When I was in my early teens, I decided to become a candy striper, a volunteer at a local community hospital, to see if I was cut out to be a nurse. I was considering several different career paths, and I was excited explore a career in nursing.
Beforehand, I pictured what a day in the life of a nurse would look like. I was so excited to be a volunteer, wear my pretty new pink and white striped uniform along with my clean, bright white nursing shoes. Looking back, I spent considerably more time fantasizing about what it would like to be a nurse than actually volunteering. I quickly realized that a career in nursing was not for me.
Today, I am the Vice President of Communications for Acuity Healthcare, an Employee-Owned specialty hospital healthcare company. I often tell people I have the best job ever because I get to share all the wonderful stories about our hospitals and the great work our teams do for our patients and their families.
Having a traditional “office” job and serving on the leadership team, it can be easy to be desk-bound, and miss out on opportunities to engage with the team. That’s why I decided to don a pair of scrubs and get engaged by spending a day on the hospital floor with employees from different disciplines.
I arrived at the hospital at 6:30 a.m., very excited to start my day. In the back of my mind was my tendency to get queasy, and I kept saying, “I hope I don’t see anything that will make me uncomfortable.”
I started my day with Gina, a Patient Care Technician (PCT), whose title is perfect for her. The word care defines Gina’s essence. She is a natural born caregiver. The passion and love Gina has for taking care of her patients and being a team member was evident each time she spoke.
Next up was nursing. I spent some time with Jessica, a lovely nurse, who warmed my heart as I watched her interact with her patients.
As I spent time with Jessica, I thought to myself – “Wow…this is really a hard job, when can she sit down? When can she have her morning coffee?” I watched Jessica constantly moving, answering questions from colleagues, doctors, and her patients, and doing it all with a pleasant personality.
Jessica asked her patient if he needed help cutting his food. There she was, one minute taking a patients’ vitals, and the next cutting French toast and pouring syrup, and doing it with sincere compassion and a smile the entire time.
My head was spinning after spending time with Jessica and Gina. I am in awe of both of them. I never realized the amount of emotional energy a caregiver needs to have to do their job and do it well. Jessica was not just taking someone’s temperature, she was engaging and providing care simultaneously.
Later in the day Diane from respiratory and I visited an anxious patient who was in the process of being slowly liberated from the ventilator, a delicate process in which we specialize. This process causes extreme anxiety for patients. She skillfully and compassionately calmed the patient. We spent some time talking about how she counsels and helps patients and families deal with the anxiety of a tracheostomy and being on a ventilator.
After our discussion, I realized that being a health care provider is not about what you see – it’s truly about what you don’t see. It’s about how you interact with the patient and the families. It’s about how you make that person feel in the moment when they are totally reliant upon you. That moment when a patient or family needs hope, empathy, and kindheartedness. Diane’s and the team’s level of empathy and compassion was palpable.
Next on my schedule was rehabilitation. I was excited to work with Beth from rehabilitation, having known her for a while. Beth’s personality and likability factor is what makes her a stand out. She has an air of confidence, caring, and compassion. Beth is a leader in every sense of the word. We went with a colleague of hers, Brian. They wanted to move an older patient from the bed to a chair. This patient was so lovely. She had pictures of her family all over her room. Beth and Brian were encouraging the patient to get out of bed, but the patient’s anxiety took over. Beth and Brian were very supportive and loving. Beth, Brian and I all started to talk to the patient asking her about the photos in her room to distract her and attempt to remove her fear of getting out of bed. We all tried, and Beth was behind the patient like she was her own personal cheerleader while telling her we have you. Again, this was more than the discipline of rehabilitation, this interaction was about encouragement and trust.
My next visit was with the Wound Care team. Here is what I didn’t want to see – wounds. Since we are a specialty hospital that specializes in wound care, this team was all engaged in a discussion about a patient and his wound. I couldn’t do it, I saw one picture of a bad wound and that was enough for me. Hats off to this team, they are true dedicated specialists.
After a tiring, but incredibly interesting morning on the floor, it was lunch time. I returned to my desk and inhaled my lunch so I could return in a timely fashion and get back to the floor.
My next assignment was to work with Eileen from case management. I am always in awe of the case management team and all the work they do to ensure the patients and families have a positive experience. Being part of a healthcare team is so vital and case management is like the manager role of a team. Eileen was working with a patient on her discharge. Let me go on and record and say, the amount of paperwork involved is overwhelming. She was managing every detail, even calling the ambulance for the patient’s transfer to her next facility. Eileen spent time going over every detail with the patient. The patient and the family member were relying on Eileen for all the answers. Case management is a critical role.
Next up was time for my visit with Kristi from dietary. She was so excited about introducing me to her role. She saved two patient visits for my participation. The first patient was a new admit. We introduced ourselves and talked with the patient for a while before we even discussed her dietary needs. Her family had just left and she wanted to tell us all about it. She was the sweetest woman, she was bragging about her children and grandchildren. We asked her about her eating likes and dislikes. Kristi explained the need for additional protein due to her wound care needs.
Our next visit was with a patient who was requesting some ice cream. Here was a women in bed, not feeling well and all she wanted was a sweet treat. Kristi had to balance making sure the patient’s sugar levels were healthy with the desire to give the patient what would make her happy. I have a feeling she does this balancing act all the time. Again, what is good and right for the patient’s dietary needs and their emotional needs? It is clear, Kristi enjoys her job and working with the patients and families.
My last two meetings were with Chantel from pharmacy, and Mary, a unit secretary. Mary was impressive to say the least. She never stopped during our brief visit. Each person on the team has a role that is critical to the success of the team. Chantel and her team explained the critical role of the pharmacists and their clinical involvement. In order to ensure appropriate medications are being ordered, pharmacists must have a working knowledge of each patient’s medical history. Additionally, pharmacists must continually check patients’ progress and lab work to verify the approach is correctly targeted.
My day on the floor was exhausting, and I didn’t even work a 12-hour shift! I was both physically and emotionally tired. I think I walked more in one day than I probably do in a week working normally. As a seasoned communications professional and a member of the leadership team, we are always talking about the patient experience and employee engagement. My day on the floor showed me how engaged our Employee Owners are. They are engaged with the team, patients, and families.
The patient experience is a critical component for the patient and their family. It is much more than “How was the care?” It’s about the human side, the emotional side. Patient experience is directly tied to the warmth and genuine kindness and concern that comes from each person’s interaction with the patient and their family.
Every patient experience is sure to be different, but I am so glad I spent a day on the floor because I still believe I have the best job – working with the best healthcare teams and sharing stories about the work all of the locations do every day ensuring that our patients have the best possible human experience.
I applaud all nurses and clinicians for all they do and for doing it effortlessly with love and compassion.
Thank you Acuity Specialty Hospital of Southern New Jersey for an experience of a lifetime.
Lisa Bien, Vice President, Communications