Thursday, July 19, 2007

Dinosaur Nursing

We were critically short-staffed before and now one of our nurses left on emergency leave this morning. You can't run a schedule with five nurses. In the meantime, I've been moved out of the MSU to General Surgery. They chose another nurse to cover both her clinic and the MSU which doesn't make sense. I still had to manage a physical readiness issue for one of the sailors and I am writing three end-of-tour awards for staff detaching in the next couple of months. I also have to turn over with the Division Officer who will be taking my place.

The other nurse covering the ward chose to have nurses work 8-hour shifts in addition to their regularly scheduled 12-hour shifts so a new graduate nurse was not left on his own on the night shift. I argued that the 8-hour shifts would actually be longer because things happen and staff would be reluctant to leave, even when their shift was over. She responded, "When I was a nurse at their level of experience, I had to work seven shifts to get four off!"

I replied, "Dinosaur nursing doesn't work nowadays."

She retorted, "These nurses are just BABIES! They need to suck it up."

Quietly, I said, "These nurses are not babies. They are adults who have different priorities." But she had already turned and walked away.

It's times like this that I have to apply the 5-year rule: Will this really matter in 5 years? And my response is no. And I am sick and tired of the phrase, "Suck it up."

Slow Leadership says this:

"...organizations rely on people's feelings of loyalty. Not loyalty to the business, mostly, but loyalty to colleagues, who will be forced to take up any slack if someone refuses to give up vacation time or work a 60 or 70-hour week." The best workers vote with their feet: "Those with the most courage, the highest levels of self-confidence, the greatest commitment to ethical principles, and the strongest personal values leave."

Slow Leadership continues: "One of the differences between high levels of stress and actual burnout is the presence of depression. Someone suffering burnout has given up. He or she no longer has the power to fight, nor the self-esteem to put the blame on the organization, where it belongs. The burnout victim was, typically, an ambitious high-flier, a good team player who gave and gave until
there was nothing left to give."

Finally, Slow Leadership says, "Work is part of life, not the other way around."

What I should have asked this senior nurse is, "Don't you remember how angry, how powerless you felt when you were given these demands? Didn't you vow then to never become that kind of nurse or leader?"


Steve Roesler said...

Mary K,

Wonderful real-life post.

A family health situation over the past 2 years has put me into ongoing contact with nurses and their supervisors at a hospital nearby. I had a chance to observe and discuss the same kind of situation you described.

As a long-time organizational consultant and leadership development guy--including the Army--I'm fascinated by the dynamic. (And my friend The Coyote at Slow Leadership is right on the money, as usual).

"Suck it up" does nothing to positively impact the customer (patient). It is designed to reduce thoughtful scheduling and resource allocation for the supervisor.

Keep writing...

Mary K said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mary K said...

I recently took an online assessment of my "alpha female" assets (
members/genderstudy/landing.asp) and I'm sad to say I failed miserably. Comparing myself to the leader I was last year and the leader I am now, I am proud of the growth and learning I have accomplished.

I might have responded the same way as this senior nurse if I were still in the Marine Corps and if I were the same person I was 20 years ago. But attitudes and principles evolve...for which I am eternally grateful.