Registered Nurse, Sofia Levy, Opens Up About Her Journey with Cystic Fibrosis and the Importance of Finding the Work-Life Balance
Interview by: Holly-Noelle Haworth
What is your educational background?
After graduating high school, I got my Bachelor of Science in nursing (BSN) from UCLA — go Bruins! Now, I’m in the process of getting my Master of Science in nursing (MSN) from Vanderbilt University in Nashville — go Commodores!
Tell me about what you do now.
I am a registered nurse and therefore assess, develop diagnoses for, educate, and help treat adults. I currently work at a medical spa, where we do aesthetic treatments. However, I have worked on a medical-surgical unit in a hospital and in recovery rooms at multiple surgical centers in the past.
What was your first (real) job and how does it relate to what you do now?
My first "real" job was being a resident assistant at the residence halls for UCLA. While this job was not at all related to nursing, I thought that being in nursing school would make me a more knowledgeable RA. However, it was actually the other way around. Being an RA helped me be a better nurse, as it helped me with responsibility, time management, leadership, collaboration with coworkers, mental health counseling, safety concerns, conflict management, and, of course, dealing with occasional vomit on the floor.
Has your educational background directly applied to your career?
Yes, I knew that I wanted to be a nurse in high school, which is why I started my nursing career right away with my undergraduate degree. I could have gone to a university that did not have an undergraduate nursing school and, instead, gotten a degree in biology or a similar field, and then gone to nursing school. Both paths are great, but one results in being a nurse sooner rather than later. I was passionate and impatient!
What is one struggle that you have had to overcome in your work?
A struggle that I have had in my work is setting boundaries and being assertive with coworkers, patients, and employers. It is important to enjoy your work, collaborate with others, and have empathy for others without jeopardizing your mental health, physical health, or nursing license. On the topic of sacrificing physical health, another challenge I deal with is that I have Cystic Fibrosis, Diabetes, and Celiac Disease. Between managing my health at home with medications and treatments, taking care of my body at work, and coworkers frequently bringing in foods with gluten (nurses have a thing for doughnuts), it is an immense challenge, that I still face, to balance both work and my health. I also cannot work in an environment where patients have contagious diseases, as this could cause life-threatening complications with my health. So, this greatly affects which areas of nursing I can work in, which physical setting I can work in, and how strenuous my work can be. Needless to say, it was incredibly painful when I had to leave my very first job, which was at a hospital, because it was physically and emotionally too risky, stressful, and draining.
Did your diagnosis inspire you at all to become a nurse? How has it shaped your career?
I may not have been a nurse if it weren’t for my health struggles! I was diagnosed with Cystic Fibrosis at 3 months old, so I have had experiences with nurses for as long as I can remember. As a child, I always loved to play “Doctor” and I liked to care for other people. After I was diagnosed with Cystic Fibrosis Related Diabetes (CFRD has characteristics of both Type 1 and Type 2, but I am insulin-dependent so I manage it as if it is Type 1) at age 16, my compassion for others with health concerns and my desire to work in the healthcare field increased dramatically. My diagnoses brought me face-to-face with the nursing profession. With each challenge I have faced, I have felt more drawn to pursue that profession myself. I like to say that I chose nursing and that nursing chose me. My health has also shaped my career in that it caused me to not want to work in pediatrics, as it is very triggering for me. To not be able to work wherever I want, as previously mentioned, is difficult, but my personal struggles with my health has made me realize that I am very passionate about diabetes and endocrinology.
What advice can you give to those who are trying to find the balance between good health and establishing a career for themselves?
I frequently need reminders of my goals, values, priorities, health needs, and career, and how necessary it is to find and enact a balance between them in my daily life. Therapy helps me with this. For those who do not find therapy helpful, daily meditation, journaling and/or mindfulness may be useful. I also go on Cystic Fibrosis and Diabetes forums, and try to learn from others with health struggles, mental and physical, about the work-health balance. There are also support groups, books, retreats, classes, and clinical studies that are geared towards helping individuals navigate this balance in life. One incredible resource that I have recently discovered is occupational therapy. They are there to help people find the work-life-health balance. There are so many resources and although it is scary to reach out and try them, it is so worth it.
Working as a nurse is hard in a multitude of ways, I’m sure, but do you have any tips for getting along with co-workers or dealing with those you don’t naturally get along with?
I have found that often times people have personalities, coping mechanisms, and working styles that just don't compliment each other. When this happens, it is so important to maintain boundaries in a professional manner, focus on positive aspects of the job, focus on your own hard work, "keep your side of the street clean," and to turn to a support team outside of work when you need to vent or ask for advice.
How have you integrated your work and personal life? Can a woman have it all?
"Having it all" can mean something different to each individual, and because of this flexibility, I believe a woman can have it all. However, this takes self-reflection, practice, mindfulness, organization, being proactive, communication, and a support system. In my 4th year at UCLA, I was an RA, I was working 12-hour shifts at the hospital for my clinical hours, I was volunteering, and I was in a relationship. With all of this going on, it was deeply important for me to go to therapy, have time to myself, and to have quality time with my family and friends (who were thankfully nearby for the most part, as I was born and raised in LA). Hence, I actually made a Google Doc of my schedule, shared it with my mom, boyfriend, and whoever else it applied to, and thus had a transparent, organized way of managing and communicating just how insanely busy I was. I also had to listen to myself, mentally and physically, and say "no" to certain plans, make alone time for myself, or reach out to my family and friends for love, quality time, and support. Another way to "have it all" is to let go of relationships (platonic, familial, or romantic), jobs, and extracurricular activities that do not truly fulfill you or make you happy. This makes room (think of de-cluttering a closet) for those incredible, soul-igniting aspects of life that make us think, "dang, I really do have it all" — or helps us to get as close as we can to that sentiment. On the other hand, having it all can also take time, education, and money, so it is OK not to "have it all" at this very moment. Just focus on doing the best you can.
Do you have any tips for millennial women in terms of self-care?
Talk to someone, find an extracurricular activity that you absolutely love, find a form of exercise that doesn't feel like a chore, go outside, catch up on sleep when you can, learn to say "no" to people and things that do not help you, learn to say "yes" to people and things that do help you, acknowledge your emotions, and most importantly, have compassion for yourself.
What's the best career advice you've ever received and what would you tell women who are looking to go down a similar career path?
Your first job won't be your last. You will have a job that you may not be ecstatic about on a daily basis, where you don't make enough money, that may have nothing to do with your lifelong goals, etc. That’s OK. Learn what you can from your current situation, and know that every job has its pros and cons. Although you may have to settle temporarily, you will NEVER be stuck in a place where you are not truly happy.
Okay, now let’s have some fun…
Favorite book? The Little Prince
Favorite place you’ve been? Iceland (see above photo)
Wine of choice? Cabernet Sauvignon
Favorite girl power song? “Born This Way” by Lady Gaga
Favorite movie with a female lead? Kill Bill
Idol? Gloria Steinem
Are you a salty or sweet kinda gal? Both at the same time — kettle corn!
Bold babes, how do you balance your careers with other aspects of your life?