By Tom Clegg
Nurses gain valuable insights when they shadow a physician, a common practice at many healthcare facilities. The orthopedic staff at Presence St. Joseph Medical Center in Joliet, Ill., thought it would be helpful to turn the tables and have physicians follow nurses for a few hours.
Orthopedic surgeon Michael Murphy, DO, and Patient Care Manager Barbara Walker, BS, RN, co-chairpersons of the floor improvement subcommittee for 7-West Orthopedic at St. Joseph, hatched the idea last year. In September and October, Murphy and podiatrist Joe George, DPM, were the first two physicians to shadow nurses.
Murphy followed staff nurse Mardell “Mardi” Georgantas, BSN, RN, and discovered he didn’t realize half of what a nurse does during a normal shift. He also found out what it means to nurses to have a physician take the time to show interest in their work.
“I just didn’t realize what a powerful impact it made,” Murphy said. “It was just our floor, but I got comments from nurses throughout the hospital. Even nurses outside our system said something to me. I think there was something about it that resonated with the nursing staff.”
Georgantas said Murphy was surprised to see how much time she spends on the computer and what it takes to properly care for each patient. For example, if a physician’s computer order is not clear, it can mean delays in treating a patient as the nurse waits for clarification. He also was unaware of the amount of time a nurse spends with each patient and the complexity of the job, including the care that needs to be taken to ensure the correct medication is administered.
“They [the doctors] didn’t realize how hard it was just to get pain medicine,” Walker said. “I think it gave them a good appreciation of what our barriers are and what are successes are, too.”
Murphy admitted he really couldn’t appreciate what a nurse does until he shadowed Georgantas.
“The volume of work I find very difficult and stressful,” Murphy said. “They are trying to go from constant phone calls and different things that are going on — it’s very difficult. Your time is not just focused on one person, but it’s focused on a whole floor.”
The shadowing by Murphy and George received such a positive response that the program was continued this spring. In March, orthopedic surgeon Chintan Sampat, MD, spent about an hour following staff nurse Alyssa Goergen, RN, BSN, ONC, watching her administer medication, reassessing patents’ pain, and helping patients and their families understand the importance of controlling pain after surgery, making sure they were aware of the pain-management plan.
Goergen said it was a productive experience for her and the physician.
“It’s amazing,” she said. “I think it’s really important because many physicians, I think on the surface, understand what we do on a daily basis, but to be able to see it firsthand I think opens their eyes a little bit more.
“Something Dr. Sampat kept saying to me was, ‘Let me know if there’s anything I can do to help make your day-to-day work easier,’ which is really great, and I think it forms great partnerships.”
For a nurse such as Georgantas, who has been at St. Joseph for two decades, those partnerships are forged over time. But young nurses don’t have that luxury, and a program like this can go a long way in making new nursing grads feel comfortable enough to pick up the phone and ask a physician a question. Better cooperation between physicians and nurses improves patient care, according to Georgantas.
“That helps when you know who you’re talking to on the other end of the line,” Georgantas said. “When I call and say,’ Dr. Murphy, this is Mardi,’ he can put a face to a name. That helps a lot. I think it’s a great program. I hope they continue it on the other floors.”
Goergen said she has spoken to colleagues at other facilities who were pleasantly surprised to learn about what is going on at St. Joseph. Because of the success of the program, nurses said they would like to see the shadowing program spread throughout the hospital and potentially other facilities in the Presence Health system.
Tom Clegg is a freelance writer.