Healthcare leaders must emphasize self-care, and ‘get rid of stupid stuff’

Eric Martin, vice president of patient services and chief nursing officer at Norton Children’s Hospital, talked about taking care of team members at the American Hospital Association Leadership Summit.

During a panel discussion on resilience in healthcare, Erik Martin said hospital leaders need to adjust the expectations of their teams.

“These are not normal times,” said Martin, the vice president of patient care services and chief nursing officer at Norton Children’s Hospital in Louisville, Ky.

Martin participated in a session at the American Hospital Association Leadership Summit this week. He’s also the president of the American Organization for Nursing Leadership.

After the panel, Martin talked with Chief Healthcare Executive about taking care of staff and helping them see the importance of taking care of themselves.

“It’s very much about self-care,” Martin said. “We lead by example. I think in our industry, healthcare, we’re always in it to care for other people. And I don’t think that we truly always understand when we’re not taking care of ourselves, it sends a subliminal message to our teammates that it’s not OK for them to take a break either.”

“I’ve always encouraged my team to lead by example,” he said. “If you can take a 15-minute break and then go encourage your team member to take their 15-minute break, it will really make a difference over time.” (The story continues after the video.)

It’s important to reduce some burdens on overworked staff, Martin said. So if it means doing a few less audits or easing requirements on workers to help them, that’s OK.

He also outlined some of the suggestions of the National Academy of Medicine for healthcare organizations in the pandemic.

One of the top suggestions, he said, is to “get rid of stupid stuff.”

“Stop doing stupid stuff,” he said. “If there’s no value in it, let’s get rid of it.”

“What are the things that we’re doing that are low-value for our employees, whether it’s from a documentation perspective, a data collection perspective, a workflow perspective, how can we streamline things, take the workload off of them and help their work be more meaningful?”

If some procedures or tasks aren’t necessary, it’s time to eliminate them, he said.

Other steps include designating a well-being expert, and understanding that an employee assistance program, valuable as it is, is not enough to care for workers.

If leaders are looking to help reduce the stress on their staff, Martin suggests they shouldn’t feel like they have to devise the solution. In fact, leaders should be talking with their teams to get their guidance on where they could use some help.

“Engage the team in what would be beneficial for them, what things that they want that would help decrease their stress,” Martin said.

He also stressed how much he has gained from talking with other healthcare leaders to glean ideas and hear how they’re dealing with challenges.

“You have to recognize that you don’t have all the answers,” Martin said. “One of the things that has been the most beneficial for me is just networking with other leaders across the nation and identifying some of the different strategies and ideas that they have, and that’s got my wheels turning on what I can do differently.”

Nurse managers have faced a difficult road. One-third of nurse managers have said they aren’t emotionally healthy, and 75% have said the well-being of their teams is their top priority.

Compensation has also become a growing concern for nurse managers, he said. As hospital systems have raised the pay for nurses due to staffing shortages, nurse managers haven’t always kept up, he said. There’s been some compression between nurse managers in staff, with some managers making the same or even less than the team members they supervise.

Norton is taking steps to retain staff by offering more flexible schedules and working to develop new leaders.

Nurse managers, like many nurses, have been stressed by the rising violence and aggression they’ve seen during the pandemic. About half of nurses said workplace violence is rising, according to an April poll by National Nurses United.

“That is one of the biggest things that keeps nursing leaders up at night,” Martin said.