The pandemic was an eye opener for me.
“I want to grow in my profession, and I feel I am ready for the challenge,” I replied when asked why I wanted to step into a leadership role at our Downtown San Diego (California) Sharp Rees-Stealy Urgent Care.
I had been a nurse for nearly a decade and had worked with this organization for most of that time, and I was ready to be the leader I thought I could be. As the days turned into weeks and the weeks into months, I thought, “Heck yes! I’m nailing this leadership thing!”
Then the 2020 pandemic happened, and my entire nursing career flipped sideways, upside down, and backwards. My urgent care team, my leadership team, and the rest of the world were caught in the middle of it.
I thought, “What have I gotten myself into? I have to quit. I can’t do this.” I became convinced that I was not worthy of leading a team and that I would lead them to failure. What I didn’t know was that my team would ultimately lead me to understand what leadership truly is.
They Worked Through the Fear
I had the same doubts and fears we all had during the 2020 pandemic and all new challenges that came with it.
We had to learn how to adapt. Working outdoors in tent clinics. Donning layers of personal protective equipment. Gritting their teeth through the pain and discomfort of pinching masks and goggles.
Seeing the nurses, physicians, medical assistants, and front desk staff put in the work was amazing, especially considering all they were up against.
The leadership team had worked around the clock to roll out the outdoor clinic for patients who possibly had COVID-19, and our urgent care team brought our ideas to life.
Staff had to work under conditions they were not accustomed to. The tents got warm in the spring and summer and cooler during the fall and winter, so we installed heat lamps and cooling tents to make it a bit more comfortable for everyone. Then there was patient volume. Our outdoor clinic was small, and it took communication and teamwork to evaluate and treat all the patients.
There were trying times, but the team found joy in whatever they could. Some would bring in individually wrapped treats like candy bars or Halloween candy. One nurse organized a team jacket order with our names, company, and department embroidered on it. Many tapped into their creative sides and brought in facemask ear loop holders to avoid break down behind the ears.
My team overcame it all — the daily challenges, the mounting anxieties, the fears — and continued to provide the great patient care they always have.
They Opened My Eyes
Before joining leadership, I had this idea that leaders were part of a hierarchy and the team was to report to me. But during the 2020 pandemic I learned that it’s a two-way street. Yes, they report to me. But, more importantly, I have to report right back to them to close communication gaps.
Leadership is not just one person. Many of the great ideas we use are ideas born from our front-line staff. We gather input and feedback from them, we share ideas, and we bounce ideas off each other.
I realized leadership is a shared responsibility. I was not meant to lead and have them follow. I was meant to lead by nurturing the staff, promoting their individual growth, and unleashing their skills and strengths. And in doing so I found my own strength.
I do my job for my team. I work the odd hours because they deserve to have someone work for them the way they work for our patients.
The 2020 pandemic showed me how tenacious my team could be and that my biggest responsibility as a leader is to water my “seedlings” and watch them grow into new leaders for the next generation of nurses.
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