by Meg Ingram, MSN, RN
Programmatic Advisor, Nursing Programs

"My team wrapped their arms around me and supported me through it all."

Over the past year, health care leaders and organizations nationwide have been focused on how best to support health care providers during the COVID-19 pandemic. In a workforce that shoulders plenty of burdens in their day-to-day practice, the pandemic blanketed them in another layer of stress, uncertainty, fear and distress. Many conversations have been centered on which mindfulness practice, stress management technique or mental health resource could make the most difference to an overwhelmed nursing workforce. While those are all evidence-based methods that do bear mentioning, one of the the most common answers we’ve heard from nurses at member organizations across the nation when asked, “How did you feel supported this year?” was “the team.”

The Vizient/American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) Nurse Residency ProgramTM  is a transition to practice program that helps support new graduate nurses as they enter the profession of nursing. We’ve learned that this group of nurses has been uniquely affected by the pandemic as restrictions to the clinical environment prevented them from a typical clinical experience. Instead, many of them had to experience virtual clinical settings. Many who sought nursing as a career where they could form relationships with patients and families experienced many barriers to that because of COVID: no family visitation and completing tasks beneath layers of PPE. But throughout the year, they have persevered.

The Vizient AACN Nurse Residency ProgramTM data helps shine a light on how these new nurses managed to transition from students to competent care providers during  a year that was anything but typical.  When asked, "Which one aspect of your work environment is most satisfying?" the top answer for new graduate nurses across all survey periods was peer, or team, support. Nurses chose peer support over patients/families, ongoing learning, professional nursing role and work environment. Conversely, data shows that residents who leave in their first year of nursing practice rank lower in domains related to feeling supported by nurses on the unit and at ease asking for help from other nurses than nurses who stayed.

Image of nurse looking at laptopSo, who is the nursing team?

Proximity does not make a team. Possession of like degree types or educational preparation does not make a team. Ideally, the team includes everyone caring for a patient, from nursing assistants and nurses to phlebotomists and physicians, and every environmental services employee, respiratory therapist, dietitian and case manager in between.

Great teams exhibit excellent communication, trust, empathy, transparency and shared goals. Whether or not the team includes everyone on the care team is based on the presence of these values. You know a healthy team the second you walk onto a unit. This year, health care teams "have adapted, innovated and partnered beyond previous cultural traditions to work together, flex into new settings, optimize roles and tailor care delivery in response to extraordinary patient needs." Learn more from Vizient’s Advancing Team Culture playbook. The reason teams could be agile in overcoming obstacles is because of the strong foundation that existed or the commitment to the team.

There are countless stories from nurses about the ways that their team has made a difference. The shared reality of nursing during a pandemic created an immediate bond in a situation when few outside of health care could understand. When nurses couldn't go home to their families, they could be with each other. When the heaviness of the day couldn't be shared with anyone else, nurses were able to bear the weight of each other's burdens. Not having to experience the pandemic alone increased resilience; and arriving to the same team every day provided some normalcy in a time when it was hard to come by. The bond created is akin to family. Here is a quote from a nurse who entered the profession this year: "Coming into the nursing profession during a pandemic has been hard. It has tested me not only physically, but mentally and emotionally. At one point when I first came out of orientation I lost my first patient and I questioned—am I really taking the right career path for me? My team wrapped their arms around me and supported me through it all. I knew I was with the right organization and right team. My other patients through these past few months have made me realize I chose the right career when they thank me and tell me I am a great nurse.”

Growing healthy teams

If healthy and strong teams improve resiliency and support, how do we ensure them? We need healthy teams now more than ever as we move into this period of languishing and picking up the pieces. We need to pay attention to the teams we are on and the teams we have a hand in creating. If you are on a team or maintain a team, here are five questions to ask yourself about how you are growing healthy teams.

For anyone on a team:

  1. How do you welcome new team members?
  2. When you have time to lend a hand, do you find yourself doing so?
  3. Do you communicate effectively with everyone or just a select few?
  4. Do you show empathy when others are struggling?
  5. When there is a problem, do you speak up or harbor it?

If you are in charge of creating and maintaining teams:

  1. Do you give your team input on who is hired?
  2. When onboarding a new team member, do they feel supported by you and your team?
  3. Are you communicating transparently with your team?
  4. Do you show empathy when your team is struggling?
  5. Have your shared your goals with your team?

Developing a healthy team doesn’t mean helping on the unit all night and then working in your office all day. Instead, listen to the asks of your team and communicate with transparency. A look at the data shows that a healthy team and trusting relationship with their leader can go a long way. If you are interested in more information about healthy teams, see our Advancing Team Culture playbook.

Team sport of the year

When professional athletes speak about great teams that they have been a part of, there is an aspect of one-mindedness that they are all working toward the same goal. This year, nursing is the team sport of the year. Nurses, both experienced and new, working toward the same purpose to provide care, empathy, dignity and support to their patients and families. . And just like professional sports, health care teams need some aspect of team building to stay healthy. In celebration of the team sport of the year, let’s make it our goal to continue to take care of our health care teams—listen to what they need, celebrate their wins and facilitate ways to be together and build up the team. After all, they have made all the difference.

About the author:  As a programmatic advisor for the Vizient/AACN Nurse Residency Program, Meg Ingram supports organizations in transitioning new graduate nurses to the profession of nursing as well as overseeing the program’s curriculum. Prior to joining Vizient, she was a nurse residency program coordinator and is passionate about creating a supportive, collaborative program in which new graduates can learn and engage to improve patient outcomes, bedside nursing leadership and evidence-based care.

Published: May 3, 2021