“Our managers are effective leaders because they care for us, which empowers us to care for others, and for this we are indescribably grateful.”

I recently had the opportunity to speak at the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses (AACN) UCLA Chapter 2018 Leadership Symposium, which centered around AACN’s current theme, “Guided by Why.” Along with AACN president Christine Schulman, other nurses and I explored the importance of staying connected to our “Why” in the midst of considerable challenges in and to our profession.

I found myself considering not only my original answer to “Why do I want to become a nurse?” but also “Why do I stay in nursing?” I found that a significant part of my answer to the second question has to do with the managers I am privileged to work under. It is their strong management that continually fuels my underlying “Why.”

Genuine care for staff well-being.

Our managers demonstrate to us time and again that they see and value us as people, not just cogs in a wheel that needs to keep turning at all costs.

Self-scheduling allows for flexibility. In our unit, we have self-scheduling: all nurses determine their own shifts, so long as every shift is staffed with the minimum required number of nurses and everyone meets their requirements for weekends and holidays. Nurses may swap shifts with one another if personal issues arise, and our unit has created a Facebook page where staff regularly request shift swaps of each other. Our operations manager regularly reviews this page to see if there are outstanding requests that have not been picked up by other nurses, and then reviews the schedule to make as many of the requested schedule changes as is possible and safe for the unit.

In addition to granting a tremendous amount of scheduling flexibility, our managers go out of their way to ensure we have what we need in times of personal crisis, such as helping us understand bereavement time, maternity leave, and all possible scheduling options for work when we have extraordinary family demands. In these ways, our managers show us their care for us as whole people, not just as staff whom they oversee.

Continual recognition of hard work and resilience.

Our managers also make efforts to recognize our hard work and resilience. They regularly praise and thank the team and/or individuals by way of email and Facebook posts, especially during particularly sad or chaotic times. They have created care packages to be given to any nurse who performs end-of-life care on his/her shift, which includes tea, snacks, a small vial of essential oil, as well as a pen and paper to write down reflections about the experience.

Recently, our managers threw an impromptu party mid-shift to acknowledge the hard work and sacrifice one special nurse was making by following an ethically challenging case in which she was encountering significant resistance from the family as she worked to advocate for her patient’s comfort. The party was an encouragement to all, but a surprise to none; it simply reflected the character and heart of the managers we already know and respect.

Celebration and service.

Finally, our managers go out of their way to celebrate and serve all of their staff. Every year for Nurses Week they compose their own lyrics to a popular tune to express their thanks and recognition of our work at the bedside. They make their way around the unit, sing their song to small groups of nurses, and then distribute their own handmade chocolates to every nurse, including travelers or student nurses doing preceptorships in our unit.

Furthermore, every holiday season, they choose one morning and one evening, about a week apart, to cook and serve us breakfast and dinner, respectively. For breakfast, they start cooking around 3:00 AM so that they can serve the night shift and then day shift as the morning goes on. For dinner, they start cooking around 3:00 PM, so that they can serve both day shift and night shift nurses into the evening. It’s a celebratory time that the staff look forward to every year.

There are countless other ways in which our managers empower us by encouraging our professional development, promoting a blame-free environment, and empowering healthy collaboration with the physicians in our unit. But it is the way in which they acknowledge us as whole people, and serve us as whole people, that most helps us feel they truly support us on all levels as we care for our patients at the bedside. Our managers are effective leaders because they care for us, which empowers us to care for others, and for this we are indescribably grateful.

What traits in a manager do you find most supportive?

(To read more posts by Hui-wen Sato, click here.)