Posts Tagged nursing management

A Blogger, Allegedly

So, it’s been awhile, eh?

It was Chuck Norris who found me.

To everyone who emailed and texted and Tweeted, thanks. Everything is hunky and dory. I’m not dead, ok? Let’s get that out of the way. Nor am I afflicted with a Chronic Debilitating Illness, unless you count members of my family. (That would be the topic of long separate blog post + extended psychotherapy.)

So what happened? Much to my surprise and amazement (and frank gratitude if truth be known) I got a new job about this time last year. A job with a very steep learning curve and a fairly cool boss with an alphabet soup of letters after her name and about as far away from Emergency nursing as you can imagine without leaving the hospital.

It is true, friends.

I have walked away from the front line.

I have drunk the mystical Kool-Aid.

I am Management.

But not real Management. I don’t actually manage anyone. I make up PowerPoints (ugh), give talks, and do research. I write policies. I have projects. I educate patients and staff.  I occasionally make recommendations to Important People many steps above my pay grade, When I do speak, the senior administration actually pays attention and sometimes will do this or that based on the words flowing out of my mouth. This is a bit of a revelation for a front-line nurse used to managers halfheartedly and reluctantly paying attention. OK, not really paying attention at all.

Nurse K once suggested to me that my ambitions for real management were probably misplaced. Having observed front-line managers from the other side up close for the past year, I have to agree. Being a front-line manager truly and deeply sucks. It’s far worse than being a charge nurse. (I say this as an embittered former old charge nurse, remember.) Awesome amounts of responsibility and no actual power. And navigating the snakepit which is hospital politics. And the risk of being walked off the property at will. Great job, right?

So first lesson: I think I dodged a bullet there. I really don’t want to be a manager.

Second lesson:  This is the first job where I use all of the skills I have acquired as a nurse in a meaningful and effective way.

I’m not just talking about clinical skills, or therapeutic communication skills which are surprisingly important in my current position; I’m also talking about evidence-based practice, critical thinking, leadership, understanding hospital processes, effecting change, teaching and developing clear presentations and a whole pile of other stuff — a whack of skills I acquired along the way in my ED practice.  The unfortunate fact is, the opportunities to develop and use all of these skill in front-line practice is limited. The fact I had to leave front-line practice to fully explore them is a telling, don’t you think?

Third lesson: Make the jump. I’m looking at all of you who think there must be more. Or better. Do something different. You won’t regret it.

Curiously enough a couple of days ago, someone named Darren Royds left this comment on one of my blog posts:

You need to get out and find a decent job. Have a life , live and reduce stress. I have quit nursing and was the best decision I ever made. You will end up as so many do.

Well exactly.  I haven’t quit nursing, though. But as much as I loved working in the ED, it was clearly time to move on. It was the best job decision I have ever made.

Have you guys ever made a career change to/from/within nursing? Was the outcome good/bad/indifferent?

 

 

P.S. So what about the blog?

That, dear friends, will be a topic for another blog post.

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We Get No Respect

From Ian Miller at ImpactedNurse.com, a few thoughts on under-utilized and under-recognized senior nurses who are leaking out of the profession:

Nursing has few opportunities for promotion and recognition of senior expertise within the clinical setting. How often have you watched senior (and I’m talking about years of experience here) nurses move on to non-clinical management positions, or drift off into non-nursing jobs where their specialised skills are snapped up, or just stagnate on the floor (feeling little respect from the system) with nowhere to go and little exploration of the stuff they might teach.
What we are sadly lacking is a health system that gives the nursing ‘elders’ opportunity, support and recognition to pass on their profession, their experiences, their corporate knowledge and their craft to the next generations. This huge collective of nursing elders have so much to offer both the healthcare policy planning process in general and the future of nursing in particular.
As many of them are now approaching retirement the opportunity to pass on the craft will be lost forever. Skills that could be used to improve quality healthcare delivery, departmental operations and mentor-ship of other nurses. Believe me, those skills are out there in many of these people. They should be consulted not insulted.
Such a waste.

This seems to me about exactly right, and very nicely describes the  position — and present frustration —  of many nurses, including myself. The career path for the vast majority of nurses is pretty flat. The conventional nursing career path looks like this:

Graduation

35 years service on ward(s)

Retirement

Death

I am not exaggerating — not much anyway. Any movement, to be sure,  is usually in a lateral motion, e.g. from ED to ICU to PACU etc., but always as front line staff. Moving upwards almost always means a move away from your specialty. And that’s a waste too.

And there’s also this elephant in the room: would we be talking about things like wasted skills and staff retention if front line nurses were truly respected, and recognized as being the centre of what we do as a profession? Or to put it another way, if front line, bedside nursing was considered valuable in itself, would so many nurses be itching to get out?

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Do Not Fold, Spindle or Mutilate the Nurse

An unpleasant, no, ugly and unfortunate situation at Victoria General Hospital is preventing a woman from seeing her son. From the National Post article:

A 73-year-old woman who travelled to Victoria from South Africa to care for her seriously ill son has been banned from Victoria General Hospital after she says she tapped a nurse on the head to get her attention.
Shirley Spence, originally from England, has been sitting in her rented apartment in Victoria since mid-May, barred from seeing her son, Gary Abbott, 52, who was found to have a brain bleed after falling ill.
Instead, every day her longtime partner, Andrew Regan, visits Abbott.
The couple say the situation is surreal and that they keep waiting for common sense and grace to prevail — but it never does. Abbott’s brothers and sisters in South Africa are incensed.
“I can’t believe I’m being treated like a criminal,” Spence said. She wrote an apologetic letter following the alleged incident, saying she was unaware of the no-touching policy, that no harm or aggression was intended, and that she will never touch staff in future. She ended the letter with a plea to see her son. But she was told it was not heartfelt.
[SNIP]
Despite what may seem like a disproportionate reprimand to the average observer, VIHA said it must support its staff on its own zero-tolerance policy concerning violence or abusive behaviour.
“Whether she tapped her or whacked her on the head, it’s unacceptable behaviour,” said VIHA spokeswoman Shannon Marshall. “The nurse’s story doesn’t vary from Mrs. Spence’s as I understand it.”

