Change and Resilience: “You have to be whole yourself to care wholly for someone else”

Cheryl Nelson horizontal 1476c

By: Cheryl Nelson, Clinical Resource Leader, Emergency Department

“You’re so sweet; they’re going to eat you alive.”

The Emergency Department (ED) is a challenging and busy place. It’s in a constant state of change, with high-stress, emotionally-charged cases.

So when I told my colleagues I’d be transferring to the ED, the general reaction was: “You’re so sweet, they’re going to eat you alive.”

But that couldn’t be farther from the truth.

When I started in the ED in 2005, the culture was immediately warm, supportive and inclusive. My colleagues introduced themselves right away, offered to help, and even asked if I needed anything on lunch or coffee runs. Twelve years later, I’m so proud this culture is still alive and thriving – especially given the challenging environment we work in.

‘Unburden it’

Earlier this year, our team experienced a devastating pediatric death in the Emergency Department. Sometimes, as healthcare providers, we don’t acknowledge the trauma that comes with caring for a patient. Working on challenging cases can trigger memories, thoughts and fears from our own experiences of loss.

It’s especially important when we experience these traumatic events, that we take a moment to pause, reflect and keep the lines of communication open, without blame or shame. I strongly encourage my staff to ‘unburden it’ and speak out using any number of channels – be it a team debrief, one-on-one session in my office, rounds, or attending a compassion fatigue workshop. You have to be whole yourself to care wholly for someone else.

We also build resiliency through an active social committee, hosting breakfasts, lunch and learns and wellness days. Sometimes, we even have a Patient Care Assistant who comes in on her days off to offer manicures to staff on their breaks. It makes people feel good and lighter. Most importantly, the staff owns this culture – they’ve built it and enjoy it.

‘Where there is change, there is fear’

Change is inevitable, especially in a fast-paced hospital environment. We always need to be up-to-date on policies, procedures, technology and changes in practice that will offer our patients safe, quality care.

Where there is change, there is fear. Whether it’s feeling insecure in a new process or fearing disruption to an otherwise comfortable routine. Fear of how change might shift our responsibilities, accountabilities and overall performance. Fear that we’re not good enough.

But once you get to the root cause of the fear and start to identify triggers – little by little, it doesn’t seem as overwhelming. The best way to face change is to support those who fear it most. Maybe they need more training, extra support or additional encouragement. Give your colleagues time to acknowledge and accept the change.

By taking away their fear and helping them understand why we need to change, they will be much likelier to embrace it.

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