Photo by SJ Objio on Unsplash

The Human Experience: Rebuilding Nurse Leadership for the Future of Healthcare

By: Jason Wolf, Ph.D., CPXP, President & CEO, The Beryl Institute

This moment in our history is personal. The pandemic has impacted the work we all love. It has revealed tragedy, exposed systemic weaknesses, and challenged our purpose. We have lost friends and colleagues, we have felt strain and remorse, we have managed life in new ways, and learned the amazing value of human connection. Yet, through it all, we continue to feel hope. And I believe we have an opportunity to continue leading forward based on a foundation of trust.

As we come together in April for the 2022 NICU Leadership Forum, I would like us to explore the current realities we face, the opportunities they have revealed, and the actions we can take in leading forward. This is inspired by our work in The Beryl Institute community to commit to transforming the human experience in healthcare. It is informed by a recent article I had the honor of co-authoring with members of our Nurse Executive Council, “Rebuilding a foundation of trust: A call to action in creating a safe environment for everyone.”

As we share in the paper, “a recent report from the U.S. Labor Department revealed that more than half a million health care workers quit their jobs in August 2021, nearly a 20% increase from the year. Specific to nursing, nearly 30% of registered nurses (RNs) were deemed at risk of leaving their organization.” The study was conducted by the Washington Post and Kaiser Family Foundation amid the pandemic (in early 2021) that revealed something that my optimistic lens latched to. Although healthcare workers reported feeling burned out (55%), anxious (49%) and even angry (21%), they remained hopeful (76%) and optimistic (67%) above all else. The connection to purpose our healthcare teams hold is evident and it is built on the grounds of hopefulness and optimism.

Jason Wolf, Ph.D., CPXP
President & CEO, The Beryl Institute

Clinician with PPE putting on mask

Photo by Mat Napo on Unsplash

To act with intention in this moment it requires both an acceptance of our current reality and an acknowledgement of what it brought to the surface. The pandemic elevated issues that were long present and deeply rooted in healthcare systems and society. It exposed systemic issues and lingering wounds that can no longer go unacknowledged and untreated. Grounded in the fundamental idea that as healthcare team members we are first and foremost human beings caring for human beings, a call to action was framed and an expanding perspective suggested. In our efforts to ensure the best in healthcare, in all the pandemic revealed, we now had an opportunity to transform the human experience at its heart. This call to action – A Declaration for Human Experience – is grounded in fundamental ideas that challenge us to broaden our view while concomitantly focusing our intention. It calls on us to commit to:

  • Acknowledge and dismantle systemic racism and prejudice, tackle disparities and provide the highest-quality, most equitable care possible.
  • Understand and act on the needs and vulnerabilities of the healthcare workforce to honor their commitment and reaffirm and re-energize their purpose.
  • Recognize and maintain a focus on what matters most to patients, their family members and care partners to ensure care quality and a commitment to health and well-being.
  • Collaborate through shared learning within and between organizations, systems and the broader healthcare continuum to forge a bold new path to a more human-centered, equitable and effective healthcare system.

In starting this powerful work with the nurse executive community, we recognized that we could not have a conversation about one aspect of this work in isolation of the other. The patients and families we serve, and the people who provide care within their community are intricately woven within our healthcare system. Our conversations around the broader human experience ensure we focus on what rests at the heart of our capacity to heal, the healthcare workforce itself. This opportunity led us to seek the root cause of all we were experiencing because of the pandemic. The core issue that emerged is that we were all experiencing  an erosion of trust.

The systemic strains that have emerged in the last few years be it in shortages of equipment or staff, difficult policy decisions, or challenges within the communities we serve revealed that even the most hopeful and purposeful members of our care teams need healing. I share a few of the opportunities outlined in the full article here. As we work to heal and rebuild a foundation of trust, we must:

  • Invest in basic human needs. We cannot be safe unless our basic human needs are met.
  • Seek to understand the needs of all individuals. We must expand our focus to include individual needs revealed by the traumas endured by people from diverse and different backgrounds.
  • Create open spaces for listening. Psychological safety is an essential precondition in creating a space for trust where everyone can honestly share their realities in working to find lasting solutions.
  • Move from transactional to relational communication. Diminishing directive communication fed by crisis is critical in fostering a space for compassionate communication and empathic engagement.
  • Dissolve silos. Dismantling processes that foster separation, inequity, and unhealthy competition is needed to create the space for building a collaborative path forward.
  • Commit to transforming the human experience in healthcare. We must demonstrate a commitment to honoring the humanity of all who engage in the healthcare ecosystem.
nurse wearing mask and face shield
Lori and Jason Wolf

Jason Wolf and Lori Gunther meeting for the first time, 2014

The rebuilding of trust as a catalyst for the healing we need, is a fundamental first step in the process. This requires us to think about what attracted us to this work from the start. We are called to a larger purpose in caring for others. To do that now we must do the hard work of caring for one another IN healthcare and take the critical time to care for ourselves. If we are to truly realize the full capacity of human beings caring for human beings, we must do no less.

Please join us for the 2022 NICU Leadership Forum

Attend the 2022 NICU Leadership Forum April 3 – 7, 2022 in Naples, Florida to learn important strategies in building trust within your team.