Meet the Penn State deans: Laurie Badzek talks nursing, note-taking — and the best/worst candy

·8 min read

As part of a collaborative effort with Penn State, which is releasing a monthly video on school deans and their perspectives and passions, the Centre Daily Times is continuing a lighthearted Q&A series that highlights a different dean every month in the hopes the local community gets to know them outside of the classroom.

Up next: Laurie Badzek, dean of the Ross and Carol Nese College of Nursing at Penn State.

Badzek, who holds multiple degrees in both law and nursing, joined Penn State in 2018. She twice helped revise the American Nurses Association Code of Ethics and has received more than a dozen prestigious awards for her work as a nurse, attorney and educator specializing in genomics, health care ethics and law, nursing practice, and end-of-life care and decision making.

She also loves penning handwritten letters, which she does nearly every day. She goes through roughly one pen every week.

Centre Daily Times: You’ve been involved in nursing for a long time, and the profession is emotionally taxing as it is but, with the pandemic, moreso now than ever. So what advice do you give to nurses on how to handle that pressure and that mentally taxing environment? How can nurses avoid burnout and stay mentally healthy right now?

Laurie Badzek: First, you just acknowledge it’s a really tough time for nursing. ... It’s really more important now, than ever, that nurses take care of themselves. And this is something that’s been near and dear to me for years. We even wrote it more clearly into our code of ethics for nurses that nurses really need to take care of themselves. You can’t really take care of other people — you can’t avoid the burnout, the frustration and the illness that comes from overtaxing yourself — if you don’t take care of yourself.

So one of the things I tell nurses is — and I’m not in the environment anymore, but I’m working with them on a daily basis — you know, you got to find that break. You have to take that break. And we haven’t done that for years. You hear stories of nurses that they don’t get their lunch, they don’t get their coffee, they don’t go to the bathroom. And one of the things I tell them is you’ll be so much more effective if you take that break. . ...It’s a balancing act, but they need to find the time and space to take care of themselves.

Sometimes, it’s very emotionally hard not to take your work home with you. But it’s a skill we need to do better with, so that we don’t struggle. ... The other thing we need to do on the other side, the administrative side, things that people like me who are not on the bedside can do, is to really think about what are the things we can do to support our nurses? So, for example, we’re starting the Ohio State program developed by Bern Melnyk, the nursing dean there. It’s called “MINDBODYSTRONG” and it’s for our students and faculty, to help them with not only these mental health issues but with their own health and wellness moving forward, something they can take forward into practice in nursing.

CDT: We initially wanted to ask you about what medical TV show you enjoy the most and what one drives you crazy, but I understand you’re not big on those shows. Not even “Scrubs” — but I won’t judge. Instead I still am curious: What outside misconception about nursing drives you the craziest?

Badzek: Well, one of the misconceptions that really drives me crazy is that nurses are not independently practicing. Many people do not understand that nurses at every level have independence in clinical judgment and decision-making in nursing, in issues of wellness, health promotion and often carrying out plans of care for patients.

So, often we hear people who still think that the nurses are, you know, the old words were “handmaidens of the doctors.” The new words are “doing the doctor’s bidding.” It doesn’t work like that anymore. And so you hear that from people. And that’s really, I think, a big misconception that we have to get past — that we do have our own discipline, we have a science, we have research, and we have evidence-based practice that’s changing care every day because nurses are out there really looking at what we do to making sure it really works.

So I think that’s a challenge we still face. We’re the most trusted profession; people believe in what we say and do. And we haven’t really done a good job telling people a lot about our profession, and who we are and what we do.

CDT: We could talk to you about nursing and the pandemic all day, but we’d also like to talk about you. And one thing you mentioned in a recent video with Penn State was your passion for connecting with people — and handwriting a whole heck of a lot of letters. You probably go through more pens than 99% of county residents so, for those of us note-takers, I’ve got to ask: What is your writing instrument of choice? And you get bonus points for specificity here.

Badzek: Well, I would tell you that if we wanted to have an exercise of fun, I would get my bag out from under the desk, we would take all the stuff out of it, and I’ll bet you there’s a dozen pens on the bottom — and I’ll bet you there probably aren’t three alike. They’re all different.

And, in fact, I’ll tell you a funny little story. This flower pen (points to a pink-and-green pen resembling a literal flower) — I take people’s pens because I always want to write something down as a reminder or whatever. And if I don’t have a pen, then I walk away with it. So one of my staff put that flower on a pen. Don’t you know I walked away with it. (laughs) So then I decided I really liked it. So I told her; I said, “Your pen, it’s not coming back.”

Really, my preferred pen is one that is a fine point for when I’m writing notes. But if I don’t have a fine point, I cannot tell you how many pens — I bet you I throw a pen away a week. But my preferred pen right now is one that has the college name on it. ... I prefer the click pens because, when you got everything kind of spread out, you’re like, “Well, where’s the cap for this?” I don’t like chasing after caps but, if that’s the pen that’s available, believe me — I’ve walked away with plenty of them.

CDT: One of the next biggest holidays is Valentine’s Day, which is really just an excuse for me to ask about candy. But I’m going to take it. Take your gloves off for this one. What’s the best candy — and what’s the absolute worst?

Badzek: (Grabs a candy dish from her desk with Hershey’s kisses) Would you like a Hershey’s chocolate?

(laughs) Obviously, we have allegiance to Hershey and I love Hershey ... but I think the best chocolate is dark chocolate. Not only because I love it — but because it’s probably the most healthy chocolate that you can have as well. So it’s always a double bonus if you could have chocolate and feel good about it. I love Nonpareils, and they usually come in a darker chocolate or semisweet chocolate. ...

And what I don’t like is what my grandchildren and all these young people love — which is those sour gummy candies. Don’t give me any sour — I don’t mind just a candy. But don’t give me those sour gummy things or super sour candies. When I was a kid, to me, that would’ve been like a sweet tart. I don’t like those tart, sour candies. But now they’re really sour. Super sour. That’s not candy to me.

CDT: We always try to save our weirdest question for last. So here we go: If you were shipwrecked on an island — but with all your food, clothing and shelter taken care of — and you could bring any two items with you, what would they be? And let’s try to eliminate some loopholes here: There is no chance of being rescued, so best leave those flares and smartphones at home.

Badzek: Too easy. Pens and paper.

That’s what I would need to have. Even though I couldn’t send the notes or do anything with the memories, I would still want to write them down. It would be like you as a reporter. You can’t take who you are out; you’re still going to be a reporter in your mind, no matter where you are.

And then I would always have the hope, if I was rescued, here are all these memories — and perhaps notes of appreciation to people that helped me with my survival journey on an island by myself as an extrovert. I’d be talking to the birds, talking to the fish, you know. (laughs) That is definitely what I’d have to take.

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