A couple of thoughts. First, at first glance, unyielding enforcement of a zero tolerance policy against abuse in these circumstances strikes one as not only defying common sense, but deliberately cruel. But then, there is this statement on the incident  from the Vancouver Island Health Authority (VIHA):

The Vancouver Island Health Authority (VIHA) has a zero tolerance policy toward violence of any kind – whether emotional, verbal, or physical – involving any member of our staff, physicians, patients, or visitors.
VIHA recognizes the current situation involving visits to a patient at Victoria General Hospital is complex and challenging – both for staff and the family involved.
Over the past week as this situation has unfolded, VIHA has been committed to the required risk assessment processes around violence in the workplace. In this specific case, a full and complete risk assessment was carried out. This process involved representation from BCNU, HSA, HEU, unit staff, VIHA (Unit Manager, Social Work, Occupational Health, Protection Services and VGH safety advisor). The risk assessment considered what occurred around the incident itself, relevant documents and facts involving family interactions prior to the incident, and the potential risk for future violence. The decision following the risk assessment was unanimous.
VIHA is very aware and concerned about the impact this incident has had on the staff member involved and other staff on the unit.
VIHA also recognizes the stress and concern the current situation is having on the family. Decisions to restrict visitation are not made lightly as we know the importance of family support and visitation in facilitating the recovery process for our patients.
VIHA is exploring ways to support the mother to visit with her son while he remains in hospital. In the short term, this visitation is unlikely to occur on the unit itself, but – as the patient’s condition allows – we are looking at ways to arrange visits in other areas of the hospital. VIHA will be working with the family very shortly to develop visitation arrangements. [Emphasis mine.]

The fact VIHA is doubling down in the face of hostile news reports suggests to me that there is more to the story than is superficially apparent. Note the decision to restrict visitation was unanimous among the risk assessment committee assembled to consider the matter. Perhaps the “head tap” was more than the gentle remonstrance of an elderly woman suggested in the newspaper article — try tapping your skull hard with your fingertips, and you’ll see what I mean — and I wonder too if there was a pattern of escalation.

At any rate it’s a tough balancing act. On one hand, hospitals have a clear legal and ethical duty to provide a safe work place for their employees and to protect them from violent and abusive behaviour. Zero tolerance policies are reflective of this duty. But throwing out family is not a great choice in any situation. Family members are generally considered integral to the health care team surrounding the patient. Note also VIHA is trying to find accommodation for the patients mother. I myself will not hesitate to have family removed if they interfering with patient care or if they are violent or threatening violence. My own rule-of-thumb is what I call the “Bank Teller Rule.” If the behaviour is inappropriate in a bank — and clearly, head-tapping your teller would be — out you go.

In case you are wondering, violence and abusive behaviour directed towards nurses is widespread. One study showed exactly how common violence is — and why, incidentally, I enthusiastically support zero tolerance policies:

Emergency Nurses
39.9 percent were threatened with assault
21.9 percent were physically assaulted
Medical Surgical Nurses
22.6 percent were threatened with assault
24.2 percent were physically assaulted
Psychiatry Nurses
20.3 percent were threatened with assault
43.3 percent were physically assaulted
(Source: Hesketh, K., S. M. Duncan, C. A. Estabroks, et al. 2003. Workplace violence in Alberta and British Columbia hospitals. Health Policy 63: 311–321.)

I think the study actually under-reports. Personally, I have been slapped countless times by demented and not-so-demented patients, I have been bitten to the point of bleeding, and once I was punched in the side of the head and knocked to the ground. This last was witnessed by police, and of course, no charges were laid. Again I repeat: why is there an expectation that nurses should tolerate behaviour from patients and families that is not tolerated anywhere else?

Did I sign up for any of this? Did any nurse?

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A Nurse Contemplates Leaving the Profession [Updated]

Dinner last night with an old friend who toils in the mines of Labour and Delivery. She has worked there for four years. She told me of an incident not too long ago working the night shift, faced with a post-partum patient who was bleeding, hypotensive, and tachycardic, in short, showing all the signs of going into hypovolemic shock. She was running around, starting IV lines on flat veins and hanging blood products. Packed red cells. Platelets. Cryoprecipitate. And by-the-by, saline by the bucketful. She called for help from her colleagues. Apart from this patient and another who was walking the halls a few hours from delivery, it was a slow night.

Of course, you know the end to this story, don’t you?

No one came.

No one even popped their head in the doorway to ask, “Is everything okay?”

All of  them were at the nursing station, playing Draw Something on their phones, watching the season finale of Grey’s Anatomy, what have you. Too busy to help a drowning colleague with a shocky patient.

My friend went to her educator and her manager. They shrugged it off. No biggie, they said. Clearly my friend had things under control. “The patient lived, didn’t she?” they said. And then: “Maybe you need to improve your organizational skills to handle critically ill patients.”

