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Nurse Rediscovers Her Inspiration After Confronting Her Struggles at ONS Congress®

December 13, 2023
Elizabeth Higinbotham, BSN, RN, OCN®
ONS Member
Nurse Rediscovers Her Inspiration After Confronting Her Struggles at ONS Congress®


In 2023, I was able to attend my first ONS Congress® thanks to receiving a scholarship award from my local chapter. That experience was truly life changing for me and how I see myself as a nurse.  

ONS Congress challenged me to confront the core issues I struggled with in the workplace. It started with the Mara Mogensen Flaherty Memorial Lecture, where panelists confronted our current reality in nursing: an already broken system challenged by a global pandemic. They used words like “maladaptive coping,” “moral distress,” “burnout,” and “resiliency.” I was trying to avoid these conversations because I felt like I didn’t have a choice in changing what is happening. We’re overworked. We’re understaffed. We get beat up and abused. I’ve personally experienced extreme verbal abuse by patient and families and stood by my team after a sexual assault at our workplace. I had stuffed all of it deep down inside and didn’t give it room to breathe.  

Elizabeth Higinbotham, BSN, RN, OCN®

I felt raw after just the first few minutes. I felt seen and heard, but I was raw.  

But they encouraged us to find our why, our voice in nursing, by asking ourselves: 

  • “What drives you?” For me, the answer is simple: my dear, dear patients. No matter which facet of nursing I was in, my patients keep me grounded. They are sweet, kind, and just trying to live.  

  • “What does the world need?” The world needs compassion!  

I left that lecture with a little warmth in my heart that I hadn’t had in a while. I also left with my tail between my legs. They taught me that it’s not the dream to be burned out and used up. I walked away frustrated by the system but clearer and more focused on my situation.  

My guard wasn’t all the way down, but I was excited to hear more about a topic I was burying in my own life, and so I went to the “Mental Health of the Nurse” session. I heard more phrases like “cognitive dissidence” and “moral injury.” I never thought that those terms could apply to me. You mean our jobs are causing this? Well, it makes sense now!  

On the plane home, I reviewed my notes, highlighted and underlined critical concepts, and had myself organized with the stuff I wanted to present to my leaders, coworkers, and physicians. That buried stuff. I wanted to rip off the Band-Aid and get healing. 

I felt empowered by the knowledge I learned at ONS Congress that I really do matter, that being whole is important, and that the situation I was in was not my fault nor my job to fix. ONS Congress made me feel inspired again. It changed my life, and I have a lot more to learn. I will never forget this opportunity. 

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