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A Circle of Caring


By Elaine Schmidt

Published Jul 1, 2011 8:00 AM



Snowflakes kiss Lake Arrowhead as 25 UCLA health-care professionals gather around a crackling fire. From a hodgepodge of art materials, Karyn Marks fashions a gleaming, gold-and-green symbol of what she hopes to free herself from for the weekend.

"I want to leave work behind because it consumes me," says Marks, a liver-transplant coordinator at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center. "We give so much of ourselves to others; I'm here to replenish myself."

So begins the Circle of Caring, a UCLA retreat aimed at preventing burnout in nurses and other health-care professionals.

"Nurses constantly care for others, yet rarely nurture themselves," says Katherine Brown-Saltzman, co-director of the UCLA Health System Ethics Center, who created and co-leads the program with B.J. Jakala, a UCLA psychiatric nursing supervisor, and Shira Musicant M.A. '79, a Santa Barbara movement and marriage/family therapist. "For one weekend, we ask our participants to break the pattern of serving others and allow themselves to be cared for."

Thanks to support from Heidi Crooks, senior associate director of patient care, UCLA Health System's Nursing Department was the first in the country to offer a program of this kind in 1992. More than 500 people have experienced the retreat, which opened to non-UCLA staff in 1998. Located in rustic Lake Arrowhead, the program blends the arts, ritual, meditation, yoga and massage to create a sense of community and to renew healers who've been trained to focus first on others.

The retreat embraces spirituality and rituals from various faiths. One highlight was a meditation on forgiveness led by Minister Romeo Degolacion, a resident in UCLA's Spiritual Care Department. He shared teachings from Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism and an atheistic perspective.

"The meditation left me speechless and was such a wonderful surprise," recalls Farah Barkatally, a geriatrics nurse from Santa Monica-UCLA Medical Center. An observant Muslim, she says "the passage he chose from our prayers is very important and summarizes my religion beautifully."

Heal Thyself

Held twice a year, the next Circle of Caring is scheduled for Oct. 21-23. Click here for more information.

Each participant selects a workshop to learn new skills for setting positive boundaries, reducing stress and creating a balanced life. Choices include play therapy, dance and movement therapy, and the art of compassion. For example, Michael Kenny, a nurse who works with substance-abuse patients at the Resnick Psychiatric Hospital, chose the compassion group led by Brown-Saltzman.

"Katherine taught us coping skills to remain resilient after a patient deeply affects us," he says. "Her feedback helped me to understand and release my fears in my daily work with the mentally ill."

As for Karyn Marks, once in the Circle of Caring is nowhere near enough. In fact, she plans to send her entire team to upcoming retreats.

And why not? "This weekend taught me that I need to take care of myself in order to provide the best care to my patients," she concludes.

To make a gift to UCLA's Circle of Caring Renewal Program or the UCLA Health System Ethics Center, please contact Lauren Siri at (310) 794-6219 or