This last to a 50-something woman who has been nursing 25-plus years, almost all of it in critical care settings.

For my friend, this incident may well be the last straw. She is definitely leaving L & D. Why would she want to stay? The workplace culture on this unit is awful. She feels alone and isolated when going into work. She can’t trust her colleagues. “Why,” she asks, “would anyone want to work there? There is no teamwork. No solidarity. Nurses backstab each other at the first opportunity.”

The only question remaining is whether my friend will leave nursing altogether and take her 25-plus years of experience with her, which included not only the knowledge to provide expert care to patients, but the potential to share that expertise in mentoring and nurturing new nurses. She’s uncertain what she would otherwise do, but leaning towards abandoning the profession which has shaped her adult life. She only needs an out — which she hasn’t found yet. She is that disgusted.

You might tell me that stories like this are unusual and not representative of nursing. Unfortunately, we all know better. So in the end, I don’t blame my friend for wanting to leave. I would do the same.

So what would be your response?

UPDATE: Some comments from Twitter:

@TweeterERNurse @TorontoEmerg I was “spoken to” about helping other nurses too much, as it increases MY pts time in the ER. I applied for another job.

@SqarerootofeviL sad but true.. seen my ma & aunt live it.- “No teamwork. No solidarity. Nurses backstab each other at the first opportunity.” @torontoemerg

@NorthernMurse @TorontoEmerg So how do we change this culture? What do I, as a student and soon new grad, do to improve the #NursingCulture?

@TweeterERNurse @NorthernMurse @TorontoEmerg Learn more than your manager about regulations. Google everything on the inservice boards. Become the expert.

The second to last tweet from @NorthernMurse is probably the relevant question, don’t you think?

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Guest Post: How We Can Fix the Malaise in the Nursing Profession

by Amanda Trujillo

If the newer generations of nurses out there are more confused than ever about their roles in healthcare  —   they should be. I’m one of the newer generations of nurses and I — AM — CONFUSED. Seriously. Think about it. We are taught all of the idyllic, pretty things every good and prudent

Navy nurses attending to a patient, 1960s.

Navy nurses attending to a patient, 1960s. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

nurse should know and should do whilst caring for patients. The Nurses Code of Ethics is drilled into our heads during nursing school, nursing care plans are celebrated (by our professors of course), and we are championed as the “future” and “promise” of nursing. The beautiful glowing white walls of academia ushers us out of the proverbial nursing nest with a maternal pat on the head, a gentle push, and into the place were supposed to actually do all the stuff were taught and licensed to do, and be who they taught us to be.

You’ve all heard it, I’m sure. “Get out there and make a difference! Change the profession for the next generation! Be the example! Implement policy! Be advocates for your colleagues and your patients!” Ummmm. Yeah. Nurses should act as advocates for not just their patients but for their profession. That being said, let’s take a look at what threatens to unravel the foundational fabric of who we are as nurses and what we do that sets us apart from all other healthcare disciplines.

1.  Corporate Nursing.  “We know what nursing is and what nurses do.”  However, the moment you walk into the doors of any hospital, the nurse — the persona, and everything else —  is redefined according to the wants and expectations and interests of the organization we work for. Nursing, as a discipline, as a science, is redefined. You are who your employer wants and expects you to be. Period. Your own nursing style or “way” of nursing? Leave it at the door, and step into the predefined mold thank you very much. Advanced education? Yeah, that’s great, but you aren’t actually supposed to use it. That MSN is supposed to look good after your name on the plaque that lists all the Masters prepared nurses on the unit you work within. A point of pride that all patients are supposed to gawk at and be impressed by when they walk into the entry way of the nursing unit. I tried using it; I tried to contribute—nope. We just want the letters from you, that’s all.

2. Teeny, tiny amount of autonomy. I mean, come on people. We still have to get orders to ambulate our patients two to three times daily after surgery, to get an incentive spirometer, to initiate pre and post-op teaching, and even to monitor ins and outs every four hours. Every state has a different nurse practice act, and there is no set regulation as to what nurses can and cannot do across the United States. Every state defines Nurses and their practice and what they can do differently. Take a group of 5 doctors—and chances are each one of them don’t even have a good understanding of what nurses are and what they do and their role. Interdisciplinary Models of Care are not the standard yet, so this inhibits a productive and working knowledge of what each provider does.

3. Disregard for Care Plans. This is a big one for me. I recently read a couple of articles that, for the most part, said care plans should just die and go by the wayside because they are useless.

4. A fractured profession. We have so many specialties that we still have failed to come together in a unified manner to advocate together for our profession and for the vital role we play in the lives of our patients, evidence based practice, theory development and application, and policy making. The result? Thousands of different visions from thousands of different nurses about what our profession “should be” and “should do.”

5. Silencing of our voices. We now have to choose between our own career survival, or own livelihoods, professional reputations, and paychecks—and speaking up in the best interests of our patients. Many a nurse has experienced this tragic conundrum, and the consequences are well documented if you log into your university libraries and do a good literature review on the topic. So, which will it be? Your pay check or your patient’s life? Well, now, that depends—can you like yourself when you go to sleep at night or when you wake up the next morning. The choice will be different for all of us.

6. Too many initiatives!!!!  There are so many initiatives out there that it truly is like ‘herding cats’ to get everyone on the same page about what needs to bedone to improve, advance, and grow our profession.

