Sam Roecker picked an unusual outfit to run this year's Boston Marathon in: her scrubs. The registered nurse at an ear, nose, and throat clinic is hoping to break the Guinness World Record for "fastest marathon run in a nurse's uniform" (yes, that's a thing) — all in order to raise money for The American Nurse's Foundation and bring awareness to the current mental health crisis among healthcare workers.
Over the past two years, Roecker has witnessed and experienced first-hand how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected healthcare workers' mental health. One story that moved her to action was that of her close friend, who was a physician's assistant. Prior to the pandemic, her friend worked at a pediatric hospital, but in early 2020, her floor was converted to an adult COVID unit to accommodate overflow. "This change was completely foreign and terrifying. She is so brave," Roecker says. "She put her life on the line for months to care for her patients. She now suffers immensely from PTSD, anxiety, and depression."
Her friend has access to good healthcare, Roecker says, but she can't find the help she deserves. "She has exhausted her options. Psychiatrists do not have openings because they are overflowing with patients. Insurance copays are outrageous or treatments are not covered altogether. We are frustrated and defeated," Roecker shares.
Although Roecker is fortunate to work in an outpatient job and isn't "frontline" in the COVID ICUs, she says the pandemic has still affected her mental health. There have been staffing and resource shortages, leading to backed up appointments and frustrated and scared patients who can't get in to see their doctors or have to receive bad news without their family members present, all of which takes a toll on her. "There have been a lot of challenges we've had to overcome," Roecker says.
Knowing that her and her friend's stories were not unique, Roecker resolved to do something to help support the mental health of nurses. She's been a competitive runner since seventh grade and a marathon runner since graduating college (this year will be her third time running Boston), and first heard about this particular Guinness World Record in a Runner's World article a few years ago. So when creating her fundraiser, she decided to combine her love of running and nursing, and try to break the record. Roecker has a shot: Her personal best marathon time is 2 hours, 29 minutes and 59 seconds, and the current Guinness World Record is 3 hours, 8 minutes, and 22 seconds. But, she acknowledges, she's currently working full time and is in nurse practitioner school, which has taken away from her training. (She says she has done at least a few runs in her Moxie scrubs.)
Even if Roecker doesn't achieve her goal, though, she says that she's "so proud of the audiences this has reached and how much money and awareness this has raised" — over $28,000 so far. She hopes this money will help support the American Nurse's Foundation well-being initiative, which includes complimentary therapy resources, expressive writing programs, financial consulting, podcasts, and mobile apps dedicated to mental health and well-being, as well as content dedicated to grief and bereavement.
"I am so grateful for all of the support I've received," Roecker says. "I've been sent so many kind messages from nurses and runners around the country and the world, and it is emotional and incredible." She's excited that this has already raised so much awareness — but beating the record "would be the icing on the cake."