I’m not the chief. It’s not my problem. No one cares what I think, or how I act. We have likely all heard or thought these words a million times. I can’t say that I haven’t thought them myself. I’ve written about the importance of functioning as a team in the past, and a large part of that comes from each member looking out, not only for him or herself, but for the team as a whole.
So what does being a clinician leader mean? Why is it so important for patient care and for a well-functioning team? First, functioning well together as a team makes our patients feel safe. I was lucky enough to be forwarded a lecture from my nursing leadership. It was given by a woman who works for Press Ganey, which is the largest administrator of Consumer Assessment of Health Providers and Systems (CAHPS). The data they have gathered regarding patient satisfaction shows that patients gave the highest scores when they felt safe, and that one of the ways they said they felt most safe was when they saw their healthcare providers working together as a team.
Being able to function well as a team means that all team members have the team’s greatest interest in mind. It goes without saying that the team lead does this already, but what makes a good team into a great team, is when all members begin to see the service in its entirety, and understand how their actions and behavior effects not only the team as a whole, but also the delivery of patient care. I remember a day several years ago when the chief PA in my practice was upset with the way I had reacted to a situation. I didn’t think anyone cared what I thought or how I behaved. I will always remember what he said. “People look to you to see how to behave and react”. In a practice where many of the practitioners had been there much longer than I had, it surprised me that my actions would influence anyone else. But as time has gone on, I have found that to be true for all of us on the team. We all look to each other to see how to respond to things, which means we all need to act like leaders.
Acing like a leader means several things to me. As I have said, we all have to think of the service as a whole, instead of just as our individual part. That means being aware of staffing for the whole service, and knowing who is working with who on a given day. Are there any areas where your team is short staffed for the day? Are there newer practitioners working together that may need an extra hand? Are you over staffed for the day, such that someone could be given a day off? Every one on the team should keep an ear out to see how everyone’s work load is, in order to be able to help if needed. When the day is hard, be professional in front of the nurses and clinical technicians you work with. Vent your frustrations privately. In a code or emergency situation, remain calm and collected when giving orders in an attempt to keep the chaos to a minimum. In all of these situations, people are watching us to see how to behave, and you can influence behavior for the better if you become aware of this.
Even more important, is that our patients and their families have their eyes on us in these situations as well. They will be looking for leadership, and for a team that is working together to make them or their loved one feel better. Let’s start to think of things that are bigger than ourselves. Remember, everyone is watching.