The American student nurse Miss Lydia Monroe o...

The American student nurse Miss Lydia Monroe of Ringold, Louisiana, in 1942. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What I feel needs to be done is simply this: get back to basics. All the initiatives are great. The pretty, flowery, shiny,  idealistic profession they propose is in theory—just that. It seems like every time we turn around there is another nursing initiative being introduced. In fact, there are so many, we all seem to have thrown up our stethoscopes  in exasperation while uttering “Whatever.” The RWJF, the NIH, AACN, the National League for Nursing, Johnson and Johnson, the Institute of Medicine and all the other organizations that produce the massive documents proposing their positions on where nursing should be by the year “such and such” need to set aside “Candyland” and get back to the drawing board.

How? Perform a learning assessment and care plan on the profession. TALK TO THE NURSES AT THE BEDSIDE—these are the stakeholders that have to carry out all the grandiose changes. ASK nurses what would motivate them to carry out change and what they need or want to learn to carry out the change. Perform a force field analysis to illustrate whether there is a greater push for or against change and where a balance can be achieved to promote success. What do nurses consider an incentive to participate in the change process? What is their currency?

Here is a good example of what happens when big organizations try to make even bigger changes sans discussion with their staff members, which is to say, their stakeholders. At one hospital I worked at the Transforming Care At The Bedside Initiative was being “enforced” as a means to improve patient satisfaction scores. I say the word “enforced” because we nurses weren’t asked about how we felt about it, we weren’t “completely” educated about what TCAB was, why we should be interested in it, or why we should participate in it. participation was an expectation and people were “assigned” to do parts of the initiative. No communication took place between management and staff about how they felt about the change process or the new “tests of change” they were being expected to participate in.  So, it was not a big surprise  to see my coworkers increasingly annoyed when they were being presented with “more steps” in their workday, or “more papers” to fill out or “scripts” taped to their computer monitors directing what they were to say to their patients. It was also not surprising to see that few or no staff members were attending the TCAB meetings to provide input and feedback.

Having gotten my Masters Degree I quickly realized what was missing was a well-planned approach to the change process. A crucial step within the change process is involving every person that could possibly be involved in that change: polling people, studying your stakeholders and what their motivations are, illustrating what is ‘in it for them’ should they take part. Failing to study all of your stakeholders and ask for feedback prior to initiating change is simply wasting a lot of time and yelling through a megaphone at an empty nursing station. I did some further research into the TCAB Initiative by immersing myself in the RWJF website for a couple of weeks.

After doing so, I discovered that our organization was not implementing TCAB as it was meant to be implemented. The organization was taking bits and pieces of the initiative and implementing them. The focus of the initiative — promoting happy nurses to promote happy satisfied patients — was not the managerial focus, as it should have been. It was strictly designed for patients, completely overstepping the spirit of the TCAB initiative as it was meant to be implemented. Lastly, the TCAB initiative was designed to be an interdisciplinary effort. The way it was being pushed at the organization I was at, the focus was just on nurses. I put together a white paper and power point and submitted them to my manager hoping it would help to get the project on track. I was promptly shut down with an annoyed response that my work looked plagiarized. (This is what an MSN on a nursing floor gets you)

So, managers, here are some lessons learned. If you want to make change on a large scale you must invest the time, no matter how long or how involved the effort, to study the people who have to carry out the work. Find out their goals, wishes, motivations, concerns, what makes them happy, angry,  and frustrated. Find out what their knowledge base is and what must be learned to carry out the major initiative. Ask for their input. Discover who your “downers” are, why they are resistant to change, and how can you get them on board. It’s called “buy in.”

Lastly, harvest your talent. Take a fresh look at who your voices and cheerleaders are on the unit and give them “room to bloom where they are planted.” This is how and where you become a transformational leader instead of a leader who suppresses the creativity and potential of your nursing staff. One note: if you are going to implement something huge like the RWJF TCAB Initiative, don’t just take pieces of it and throw together your own version and expect it to work.

None - This image is in the public domain and ...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This, in my opinion, is what all of  the large nursing organizations who want to transform healthcare need to do. Round everybody up for a week-long conference, every stakeholder — not just administration and management figures or politicians either. The real people: the bedside nurses, pharmacists, lab workers, patients, doctors, PA’s, housekeepers and so on. Paint the closest picture you can get to a collective vision everyone seems to share. Then, figure out how to get there, one step at a time.

All the big goals are great.I love the visions of where the RWJF and the IOM and the AACN see our profession, healthcare, and nursing education headed. But the visions are a problem too.  There are too many ideas, initiatives, and too many people “other than bedside nurses” generating them. Our profession is fractured enough. It is not feasible, nor is it realistic, to expect every wonderful idea and vision to be carried to fruition when there is currently a longstanding lack of unity and disarray within nursing.

So, for the time being, let’s set aside the huge mountain of ideas and initiatives and take a deep breath. Now, start over with the A-B-C’s: Airway, Breathing, Circulation. Set the sights on resuscitating the profession of nursing first, before we attempt to heal the ailing healthcare system and the world. Take it back to the old school, and do the assessment first. Then, make a plan: implement it, evaluate it, and do it all over again until we get nursing back on track with a unified focus. Only THEN can we climb the mountains set in front of us by the RWJF or the IOM or the NIH. We cannot build castles without a strong foundation of earth below it.

By the way . . . Did anyone notice how often I used the word “initiative?”

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Amanda blogs at NurseInterupted. This is a slightly modified version of a  post which originally appeared on her blog.

