by Sari Cohen
If this pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that health is wealth.
Brian Paonessa came to Las Vegas as a registered nurse six years ago. At the time, he was trying to balance his work and personal life. “The last six years have developed my nursing career, but most importantly, it has shaped my character,” Paonessa says. “It has changed the way I perceive myself and handle situations. I’m truly blessed by God to have learned some valuable lessons now instead of having to learn them later in life.”
Paonessa grew up playing sports. It was his coaches who inspired his unquenchable thirst for success. “I’ve learned that you’re the director of your life. If you don’t like something, only you can change it. I consider myself to be an independent person,” Paonessa continued. “Someone who leads by example. I’ve never needed someone to pat me on the back for my successes. Going out and earning them is the only way I know.”
It’s this drive that led Paonessa to his recent success endeavor – Fit, Functional Nurses. Fit, Functional Nurses is an incentive and benefit program designed to enhance a nurse’s lifestyle outside of work. Nurses work a lot of hours, and they need to create balance in their lives so that they can come back to the hospital or workplace stronger. FFN works with businesses that provide discounts specifically for nurses.
“Businesses that respect nurses in the community can show their appreciation by giving a nurse a discount. It’s very similar to a military discount,” Paonessa explained. “Nurses need downtime before they burn themselves out. FFN will be working with gyms, restaurants, retail shops, and attractions to reward nurses for what they do so they can enjoy life with family and friends. Nurses must have time to replenish their mental, physical, and spiritual health so they can provide a high quality of care.”
What sets you apart from other nurses?
In my six years as a nurse, I’ve made a name for myself as a hard worker. I love what I do. I wouldn’t change it, and I especially don’t take it for granted. There was a point in my life when I wasn’t sure my nursing career would happen. Real quick, I failed a semester in nursing school, and I failed my boards the first time. So to look back at my past and see what I’ve gone through to get where I’m at and where I’m going now has been a game-changer. Even on the worst days of my nursing career, I’m grateful to have had a second chance. Knowing deep down inside that I started making a huge difference in my patients’lives as a nurse, to now making a difference in the world by becoming a nurse advocate has made all of the sacrifices worth it.
What is it like as a male working in a female-dominated industry? What are the benefits? What are the challenges?
It’s been fun. It has enlightened my perspective on female characteristics and different personalities. Women are very nurturing individuals. Almost every nurse I know is a mom. It’s a remarkable thing to see when a female nurse cares for a patient as much as they would their child. It’s something that you can’t teach. Most of the time, they don’t even realize what they are doing or its impact on a patient, but as a male nurse, it’s easy to recognize. With every pro, there’s always a con. As a male,sometimes it’s hard to communicate with female nurses effectively. Over the years, I have learned to filter out my frustrations and let go of the conversations that could lead to arguments within the workplace. I take a step back, try to simplify my needs, and help others for the greater good of the team of nurses. We’re all on the same team. We’re all in this together.
Tell me about some of your career milestones?
I’ve been nominated Nurse of the Year, multiple ICAREnominations at HCA. I’ve had numerous coworkers acknowledge me for going above and beyond in the hospital.
What do you love most about where you work now?
My coworkers. We are there for each other through thick and thin. As nurses, you spend more time with your coworkers than you sometimes do with family members. We know each other in and out. It’s a nice feeling to work with a team that cares about you as much as they care about their patients.
How have things changed for you since the start of the COVID-19?
Society has changed more than anything else. You have people that are very timid about going out in public now. They’re very cautious about everything and anything. On the other hand, you have people that want to live their lives the way they did before the whole pandemic. So it’s a constant balance between people that overreact and people who want to live with normalcy. As far as my career is concerned, nothing changed. Okay, I have to put more PPE on when I do my job. But, at the end of the day, I still provide the same amount of care, if not more, for my patients. I still love what I do. We’ll get through this just like we’ve done in the past.
What have you learned about yourself working on the front lines through the pandemic?
I’ve learned that nurses are not recognized enough for what they do. I don’t care about recognizing myself, but nurses go above and beyond each day. So COVID-19 or not, the need to promote the nursing career is a necessary thing.
Why did you start FFN?
When I was going through nursing school, the professor of my psychology class asked all of the students what they wanted to do in nursing, what areas they wanted to work at the hospital. When the professor got to me, I said I wanted to do something different in nursing. I wanted to help other nurses with their health and wellness. I remember everyone looked at me very strangely. But I knew that working in the hospital was not mybe-all and end-all. So I came up with a concept in 2018 [FFN], and I’ve constantly been working on it. It’s like that little whisper in your mind that doesn’t go away. During the pandemic, it hit me that I wanted to create FFN as an incentive and benefit program for nurses. The military, teachers, police officers, firefighters, and EMTs have exclusive benefits and incentives for their careers. So why don’t we have a program for nurses like this? I’m very proud to be a nurse, but it seems in the last sixyears, many corporations have gotten away from offering benefits and incentives outside of work. I feel that we should be proud of what we do and be rewarded for it.
How do you see it growing in the future?
I want to create a bond between nurses all over the nation, all over the world. As nurses, we all go to nursing school. We all go through the same things at work and in our careers. FFN can create a unified program that elevates the nursing community by providing benefits, such as home buying with no money down, just like the military. Or a nursing federal credit union. The sky is the limit. The need for nurses is greater now more than ever. With society growing the way it is, we’re inevitably going to have a nursing shortage. We need to start recruiting kids out of high school into nursing programs, and with FFN, having this benefit incentive program will give kids some direction for their future.
How does FFN impact businesses?
Businesses can proactively show the community that they support nurses and what they do. By offering a discount, more nurses will want to go to that business. They will bring their family, friends, and neighbors as well – all due to their appreciation. Overall, companies will receive more traffic and more praise for their acknowledgment.
What are some of the perks nurses will get with this special honoring?
Nurses will save more money doing things that they like to do. They’ll go to certain restaurants knowing that they get a discount there. If there’s a reason for nurses to be celebrated,they’re less likely to work more. Work will always be there. Life is short; go out and enjoy the moment. Be with your family, be with your friends, and get rewarded for what you do.
What does it mean for nurses to be honored like this?
It’s been a long time coming. Modern nursing has been around since the 19th century. Now is the time to have this type of incentive and benefit program to recognize nurses. It means the world to us as nurses. So many times, I’ve been asked if I was in the military. Well, now’s the time to be asked if I’m a nurse.
Do you see yourself moving even more into the entrepreneurial space in the future?
Absolutely. My goal is to be running FFN full-time within a year and a half.
If health is wealth, how do we, as individuals, impact that? How do we generate more wealth?
You can’t put a price tag on health. Let’s start by saying that. I’ve seen patients hooked up to tubes, lines, and vents, and it’s not pretty. We need to do a better job of disciplining ourselves. We need to do everything in moderation, including exercise, nutrition, and sleep. The COVID-19 pandemic has opened our eyes to the necessity of personal hygiene. It all starts with us. Just like when you get on a plane, and they explain the oxygen masks, put yours on first before helping others. Well, it’s the same concept in life now. Focus on your hygiene before you focus and worry about others. The questions I have for society: Do you dust your house? Do you vacuum? Do you change your sheets? Do you wash your floors? Do you brush your teeth twice a day? Do you floss? Do you smoke? What’s your nutritional lifestyle? These are the simple things that you can control to change your health habits.
For more information on Nurse Brian and FFN go to the website www.ffnworld.com