Get to know your faculty: Elizabeth “Libby” Brough

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Showcasing Strengths

Elizabeth Brough“Tell me an example of you at your best as a nursing student.” That’s how Clinical Instructor Libby Brough, PhD, RN, invites her students to introduce themselves at the start of each semester.

Brough’s focus on positive psychology is a recurring theme in her teaching, research and general view of life. In class, she challenges each student to identify their top five character strengths.

“If you know your own strengths and can leverage them, it’s going to help you enjoy your work more and be more productive,” she explained.

While Brough encourages a life-long focus on identifying and using personal strengths, she has a specific event that junior and senior students should be thinking about – the job interview.

“‘What are your strengths and weaknesses?’ is such a common question in interviews,” said Brough. “Knowing how to articulate strengths, and being able to back it up with specific examples, can help them stand out from the rest of the applicants.”

Identifying the strengths in patients is another skill Brough teaches students.

“Nursing can be really difficult and stressful,” she explained. “We witness a lot of suffering, but our mission is help people wherever they are, whether it’s how to have a good death or how to manage a chronic condition. Identifying the strengths in your patients can help them cope with whatever their situation is.”

Let’s Talk About Sex

Sexuality wasn’t something Brough planned to focus on when she began her nursing career, but she kept seeing gaps in the knowledge patients wanted and what they were given.

“When I worked on an oncology floor, we covered everything but sexuality,” she said. “I’d get the Friday night call from discharged patients. They wanted to have sex but no one had talked about if it was okay to do or about the changes that might occur.”

Even without a major illness or complication, Brough views sexuality as an area where clinicians and researchers need to do more for patients and the general public.

“People want to know about sexuality,” she said. “We need to understand more on how aging, illness and medications can affect a patient’s sexuality. We’re getting better, but the research on women and sexuality is far behind what is known for men. Also, we don’t have our arms around the psychosocial aspects, like we should. ”

Brough believes this an area of opportunity for nurses to take a leadership role in educating their patients.

“The nurse sees the patient in a broader view,” she explains. “They understand how sexuality may be impacted by outside factors. Also, patients tend to feel more comfortable asking nurses questions, not the physicians.”

Getting Her Start

Advocating for nurses to take on more responsibilities, especially some that many people would consider uncomfortable, is a huge leap from Brough’s first day in a hospital.

As is often the case with teenagers, Brough just wanted a job and a paycheck, but didn’t really know what she wanted for a career. So, she followed a friend’s lead and became a nurses’ aid. However, when she saw her first patient, she wondered if she could handle the job.

“The first patient I saw had all this equipment around and the tubes for oxygen in his nose, and it made me really uncomfortable,” she said. “But, soon I started forgetting about the equipment and I started to see the people.  Then, I saw the nurses and the impact they were having on people’s lives. That’s when I decided to become a nurse.”