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Fat Nurses Need Not Apply

A Texas hospital has declared war on the scourge of obese nurses:

A Victoria [Texas]  hospital already embroiled in a discrimination lawsuit filed by doctors of Indian descent has instituted a highly unusual hiring policy: It bans job applicants from employment for being too overweight. 

The Citizens Medical Center policy, instituted a little more than a year ago, requires potential employees to have a body mass index of less than 35 — which is 210 pounds for someone who is 5-foot-5, and 245 pounds for someone who is 5-foot-10. It states that an employee’s physique “should fit with a representational image or specific mental projection of the job of a healthcare professional,” including an appearance “free from distraction” for hospital patients.

“The majority of our patients are over 65, and they have expectations that cannot be ignored in terms of personal appearance,” hospital chief executive David Brown said in an interview. “We have the ability as an employer to characterize our process and to have a policy that says what’s best for our business and for our patients.”

It all sounds so, well, high-schoolish, and I don’t think the CEO is seventeen, though he’s acting like it. I mean, can you get any more shallow? Since when does physical appearance have anything to do with competence or worth or dignity of any health care professional?

Or maybe David Brown doesn’t really believe nurses actually have skills — we just stand around as decoration, lookin’ pretty.

And fitting the  “representational image” of hospital employees to meet patient “expectations?” What the hell does that mean, anyway? If  patients expect this (and this is a pretty common “representation”)

A representational image of a nurse

then hiring practices should make sure all nurses are boobalicious? What if the patients want all-white nurses? Or all females? Or no Muslims?

The man is a bit of a dink, obviously. I can only imagine how valued overweight nurses employed by this hospital must feel.

The article goes on to note that this David Brown, CEO of Citizens Medical Center, has some issues. In 2007  he wrote memo about some foreign-born physicians in which he  stated: “I feel a sense of disgust but am more concerned with what this means to the future of the hospital as more of our Middle-Eastern-born physicians demand leadership roles and demand influence.”  He continued, “It will change the entire complexion of the hospital and create a level of fear among our employees.”

Needless to say, there is a discrimination lawsuit over that.

So let’s summarize what the leadership at Citizens Medical Center believes: scary scary fat nurses scaring patients. Scary scary dark-skinned physicians scaring employees and patients.

Clearly a place where I would want to work. Or be treated.

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Just Lie Back and Think of Florence — Or Not

Nurse K, possibly the doyenne of nurse bloggers, gives her two cents on Amanda Trujillo. Her advice is to surrender:

Yes, I’m going to say it: Forget advocating.  Be humble.  Be honest and consistent.  Go through the process.  Listen to your attorney.  Your most important asset as a terminated person is an unrestricted nursing license and lack of bitterness.  Get advice from your attorney and mentors about what to say in job interviews about your termination.  Rehearse your answers to the question of “why were you terminated from Banner Health.”  Don’t decide that you’re never working for a hospital again and you don’t care what anyone thinks. You’re a single mom on welfare with a termination on your record; you don’t have the luxury of being picky. 

This termination was not about who can order a case management consult.  This was the typical crap that I saw every day.  Someone important (in this case, the surgeon who was to perform the transplant) [it was a gastroenterologist, not the transplant surgeon,  incidentally --- ed.] looks bad or is pissed at someone for something and demands a termination and the thing spirals out of control.

This type of stuff is a hospital culture problem and certainly needs to stop, but a terminated employee is not going to stop anything like that, so don’t expose yourself to the world as a fired person with a chip on their shoulder. 

Well, fair enough. You pick your battles. What she’s suggesting is that for Amanda Trujillo, maybe this wasn’t the hill to die on. This is true in some, maybe even most, cases. It is excellent advice, in fact. I have a friend whose employer reported her to the College of Nurses of Ontario  — the semi-equivalent of state boards of nursing — for a serious med error that contributed to the death of a patient. She went through the process, humble and contrite, and received a formal written caution and oral reprimand.  Her employer supported her through her rehabilitation, worked out a mentorship and learning plan with her; she took a refresher course on medication. She is still practicing. This is how the system is supposed to work, right?

To paraphrase Queen Victoria, just lie back and think of Florence. I don’t think I am caricaturing Nurse K’s position here, not much anyway. Most times, silence is golden and discretion is the better part of valour, and all those other platitudes your mother taught you.

But then, this isn’t a conventional case. Let’s review for minute: Trujillo offers a patient information regarding an organ transplant and arranges, as per usual practice and at the patient’s request, a hospice care consult; this angers a physician; she is arbitrarily fired for exceeding her scope of practice in ordering this consult, which was inside her scope the day before; no one was harmed or put at risk, except, perhaps, the physician’s ego; Banner Health, Trujillo’s employer, reports her to the Arizona State Board of Nursing for practicing outside scope of practice  which — I can’t say this enough — was practicing inside scope of practice the day before; the case languishes for months and months in some sort of bizarre Board of Nursing limbo; then the moment Trujillo’s case caught the attention of some ratty-end nurse bloggers, the Board of Nursing orders a psych consult, evidently because publicly defending yourself makes you crazy; the Board of Nursing subsequently (and in a highly dubious fashion) informs Trujillo’s university she’s under investigation, then denies it despite clear proof to the contrary; and now the latest buffoonery, a new accusation from the Board of Nursing that Trujillo has “misrepresented” herself as to her academic credentials.

If this is a typical case, we are all in trouble.

