Nurturing the Call to Serve in Every Member of the Health Care Workforce

Added on Apr 6, 2017

pixabayI recently taught a service training workshop for members of the Food & Nutrition team at Louisiana-based Ochsner Medical Center. At the end of the session, one of the participants—Wanda, who had been an eager and active contributor to the class discussion—came up to talk to me. As she approached, I thanked her for her insights and contributions and told her, “You should have been teaching this class instead of me!” She smiled humbly and quietly explained, “This work is so important to me. I’ve been raised well. My father is a minister … and this is my ministry.”  

What makes this story much more powerful is that Wanda is not a direct employee of Ochsner. She’s employed by an outside organization that provides food and nutrition support services to the hospital. In those few words—“this is my ministry”—Wanda captured a perfect description of what it really means to be a true caregiver in health care, regardless of the role you play, and regardless of whether you are directly employed by the health system or are an employee of a contracted service. Patients don’t care who is signing their caregivers’ paycheck. They only care about having one integrated team of compassionate and attentive people working together to provide exceptional care.

Wanda’s words illustrate what all of us know intuitively: All of the important tactics around how to better connect with patients and families work best if they come from the heart, not just the head. Following are several important ways that successful leaders can tap into that sense of purpose to bring out the true caregiver in each member of the team.

  • Tell and Celebrate Great Stories When given the opportunity, team members have wonderful, meaningful stories to share about a difference they’ve made in a family’s life. What they often don’t share—but always feel—is the difference these moments make in their own lives and in the satisfaction they find in their work. Sharing these stories during huddles and staff meetings celebrates not only an individual’s success, but the success of the team as a whole.

  • Emphasize the Caregiver Role for Each Member of the Team Staff members in all areas tell us how important the “why” behind strategies and tactics can be in helping them understand the bigger picture and embrace practices that make a real difference for patients. Yes, all institutions want their performance scores to improve, but when we only talk about the numbers, we’ve missed an important opportunity to talk about the incredible impact staff members can have on patients’ experiences every day. Emphasizing that those numbers are the collective voice of patients who want a compassionate, caring experience brings meaning to staff members’ work.

  • Model the Care You Want Staff Members to Extend to Patients Like Wanda, successful health care leaders consider their roles to be their calling—ministering to patients and to the staff members who serve them. The feedback we provide to staff members helps them be at their best and understand the powerful role each of them can play as caregivers to patients and families.

Importantly, we often hear doctors and nurses explain that their primary motivation for pursuing a health care profession is to serve their fellow human beings. Other individuals in the health care workforce—caregivers such as Wanda, who provide a supporting role to direct care providers—are no less passionate or committed to serving patients. They share the calling to excel and provide the kind of compassionate care that patients expect and deserve. 

As leaders in health care, nurturing our collective higher calling is one of our most important roles, and ensuring that we are all working together as a unified care team is essential to fulfilling it.