Discovering a calling
A decade ago, Tina Vinsant had not yet imagined her future as a critical care nurse and leading nurse advocate. Other than being in a hospital when she delivered her children, she had no real experience with healthcare. “I didn’t realize how sheltered I was. I’d never been sick. I’d never had anyone close to me who was sick,” she said.
Vinsant’s decision to go to nursing school came as a middle-age epiphany. Her 3 sons, their ages ranging between 9 and 22, didn’t rely on her as much — she felt there was something missing. Her husband was supportive of her decision to return to school. As she considered life’s next phase, one thing appealed to her: caring for people. “Caring for people made it feel like the job would be making a difference in people's lives,” she recalled.
Fast forward to January 2020. Vinsant, then in her mid-40s, had gained a few years of experience working as an RN at eastern Tennessee’s UT Medical Center. She became a critical care nurse in the Cardiovascular Intensive Care Unit (CVICU) just before the COVID-19 pandemic struck. Soon, the hospital was filled with extremely sick patients.
"Finding her ears" and discovering Eko
As a nursing student, like many of her colleagues, Vinsant struggled to discern patients’ vital body sounds. “When you first start listening, everything sounds the same. There’s a saying that you have to ‘find your ears,’’’ she said.
Once she transferred to the CVICU, she felt it was important to be able to clearly auscultate and differentiate heart sounds, especially those often-subtle anomalies like murmurs. “I didn’t want to miss anything,” she noted.
She scoured the internet for research. After seeing multiple ads and reviews for the 3M™ Littmann® CORE Digital Stethoscope, she knew she wanted to check it out. Vinsant recalled, “I definitely remember the first time I tried the digital stethoscope. I couldn't believe it! I was so floored. It's absolutely life changing.”
The ability to clearly hear and distinguish heart sounds boosted her confidence. Doing 15-minute vital-sign checks on a new post-op heart surgery patient, she thought she heard a change in his heart sounds.
She recalls telling another nurse, “I think I hear a friction rub.” Soon a physician, along with an echocardiogram, confirmed that she had detected that early change. Her assessment was right.
“One of the neatest things about the Littmann® CORE is pairing it with the Eko App that you can use to record the sounds you're hearing. It's a great teaching tool for both students and patients. It helps identify rhythms that may otherwise go undetected by clinicians who are not experienced with recognizing them,” she said.
Burnout then branching out
Like many critical care nurses during the pandemic, Vinsant floated to the newly set-up COVID ICU. The rooms had a special ventilation system, with many of the patients on ventilators and extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO). She recalled, “You can't hear anything. It’s deafening.”
While working in the COVID ICU, Vinsant protected her Littmann® CORE from contamination using a plastic glove or bag. Its features, like active noise cancellation, enabled her to assess vital heart, lung, and bowel sounds — despite the unit’s loud ambient noise.
After a year of working in the intensity of that setting, burnout set in.
“I was thankful I could do something to help in that situation, but I went from feeling like I was making a difference — really enjoying my job and my life — to realizing it was sucking the life out of me,” she said.
For a change of work scenery, Vinsant switched to being a travel nurse, filling in at hospitals in rural areas of Tennessee. She still cared for patients with COVID and sometimes was the only ICU RN on duty in a small unit.
Vinsant learned about what people who live in rural populations often go through to access medical care. “I think it was probably one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done. I have a new appreciation for the people who live in those areas,” she observed.
Using her voice to advocate for nurses
Vinsant is a long-time fan of true crime podcasts. In 2018, she had a creative idea for a podcast that would combine true crime with nursing with the goal of being a positive voice for nurses. Good Nurse Bad Nurse was born.
“As nurses, we can bring ourselves down sometimes by focusing on the negative. I wanted to do something to focus on the positives as well, but not pretend that bad things don’t happen,” Vinsant said.
The weekly podcast, now with more than 2.5 million downloads, features Vinsant in conversation with nurses and other guests. The conversations, given the true crime component, can be weighty. They sometimes feature sensitive topics, like domestic abuse and gun violence. Yet they can also include fun and light-hearted banter.
Eko is a sponsor of the Good Nurse Bad Nurse podcast. Vinsant credits this support with helping the program access some needed resources that enable steady production, like digital editing. She's also an ardent believer in the value of Eko’s stethoscope technology.
Vinsant is taking a break from nursing right now to finish her master’s degree, which focuses on care coordination and quality improvement. Meanwhile, she continues to be an active nurse advocate.
“I’ve never stopped talking about the Littmann® CORE since I got it. It makes all the difference in the world to be confident in what you're hearing,” she said. “I tell everyone, ‘Save yourself some heartache and get this stethoscope.’”
Find out how the 3M™ Littman® CORE Digital Stethoscope can make a difference for you.