Recently, we caught up with ANA-Illinois member Dr. Roxanne Spurlark, DNP, APRN-FPA, FNP-C. She is a doctorally prepared nurse practitioner with over 30 years in healthcare at multiple levels. Her doctorate is in healthcare systems leadership from Chamberlain University. She is also a nurse scientist whose research resounds in the voice of advocacy amongst 100 nurses across the U.Ss during COVID and the reconstruction of resilience in a post-pandemic world.

Roxanne serves as Associate Director of the Doctoral Nursing Practicum (DNP) Program at DePaul University. She is an assistant professor in the DNP program. Her courses include program evaluation, healthcare finance, and the capstone for nurse practitioners in their final clinical practicums.

Roxanne has served in leadership for over 20 years—both inside and outside of healthcare.

Along with your rich academic roles, you have several entrepreneurial businesses. Can you tell us about that?

I have multiple entrepreneurial journeys going on. One of them you might have seen is Spurlark Global Health Solutions. It’s an NP-led practice delivery. I have my own practice within my practice. That’s where I go to practice at emergency rooms and clinics.

In ER, most of the time I cover one of Chicagoland’s safety net hospitals on the south side of Chicago—a hospital with limited resources.

The virtual provider is another entrepreneurial project. We’re looking at launching a multi-state telehealth. I’m working on receiving credentialing for Iowa, and then headed towards Maine and some other places, too.

Another project is Insight Nutrition where we help to battle obesity through community involvement. Soon I’m starting “Ask Dr. Rox” which is a coaching and mentoring platform that inspires resilience and helps those achieve their higher purpose. And in all of that, I’ve found pleasure in doing nurse legal consulting work.

Finally, I’m an internationally trained and certified coach, trainer, and part of the John Maxwell Leadership Team.

How did you find nursing?

I knew that whatever it was I wanted to do, it would be something that inspired others. I thought that I wanted to be a teacher. I wanted to be a pathologist. Then life happened. I went to take a friend to register for school, and I looked on the board to see what I could do that would give me something to sustain my family and be able to take a deeper dive in connecting with my purpose.

Nursing was there, and I already had my CNA.

I knew that nursing was the place because I can reinvent myself over and over and over, and I still connected to those things that I was passionate about—the teaching, the forensics piece. With nursing being a science, you get to connect to all of that.

I wanted people to see me coming and know that help was on the way. Success to me looks like how many people I can touch and improve their lives or improve their career or help them to show up as their best self.

You talk about reconstructing resilience. What does that mean, and what does that look like?

As a result of the pandemic, nurses are a little bit more of a vulnerable population. 2020 was supposed to be the year of the nurse, and we were supposed to come out and be appreciated. The reality was we were risking our lives. Not saying anybody else wasn’t, but we were put into very awkward situations. We had to choose between our own health and the health of our families.

Going into an emergency room, not sure what I’m encountering, I’m losing friends, I’m losing coworkers, you know, and to be able to be in that space, I had to figure out how to fill my cup.

Resilience has always been there. “You have to be strong!” Well, in what world did they say we always have to be strong? Why are we setting that precedent up? Being strong does not equal risking your life. Being strong should be in how we communicate, and that wasn’t happening. Being strong has to do with your ability to use all the resources afforded to you at the best of your abilities.

So what does reconstruction look like? It looks like a change in culture. It looks like a change in character. It looks like support. It looks like diversity. It looks like 10,000 hours of commitment to change on everybody’s part.

If I could draw a picture, right now we have the nurse at the middle, and you have the nurse being the constant giver of everything. Patient needs something—nurse goes to do it. Nurse has to go to pharmacy to get medication. At discharge, nurse has to take the patient out. Nurse needs a day off—nurse has to communicate with her manager about what she or he actually need. Nurse needs education—nurse needs to apply to be able to get it, and that is only if scheduling in the unit permits. All arrows point away from the nurse.

Wouldn’t it be great if all resources were on a constant feed look inwards towards the nurse? The picture should look more like a nurse in the center, with all hands in, versus all arrows going out. All hands in means “What does this individual need?” We’re all nurses, and we all have some fundamental needs, but what does this individual nurse need? What about their character needs support? What about their culture needs support? Do they need help with childcare? Would that help them show up as their best self?

It’s huge, and we’ve been missing the mark for a long time.

As a manager early in the emergency room, a thing I used to tell people is this:

  • Rule #1: You take care of the patients. Bottom line.
  • Rule #2: You take care of the people who take care of the patients.
  • Rule #3: Remember that Rule #1 has nothing to do with Rule #2 because you have to care about everybody.

I learned early that if I allowed the nurses to care for the patients, and I just focused on caring for them, it was a totally different ballgame.

It’s so funny because at work, there are a couple of individuals that—depending on where I am—most of the people around me call me “The Nurses’ Nurse” because they say, if we go to her, she’ll fix it. Here she comes! Help is on the way. That’s what I asked for.

How do you prioritize your wellness?

You have to draw those boundaries. They have to be respected. It’s okay for you to tell someone, “Not today.” No stands as a sentence by itself. You don’t have to give an explanation. No! And that’s one of the things that people have trouble with.

It took courage for me to say that. In my role now, people say, “You have to be careful who you say no to.” No, I don’t. No, I don’t. Because guess what? If I’m overstressed, then I’m vulnerable. Stress creates the social determinants of health, which then creates this disease process to trigger.

I block my calendar intentionally. We have to restructure the way we’re doing things, but it all starts within. You need to notice when your cup is empty or getting empty. You have to stop, because you should only give from you overflow, not from what’s in your cup. Your cup is yours. Put your hand over your cup. “It’s mine!” Everybody else has to get from what’s on the outside.

No one should operate from an empty cup. We have to figure out how to fill our cups. That’s not just nursing. That’s everyone.