The COVID-19 pandemic has presented hospital leaders with the challenge of formulating a response amid a global health crisis. For many, leveraging their management experience has been key to navigating these times. But it can be a challenge for new leaders like Emily Smith, who assumed her role as a nurse manager last year just as the pandemic began.
"I'm not sure I have much to compare it to because I didn't really know much about management before COVID-19," says Smith, RN, clinical manager, The Children's Hospital at Saint Francis in Tulsa, Oklahoma. "The entirety of my management career has been during the pandemic."
Team bonding is integral
Smith hasn't gone it alone—she stresses how important the support of countless mentors and leaders at the Children's Hospital has been throughout her journey. But beginning her management career amid a pandemic has prompted her to focus on the fundamentals, resulting in stronger relationships with her team members.
"I really got to know my nurses on a deeper level because I've seen them through so many challenges—my staff has been through a lot of personal difficulties this year in addition to the stresses of being a nurse," Smith says. "It was an opportunity to get to know them on a much more personal level than I would have otherwise."
Important lessons from the past year
Though the learning curve has been particularly steep for Smith, she says there are two key takeaways that will shape her approach to leadership as her career progresses:
Self-care. "I reinforce with my nurses and staff all the time that if you can't take care of yourself right now, then you can't take care of anyone else," Smith says. "You can't pour from an empty cup."
Smith says the importance of self-care was especially evident because of the heightened stressors brought on by the pandemic. Though it's natural for nurses to put their patients' care ahead of their own, it's helpful to reframe the notion of self-care as an investment in the quality of the care they provide.
"To be the best nurse you can be, you have to take care of yourself," Smith says. "Caring for yourself is one of the biggest and most important investments you're going to make."
Perseverance through teamwork. Smith has been encouraged by how her unit—and on a larger scale, the hospital—succeeded through the trials of the past year. "We have all been stretched to places we didn't think we would be stretched," Smith says. "I've learned we can get through any challenge that faces us if we stick together and lean on each other."
And because COVID-19 has affected their lives on personal and professional levels, she's confident her team is well-positioned to address future challenges. "We know we can rely on each other," Smith says. "Not only to help each other with patient care, but also to get through the personal struggles we face."Read more about Smith and how her team brought pediatric medicine expertise and innovation to the front lines of adult COVID-19 care.