And there’s this observation: isn’t shutting up and going away what employers and managers and nursing boards expect front line nurses to do? Don’t make trouble, nurses. It’s unbecoming. It will just make things worse — yes, for you. Don’t advocate for yourself — because — we will call you crazy. You will be screwed over — and you will like it!

The thing is, even before all the fuss, it’s hard to imagine how this could have gotten worse for Amanda Trujillo. If the fix is in, if you’re being railroaded by your employer, and the state Board of Nursing (as Nurse K says) is shady and duplicitous, being demure and helpful and willing to take your lumps is not going to help you. And why in the name of everything that is sacred and good should you help someone who is seeking to harm you? And as for meekness and docility now? Seems rather besides the point now.

In any case, nurse as silent martyr is not a great image. Nurse as battered wife is worse. Advocacy for yourself, and for your profession is sometimes not one of many bad choices, it is the only choice. Because of circumstances yes, but also because it is right. And as Nurse Ratched points out, often it only takes one pebble to start an avalanche.

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Doctors Are From Mars, Nurses Are From — Oh, To Hell With It

News flash! From Fierce Medical News, here’s the shocking headline:

Docs, nurses miscommunicate on respect, job role

When you guys pick yourselves off the floor from laughing, here’s the money quote:

In particular, the survey found differing views of how doctors treat nurses. According to 42 percent of nurse leaders, physician abuse or disrespect of nurses was common, whereas only 13 percent of physician leaders said it was common. Fifty-eight percent of nurse leaders considered disrespect for nurses uncommon, while 88 percent of physician leaders said it was uncommon at their healthcare organizations.

“I do believe nurses and physicians are on two different pages when it comes to communication,” Pam Kadlick, vice president of patient care and chief nursing officer for Ohio’s Mercy St. Anne Hospital, said in a HealthLeaders Media article. “Nurses have a tendency to give a very detailed report, more than what a physician may want to hear; hence, the physician may interrupt, seem to be abrupt, even rude at times.”

But most physicians don’t consider such behavior to be disrespectful, she noted.

You’re telling me abuse of nurses is all about physicians being insensitive, maybe, and nurses having too many hurt fee-fees? Really? And nurses are supposed to be surprised that physicians “don’t consider such behavior to be disrespectful?”

Why does this sound like a ’80s sitcom?

Why does this sound like this report is trying to validate abusive physician behaviour?

You can only shake your head. And you just know, somewhere, in a darkened office maybe, in an obscure corner of a mega health care corporation, a manager is reading this report and exclaiming, “I knew nurses were to blame!”

I will very happily concede abusive behaviour of all kinds has declined markedly in my own time as a nurse, though I will say I work in an institution that enforces a zero tolerance policy against abusive behaviour. Moreover, the physicians I work with, shoulder to shoulder, are lovely and professional, and there is a true sense of collaboration. This makes for excellent patient care.

However, by no means is this true everywhere. So let’s not pretend the brow-beating, the mocking, the chart-throwing, the patronizing  — to be blunt, treating nurses like you wouldn’t treat your mother, daughter, wife, bank clerk, Wal-Mart greeter, housekeeper, or dog — still doesn’t go on. Denial will never fix the problem, either from physicians — or nurses.

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Why Nurses are Furious about the Amanda Trujillo Case

The case of Amanda Trujillo has generated a great deal of passionate commentary across the nursing blogosphere. Trujillo, as you may well know, is the nurse who was fired by Banner Health Del E. Webb Medical Center for requesting multi-disciplinary hospice care case management consult for a pre-transplant patient with end-stage liver disease. The request angered the patient’s physician — not the transplant surgeon, incidentally, nor someone with any knowledge of transplant surgery — who complained to Trujillo’s manager. After her termination, the hospital subsequently reported her to the Arizona State Board of Nursing for exceeding her scope of practice. If the Board finds against Trujillo, she may well face the loss of her license or other sanctions; in the event, her nursing career would be finished. Superficially, at least, an open and shut case, or least this is how Banner Health would like to project the controversy. Scratch the surface a little and matters change considerably.

So why are nurses so furious? Part of it is the apparent coincidence of any number of other, seemingly random bits of information outside the direct narrative of Trujillo’s story. The fact that the Arizona State Board of Nursing chose to deem Trujillo’s attempt to defend herself publicly as “retaliatory behavior”  just as her story was becoming part of the general conversation, and then ordered a psychiatric evaluation is one of those seemingly random bits. This struck me particularly. Suspicious minds might see a pattern to punish Trujillo for speaking up by publicly labelling her mentally disturbed (and in health care, as any nurse will tell you, acquiring that label is doubly damning.) For myself, I will be content to note that throughout history calling people crazy is a traditional means of discrediting those challenging authority and marginalizing dissent.

And there are other random bits: that the Arizona Board of Nursing (for example) chose to inform Trujillo’s doctoral program of the ongoing investigation just last week — some ten months after the initial complaint. The apparent close linkages between various facets of the nursing “leadership” in Arizona, which I am told is known as the “Circle of Death” for woe to any nurse who crosses it.  The secrecy, the opacity of all the institutional players, from Banner Health to the Arizona Nurses Association. The sense of arbitrary and coercive behaviour from any of these. Separately, they don’t amount to much — but together? Suspicious minds, as I said, begin to see patterns.

