From Martial Arts to Photography, Hobbies Help Beat Burnout

By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant

Surprise! Nurses are real people behind their masks and scrubs.

Carving out time to pursue a hobby, like playing games on Golden vegas casino, can help them beat burnout and promote self-care. Some nurses enjoy hobbies that are a bit more unusual than others.

Most people expect that their nurse can help them beat illness and injury. But Sheniece L. Griffin, doctor of nursing practice, could also vanquish bad guys as a kung fu-trained martial artist.

Griffin serves as inaugural nursing director for diversity, equity and inclusion at URMC and an assistant professor of clinical nursing at University of Rochester School of Nursing. She is also a member of Rochester Black Nurses Association.

Griffin has worked as a nurse for 12 years and has seen the increase of job stressors such as staffing issues and racism become more pronounced in the field. Kung fu has helped her deal with her stressors.

In 2019, her four children wanted to practice martial arts and she and her husband, Christopher Martin-Stancil-El, became involved as part of a family discount at Rochester Kung Fu and Fitness. Although the children lost interest, Griffin and her husband continued.

“I wasn’t getting any workout otherwise,” Griffin said. “This has been great conditioning. It builds up self-confidence. I like the self-defense aspects.”

She added that kung fu has taught her that being a hard worker means that one can accomplish anything. Although few patients ever know she practices kung fu, it positively affects her work.

“It makes me look at things a little different,” she added. “It helps you learn about self-control. It makes you think outside the box. In class, we talk about focusing your mind, ears, eyes and body. It makes you learn how to focus on what’s in front of you and give that person or whatever you’re doing your full attention. You’re cognizant of your environment and surroundings it gives self-awareness and helps build relationships.”

She finds that the deep breathing and meditation in kung fu is an important part of her self-care, along with body conditioning, as the art includes aspects that improve cardiovascular health, balance and flexibility.

“Most people can benefit from some type of martial art,” Griffin said. “All martial arts have skills people can learn from.”

For Natalie Santacesaria, a registered nurse at the Wilmot Cancer Institute, an interest in event photography has helped her stay more centered and provided a creative outlet. She helps her husband, Edgar “Javee” Javier, with JV Films, a photography and videography business. As his day job, Javier works as a pharmacist at Wegmans in Auburn.

While they were dating, he had to plan their dates around his photography engagements. She eventually asked if she could join him and help so they could spend more time together. Soon, she became an integral part of the operation.

The couple wed in a small ceremony in 2020. They had two other wedding plans fall through because of the pandemic, but Santacesaria said that those attempts have helped her better understand the level of planning that goes into a wedding.

Javier and Santacesaria are self-taught and work at all sorts of events and photo opportunities.

“We both have this passion to be creative and innovative,” Santacesaria said. “He started making films in pharmacy school to keep himself occupied. It helps us release that creative energy we innately have.”

The couple covers about two events monthly. Santacesaria has used her photography skills at work by taking headshots of fellow clinic nurses and technicians for the staff photography board this past year. As new staff members continue to join, she schedules a time to snap their photograph, edit it to match the rest, and the team adds it to the board.

“Patients have said how much they enjoy looking at the board and getting to see everyone’s face, especially in the age of masks,” Santacesaria said.

She has occasionally photographed a patient’s family’s event through serendipity or when word of mouth reveals that she is a photographer.

Although her side interest keeps her calendar packed, it “offers us a sense of fulfillment,” Santacesaria said. “If we didn’t have this, we would just be sitting on the couch. It’s how we choose to fill our time. We’re making a difference and it’s impactful.”

Burnout is one of the big risks in nursing and Santacesaria said that the creativity in photography helps her “ward off compassion fatigue. I’m surrounding myself with so much love. I’m not just rinsing and repeating my nursing job. It allows me to stay fresh and have compassion in emotionally draining situations.”

Featured image: Natalie Santacesaria is a registered nurse at the Wilmot Cancer Institute. An interest in event photography has helped her stay more centered and provided a creative outlet. She helps her husband, Edgar “Javee” Javier, with JV Films, a photography and videography business.