a healthy lifestyle. [Many] experts say you’re supposed to eat regularly throughout the day with occasional snacks in order to be in perfect health. For nurses, that almost never happens. So, in this online community, we share tips that have helped us make health and wellness a little more feasible with our work. I want to be able to tell something to my patients that I am practicing myself. And I feel like that’s a lot of people.
There is a lot of talk about the importance of sleep. Why is that crucial for nurses?
Sleep is huge. I think there’s a lot of focus on why getting a good night of rest is good for you. But a lot of people don’t focus on why not getting good sleep is terrible for you. Memory issues from a lack of sleep can impact your short-term and long-term memory. It throws off your circadian rhythm either by not getting enough sleep during the day (if you’re on night shift) or by getting poor sleep at night. That throws off a whole slew of things. It can cause weight gain, it weakens your immune system and it can lead to high blood pressure. The effects from not having good sleep can be devastating.
What’s been your experience with your followers on social media?
I never intended to be a social media influencer, and I don’t necessarily consider myself one. To me, I’ve just been sharing my experiences, and it’s been great to interact with people. Some people will message me after bad days or after bad shifts and talk about what’s troubling them. Oftentimes they just want to vent to someone who understands what they’re going through. Then others will comment on my posts and mention how they had a similar experience. I feel like it’s helped build a community where other nurses can benefit.
There are also times that I’ve posted something about self-care, and people posted tips that have really helped me. So it’s almost like a reverse of what I was originally trying to do. I wanted to put this content out there to help others, but in turn I’m getting something that is more beneficial for me.
What have been some of your key takeaways from conversations about burnout and self-care?
People are really passionate when it comes to burnout. That’s why pages like Anna Rodriguez’s Burnout Book are so popular. On her social media page, Anna has some great resources with studies about burnout syndrome and the critical care healthcare professional population.
I was just on a retreat that focused on self-care. My biggest takeaway was that we, as nurses, can’t keep pouring all this care on to others without drinking from that cup ourselves.
What has your experience as a nurse taught you?
I guess, knowing how to meet people where they are. If I’m not able to recognize where someone is at mentally, physically, emotionally or spiritually, I won’t be able to connect with them. For example, if I have a patient with a cardiac issue, and I come in and start talking about all this medication they’re going to have to start taking, but they don’t fully understand what this cardiac issue is or how dangerous it will be if they don’t take these medications, I’m not doing them any favors. For me, it’s important to be able to meet someone where they are and fully understand what they understand.