But there are far more substantive issues the firing of Trujillo raises. Take, for example, the matter how and why Trujllo was fired. From Trujillo’s account, it was arbitrary and unjust. Trujillo acted, she says, in good faith; her intent was to help the patient make an informed choice about his treatment options; she had made the same request for similar cases previously without consequence or objection; there was no hospital policy positively forbidding nurses to make this request. The only difference, it appears, was the physician’s annoyance, that as Trujillo’s manager put it, Trujillo had “messed up all of the work they had done, and that the doctors were nowhere near going down the hospice route.”

So there is this, a manager’s buckling under physician pressure, to do something about this turbulent nurse, a nurse who was trying to conscientiously to do her duty —-  which happened to conflict with the plans of the physician. But that is not even the really bad part. Let me put it in this way by citing an example that has weighty consequences for both nurse and patient. If nurse commits a serious medication error, best practice anywhere is for the hospital administration to do a root cause analysis. The purpose of this analysis is not to apportion blame, but to prevent the error from ever happening again. 

Once the root cause is determined, there might be changes to existing policies and procedures, and there might be education. Almost always, there is some sort of remediation of the nurse involved, because responsibility for a medication error is ultimately a shared responsibility from the nurse who administers the medication to the senior managers who are responsible for policies ensuring patient safety. For Trujillo, there was none of this — just security escorting her off the premises.

A reasoned, measured response to Trujillo’s actions, using root cause analysis, might suggest change and clarification of existing procedure for ordering case management consults. Instead, we have a nurse whose offence is so grievous that the hospital chose to fire her and then report her to the state Board of Nursing. To put it another way, even if Trujillo was completely in error in her interaction with this patient, and exceeded her scope of practice, what exact demonstrable harm was done to the patient?

I am puzzled why a clerical error — which I think is the worst possible cast one could put on Trujillo’s actions — merits termination and Board of Nursing discipline, while a serious medication error generally would not. It’s the gross inequity of outcomes which is so troublesome. Please note, in this context, nurses are generally fired and reported to regulatory bodies when there is concern they are a danger to the public.

So you have to ask yourself this simple question: even if you accept Trujillo exceeded her scope of practice, was firing her and then reporting her to the Board of Nursing proportionate to the supposed misdemeanour? Acting rashly, inequitably, without reason, and disproportionately, to my way of thinking anyway, is central to any definition of arbitrary and unjust behaviour.

We are also angry that Trujillo apparently was penalized for acting as her patient’s advocate and for attempting to ensure her patient could act with autonomy. This has serious implications for all nurses, because hobbling any nurse’s ability to act as advocate seriously jeopardizes patient care and safety. But first, the word “advocate” has been bandied about so much I want to inject a little clarity as to what exactly nurse-as-advocate means in the context of end-of-life care. This is what my own regulatory body, the College of Nurses of Ontario, says:

Nurses advocate for their clients and help implement their treatment and end-of-life care wishes. However, a client’s request to receive a treatment does not automatically bring with it the obligation for the nurse to provide the treatment.  A nurse is not obligated to implement a client’s treatment wish if it has been determined that the treatment will not benefit the client and is therefore not a part of the plan of care.

The College — no slouches in the matter of nursing ethics, by the way — goes on to tell us that that nurses act as advocates by ensuring patients have informed consent when implementing multidisciplinary care plans and by (says the College)

acting on behalf of the client to help clarify the plans for treatment when:

  • the client’s condition has changed and it may be necessary to modify a previous decision;
  • the nurse is concerned the client may not have been informed of all elements in the plan of treatment, including the provision or withholding of treatment;
  • the nurse disagrees with the physician’s plan of treatment; and
  • the client’s family disagrees with the client’s expressed treatment wishes

I think this is fairly standard nursing practice anywhere, and how all of us understand advocacy, whatever the stage of life. It is needful to point out the College phrases its language as nurses “must” not “may.” In other words, advocacy is not optional part of nursing practice. And what about patient autonomy? One of the four pillars of health care ethics, patient autonomy is the right of all patients to make informed decisions about their care and treatment, and necessarily implies outcomes matter most importantly for the patient, not the health care team. Nurse advocacy, it hardly needs to be said, is an important part of ensuring a patient can act an informed autonomous way.

So we have a situation where Trujillo was practising under universally accepted nursing standards, using the nursing process and nursing judgement, made a nursing assessment, educated her patient, in order that the patient could make an informed decision about his treatment options; in short, she acted to preserve her patient’s autonomy, and then was punished in the worst possible way for her attempts to be, well, a good nurse. Here’s her account, drawn from her lawyer’s representation to the Arizona Board of Nursing:

Having assessed the knowledge deficit related to the patient’s routine medications, disease process, associated tests and procedures, the plan of care for transplant evaluation and palliative care options, Ms. Trujillo proceeded to print out patient educational material from Banner’s website that addressed those areas. . .  Ms. Trujillo also provided materials related to hospice care per the patient’s request. Ms. Trujillo, concerned about the patient’s lack of understanding of (pts) treatment regimen and the option for comfort care, discussed her education of the patient with her clinical manager, Frances Fausto, who readily supported Ms. Trujillo’s plan of care and interventions. . .

Ms. Trujillo and the patient reviewed the materials over the course of the night.  After a full review of the materials the patient stated, “Had I known everything I would have to go through and the commitment I would have to make, I would not have agreed to the transplant evaluation.” The patient inquired into whether there was anything else (pt) could do besides enduring more tests, procedures or surgeries. Ms.Trujillo then explained hospice care services and the differences between symptom relief care and end of life care. The patient expressed serious concern that (pt) would not be able to commit to an extensive aftercare regimen following the transplant by stating “at this stage in (pts) life (pt) just wanted to be around family.” The patient requested to visit with a representative from hospice in order to ask some questions and gain additional information that would assist (pt) in making a more informed decision regarding (pts) course of care.

