Content courtesy of Memorial Hermann.
While every nurse has a story that makes their journey unique, few have experienced anything like Amy Loughren’s role in the investigation of former nurse and serial killer, Charles Cullen.
As portrayed in the Netflix movie The Good Nurse, Loughren worked with investigators who ultimately arrested Cullen. He claims to have killed at least 40 patients but was convicted of killing 29 and is currently serving 11 consecutive life sentences. Some experts estimate he killed closer to 400 patients.
Loughren and Cullen worked together at Somerset Hospital in New Jersey as Intensive Care Unit night-shift nurses. They quickly formed a close bond, and Cullen was one of the few people that knew Loughren had been diagnosed with cardiomyopathy. Out of fear of being fired, she awaited treatment options.
After investigations into a patient’s death began, detectives became suspicious of Cullen’s involvement. Loughren initially defended his character but discovered evidence of patient harm in Cullen’s medication reports.
She bravely agreed to wear a wire and meet with Cullen, which led to his confession and arrest in 2013. Now 20 years later, Loughren shares insights on her personal journey and advice for nurses today, including the importance of prioritizing their well-being within a physically and emotionally demanding profession.
Nursing’s emotional toll
Because nurses face high-stress and traumatic situations, the emotional toll can impact their personal lives long after their shifts end. Loughren was certainly no stranger to this challenge.
“As nurses, we sometimes feel as though we must push our emotions down. We disassociate from not only our emotions, but listening to our own bodies because we don’t have time to do that,” she said. “It’s a survival strategy because we are all in survival mode. All of us.”
Loughren discussed the stigma and idea that nursing is supposed to be hard. During COVID-19, healthcare workers were called heroes, facing unforeseen challenges, short staffing ratios, and lack of necessary supplies.
She noted, “Nursing is hard emotionally. Nursing is hard physically. But it should not be hard to execute your job. It should not be hard for you to put your hands on items that are lifesaving.”
Despite enduring difficult working environments, nurses have continued to sacrifice their own well-being for the sake of their patients. With an ongoing nursing shortage, many are facing burnout, moral injury, and compassion fatigue.
“We are heroes not because we put our lives on the line, but because we use our education and our expertise to help people when they’re in very dire situations. That does not mean we should be sacrificing our lives, our mental health,” said Loughren.
She advocates for nurses looking out for other nurses and speaking up when others seem to be struggling. Without adequate mental health resources, Loughren fears that nurses won’t get the help they might need, noting, “It’s why we had a Charles Cullen — because he wasn’t able to get the mental health help that he deserved.”
Advice for nurses
After 30 years as a nurse, Loughren has valuable advice for other nurses — both new and seasoned in today’s healthcare landscape.
“The three things I would encourage any nurse to keep top of mind are three Rs — recognition, response, and reevaluation,” said Loughren. “If you recognize something, such as a patient safety issue, understand and own your response. Are you documenting it? Reevaluate that response and make sure you feel like you’re doing the right thing.”
Loughren also discussed the importance of aligning yourself with people you respect at work, rather than trying to fit in with a clique or surrounding yourself with someone just because they’re funny or easy to work with.
“Find a mentor that you truly respect, someone that inspires you,” said Loughren. “Because one day, you’re going to be someone else’s mentor. Practice in a way that you’ll be proud of in the future.”
Nursing encompasses many skills and includes a wide range of specialties. Throughout the pandemic, nurses tried new roles within the profession, from travel nursing to telehealth, or they took time away from the bedside altogether.
For nurses considering making a change, Loughren offered this advice, “There is absolutely no shade to anyone who jumps ship to try something different — something that works better for their family. Maybe just something so they can sleep better.”
“Your responsibility is always to yourself and to your family and to your mental health, and that’s the most important thing,” she added.
Loughren noted that nurses often don’t pay enough attention to their own emotional and mental health because they don’t have the time. She is a strong advocate of meditation for nurses — noting the profound impact it’s had on her life.
“It can seem like a small change, but it really does help,” Loughren said of meditation. “Even just listening to soothing music or sounds in nature in the car on your way to or from work can make a difference.”
A spiritual journey
Following Cullen’s arrest, Loughren began a spiritual journey to understand how she could befriend someone capable of such darkness. She discussed the impact that his hidden nature had on her, personally and professionally.
“I questioned my own instincts, and I questioned trust,” she said. “And it wasn’t about trusting other people. It was about trusting myself. And when you start doing that, everything kind of falls apart.”
Loughren took a break from nursing and engaged in energetic modalities. These practices helped her learn about her instincts, which gave her back some of what she lost when she came to the tragic realization that one of her closest friends was a serial killer. “That paradigm shift shifted to a much more beautiful and open space, and I’m so grateful for that moment,” Loughren noted.
When Loughren returned to nursing, she connected in a deeper, more meaningful way with other nurses. She noted, “I could look at them as people who were struggling with mental health issues. I went back knowing how to help teams be emotionally healthy because of everything I had learned and experienced.”
In addition to being an RN, Loughren is now a trained Reiki Master, Hypnotherapist, NLP Practitioner, Meditation Instructor, DreamSculptor Practitioner, Reconnective Healer, Integrative Energy Healer, Past Life Regressionist, Crystal Language Reader, and Medical Intuitive.
Loughren noted that her spiritual journey helped her understand that one of her gifts was being able to see the good in people, something she used to feel could potentially threaten her safety. This gift is what ultimately led to her friendship with Charles Cullen — without which, there would have not been a confession or arrest made.
She now lives in Florida and enjoys spending time with her two daughters and grandchildren when she’s not traveling the world on new adventures.
Loughren was featured in a recent NurseDot podcast episode, “The Good Nurse,” in which she discusses her nursing and spiritual journey. She will also be a featured speaker at the upcoming Wild on Wounds conference in September 2023 and continues to be an advocate for the well-being of nurses.
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