The creativity of nurses never fails to delight us. Whether they are solving an equipment or clinical challenge or coming up with ideas to keep their teams together, nurses are expert problem-solvers.
The problem Cindy Lefton, PhD, RN, Patient Experience Advocate at Barnes-Jewish Hospital, had on her mind during the pandemic was how to help her nurse colleagues appreciate that the role they play in health care is a vital one. What kind of human touch could she bring to her co-workers during this most stressful time?
Through her extensive research on the impact of meaningful recognition and having watched nurses respond to being recognized with The DAISY Award for many years at Barnes-Jewish Hospital, she had heard one too many nurses say, “I don’t do anything special. I’m just doing my job.”
Lefton knew that taking their work for granted in this way – especially at the height of a pandemic surge — was fueling burnout and diminishing job satisfaction. She was eager to find a way to communicate to the staff the importance of their contribution and for the hospital to demonstrate that everyone who works at Barnes-Jewish is indeed valued and appreciated.
Mattering is Part of Meaningful Recognition
In addition to being a registered nurse, Lefton holds a PhD in organizational psychology. She is a widely published researcher and a sought-after speaker in the area of meaningful recognition. She is very familiar with the concept of “mattering,” a construct from social psychology that is always present in her thinking about nurses.
Mattering describes the feeling that one makes a difference in the lives of others and has significance in one’s community.
A study demonstrated that the perception of mattering at work is associated with lower levels of burnout. And if there is anything that needs lowering today for nurses, it’s burnout.
Recognizing that regardless of one’s job title, the potential for burnout was present for all healthcare workers, Lefton partnered with Clinical Nurse Specialist Cathy Powers, RN, an expert in compassion fatigue; Sara Shabany, RN, an emergency department nurse and yoga instructor; and Sarah Colby, the creative soul of the Arts and Healthcare Program, to devise a way to remind healthcare workers that they matter.
Their idea, beautifully supported by executive sponsor Shirley Repta, PhD, MBA, RN, was The You Matter Cart (YMC). At a time when nurses and others could not gather due to COVID-19 restrictions, it seemed to this creative team that they would need to take mattering to their colleagues.
A Bit of Joy and a Few Tchotchkes
The YMC team took a simple rolling cart and bought a lot of what others might think of as “little things” to put on it. Tchotchkes, Lefton calls them, included — pens, journals, coloring books, hand lotion (approved by the infection prevention department, of course). They also added a rack with DAISY Award nomination forms (and Bee Award nominations for non- nursing staff) on it to remind staff, as they chose their tchotchke, to look for the extraordinary in each other’s care.
“[Extraordinary care] is always there when you look for it, and when you find it, write it up in the form of a DAISY Award nomination,” Lefton said. “Those nominations are meaningful recognition for nurses, and nurses treasure them.”
The YMC team spends two-four hours a week rolling the cart throughout the medical center, inviting the staff to come to the cart and take a little something that will bring smiles to their faces. Lefton and her YMC colleagues thank the staff and remind them that they are special, as is the work they do every day for patients, families, and for each other.
It’s a “pop-up” experience. The YMC team doesn’t call ahead to the unit to say they are coming, though they occasionally get requests to go to a unit that is having an especially bad time. They keep track of where they have been so all units get equal attention.
Sometimes, they switch out what is on the cart. Recently, the team used a “make your own terrarium” theme, with small air-fed plants and containers for the taking.
The You Matter Cart is funded by a grant from the Barnes-Jewish Hospital Foundation’s Arts and Healthcare budget. The response to this small gesture of gratitude and recognition has been simply wonderful.
“We all have been shocked at the responses we’ve gotten,” said Lefton. “We knew that ‘mattering’ means a lot. But to see the impact has been quite a process. Initially, people would look at us and were almost reticent to approach the cart. They’d say, ‘For me?’ in disbelief. Then you’d see all these people engage with the cart and the items on it You could see their body language change – like they were having a psychological re-set. They were taking a moment for themselves. And we were thanking them and telling them that they are awesome. The reaction has been amazing.”
Now that the YMC has taken on a life of its own, Lefton and her colleagues have created an additional way to connect to the staff, this time through music. They call it the Gratitude Elevator. Lefton and her YMC colleagues greet staff at the elevators where employees come enter after parking and wish them a great day, all set to the soothing music of a harp played by Emily Paino-Brenneman RN, Nurse Manager of the women’s infusion center.
“Some people are confused,” Lefton explained. “Some walk by with the same reticence the YMC received when we first brought it around. But some stop and listen for a moment and center themselves for the day ahead, while we thank them for coming to work and being the people they are for their patients and for each other.”
We at the DAISY Foundation are proud of our partnership with hospitals like Barnes-Jewish that are elevating the human touch for the sake of their staff’s well-being, not to mention patients’ care. While we know that there are many structural challenges facing health care as it recovers from the pandemic, things like the You Matter Cart demonstrate that the art of nursing and health care can make a tremendous difference to the staff as well as to patients and families.
Learn more about the DAISY Foundation’s efforts to recognize nurses’ hard work and compassion in our digital edition.