Ms. Trujillo placed a note in the chart pertaining to the assessment of knowledge deficit, the specific education provided and the palliative care discussion, in addition to, the patient’s request to see a case manager from hospice. She used the SBAR (Situation, Background, Assessment and Recommendation) format of report required in Banner policy when she handed off care of the patient to the dayshift nurse, alerting the nurse that the patient requested more information prior to being transferred to another facility for a transplant evaluation.  She also alerted the dayshift nurse that there was a nursing note in the record for the doctor to read that detailed what occurred over the course of Ms. Trujillo’s shift with the patient.

I am not seeing a lot of daylight between a world-respected professional regulatory body’s standards of nursing practice and Trujillo’s actions. I personally would do no different. Which brings us to the exact point of what disturbs and angers so many nurses: when hospitals run roughshod over a nurse’s professional and ethical judgement, when they refuse to acknowledge a nurse’s central ethical duty to sustain patient autonomy, there does not seem to be any point to acting as a professionals at all. Or maybe, that’s the real message hospital corporations want to send: that front line nurses aren’t really professionals, and larger questions of ethics and patient care are better left to higher beings — physicians, corporate managers and our nursing “leadership.”

This is why we are passionate about Amanda Trujillo. This is why we are so angry. The issues raised by the Trujillo case affect each of us, because this is how we practice nursing. By keeping patients — their wants, desires, needs, autonomy — front and centre.

Advocates for Amanda Trujillo — and I include myself in that number — have been criticized for jumping the gun, for not waiting for the other side of the story, for surely Banner Health and all the rest will have their speak. I concede the point. I accept I may be wrong. Not all facts are apparent, and some will never come out. (By the same token I am not clear what further details are needed to come out in order to form a reasonable conclusion about the situation. This isn’t the Pentagon Papers, or use a more modern reference, a WikiLeaks cache dump.) My sense of the situation, however, is that Amanda Trujillo’s position is far nearer the truth.

I say this not because of the documentation, or because I have spoken to Trujillo about her case (and five minutes on the phone with was enough to convince me of her utter veracity), or because she makes herself readily available to her supporters — she spoke with me for over an hour last evening despite an exhausting day, and was able to answer with clarity some very probing questions —  but because, sadly, her case follows the same pattern of abuse we have seen in other cases almost too numerous to count: arbitrary and vengeful behaviour from health care corporations, official investigations, attempts to discredit nurses and nursing and after a long time and huge financial and personal cost to nurse involved, vindication. And this is what frightens so many nurses: what happened to Trujillo and all the rest can easily happen to any of  us, and in the process, chip away at our collective professional integrity. So a lot of us in the nursing blogosphere and through social media are determined to hold the feet of Banner Health, the Arizona Board of Nursing and all the rest to the fire. The fact so many of us are so vehemently engaged in this issue speaks volumes about our determination to uphold the integrity of our beloved profession.

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Long Emergency Department Admissions Shorten Lives

Via ImpactedNurse.com, another study showing prolonged emergency department stays are less than optimal:

There were 41,256 admissions from the ED. Mortality generally increased with increasing boarding time, from 2.5% in patients boarded less than 2 hours to 4.5% in patients boarding 12 hours or more (p < 0.001). Mean hospital LOS also showed an increase with boarding time (p < 0.001), from 5.6 days (SD ± 11.4 days) for those who stayed in the ED for less than 2 hours to 8.7 days (SD ± 16.3 days) for those who boarded for more than 24 hours. The increases were still apparent after adjustment for comorbid conditions and other factors.

In other words, two consequences from lengthy Emergency department admissions: first, you are about twice as likely to die if you are admitted for more than twelve hours, and secondly, if you stay for longer than 24 hours (and survive, of course) you’re likely to be hospitalized for three extra days.

Clearly something bad happens when patients are admitted in EDs for long periods of time. The study’s authors identify a few reasons for this. Care for admitted emergency department patients are poorly prioritized by both physicians and nurses; a preference bias occurs because less acute patients tend to get beds more quickly (a phenomenon which is a frequent occurrence in my hospital as “easy” patients go off-service to Paeds or Post-Partum or General Surg); there are also delays in the getting appropriate treatment started, which negatively affects mortality.

I would add the obvious, that expecting Emergency departments to run as Emergency departments and simultaneously as ICU/Post-Op/Med-Surg/Urology/Gyne/Surgical Outpatients/Paediatric unit(s) is probably not a reasonable expectation, if for the simple reason acutely ill new ED patients will always take priority over admitted patients, except when those patients are actively crashing. Additionally EDs are not set up to take care of admitted patients. We are not given the resources to do the job properly.

I don’t expect this study would surprise anyone who has actually worked in an Emergency department. We’re used to seeing patients decompensating before our eyes. What it does is give us ammunition. When some manager tells me, “I’m not going to do those bed moves for that patient because you only have seven admits — which I have actually heard fall out of a manager’s mouth — I can cheerfully reply, “You’re increasing the risk of that patient dying to 1 in 20.” When the ICU tells me to wait till after lunch, I can counter with “You are increasing the patient’s overall length of stay with every hour’s delay.” Most importantly it adds a sense of moral urgency. Get the patients upstairs, or increase the risk of killing them. It’s pretty simple.

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