Dear Nurse Leader… I Am Afraid.
No matter how much a nursing leader does to be approachable for nursing staff- the truth of the matter is that clinical nurses, new graduate nurses, or newly hired nursing staff are intimidated by nurse leaders.
Don’t believe me? Thinking, “Impossible!” Here’s two examples from recent real-life experience…
Case Scenario 1
In my role as a research program coordinator, I am leading a program of research scholars. We have a cohort of clinical nurses from various departments coming together to learn about the research process and implement a research study.
One task the cohort was assigned was to go back to their own departmental leaders and ask about patient satisfaction scores. We shared with them that they may first approach their nurse manager to find out who the “right” person was that had this type of data. Then, they were to contact that point person and obtain their department’s scores, bringing them back to the cohort group.
This was asked of them before the program start. And then, when they did not deliver, again in months 1, 2, and 3. A colleague of mine, who is leading the cohort group with us, shared a revealing experience.
She stated that she met with her department’s cohort member to check in and mentor this nurse. The nurse had actually drafted an email to the point of contact for patient satisfaction scores. But had not hit “send”.
During the meeting with this clinical nurse, the nurse shared that he had agonized over the email… drafting and re-drafting it. He had worked on the email for days. When he finally was meeting with his mentor, showing this email, it was perfectly fine (in the mentor’s mind). The mentor said, “Just hit send!”
This was a telling experience that a nurse- who is highly intelligent, has over two years of experience on their unit, and is part of this prestigious research cohort- was still lacking that confidence to send an email to a nurse in a perceived higher role. This nurse was so frightful of sending this email that it had stalled the project’s progress.
Case Scenario 2
Another part of my role, as research program coordinator, is to support and educate the new nurse residents in evidence-based practice. I attend one of their class days and go over how to draft an EBP question and what they need to do when looking at literature.
Lately, I have been attending the nurse residency graduation, where they present their EBP projects to the nursing leadership in the audience. After attending a few of these sessions, it was clear to me that there was opportunity for improvements.
I set up times to talk to the nurse educators that lead these programs and ask them about their challenges and the evolution the group goes through with respect to their projects.
The nurse educators shared with me that the nurse residents are supposed to go to their nursing leadership (e.g. manager, clinical nurse specialist, educator, preceptor) and ask about possible projects that the unit is interested in or considering. And then through those conversations, that is to inform the project topic that the nurse resident group works on.
That is not occurring. When nursing leadership attend the graduation ceremony and are presented with the EBP projects- they often see projects that have already been completed or considered. The resident is not asking the leadership in their department for project ideas and duplicated work is happening.
Again- come to find out- the nurse feels a sense of intimidation and overwhelm at the thought of asking nurse leadership these types of questions.
Open Up the Communication.
Yes, we want nurses to be empowered to approach colleagues for support and information. However, we need to realize that some of these nurses are in their first jobs. Ever.
This may be their very first experience in the career world. And even thought they are bright and we tell them that our door is open- these nurses are for whatever reason still feeling scared.
As the nurse leader, we need to be proactive in reaching out. We need to seek out these conversations and create the safe environment for the new graduate or newly hired nurse.
So, how do we do this? What are some ways to decrease the intimidation factor in our nursing staff?
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Share specific stories.
We all were new nurses at one time. That and many of us have been in more than one nursing role- causing us to be newly hired nurses several times over.
Invite your new graduate or new hire to lunch. Sit down, away from the nursing unit, in a neutral environment. Ask them how they are doing and share casual conversation.
Then bring up a challenge you had as a new nurse and how you got over it. Share a specific story with them to highlight the fact that they are not alone.
Be sure to talk about the outcome to. And, you may want to share two stories. One that went successful on the first try around- to show that this does happen and how they can do it too. And maybe an example of how it was not so successful the first go-around but what you learned from it and how it helped you to grow.
Then, ask them again if there is anything that is challenging them. Be sure to question about how they feel approaching colleagues and other disciplines. Talk about the perceived hierarchy in healthcare and how all parts of the team are necessary to the patient outcomes.
Close up the lunch with supportive words and encouragement. Let them know that they are not alone and you are always there for them. Tell them that they are doing a great job and growing every single day.
Put things into perspective.
This comes from what I have learned as a nurse entrepreneur. It was very hard for me to call people up on the phone and ask them to buy products or services. And my business coach reminded me of something very simple…
If you do not ask, you will never know.
Sure, you may hear the word “no”. And you will also hear the word, “yes”. But you would never know and never move forward with your ideas unless you asked.
The person that the new graduate or newly hired nurse needs to approach is a human being. While it may be scary to email, call, or go up to them in person the nurse needs to take that first step.
Each time that they email, call, or approach it will get easier. If the new graduate or newly hired nurse is struggling with this, provide opportunities for practice.
This may be a great exercise that you can get all of your newer team members to take part in. Get the group together and talk about the people they are intimidated about approaching. Discuss what types of things you would need to go to them for and practice doing it together in that safe space.
You can have nurses partner up and role-play approaching people or making phone calls. You can allow them time to draft emails or letters and give each other feedback on these written forms of communication.
Not sure about how to lead this yourself? Many organizations have departments for organizational development or human resources. Role model this behavior for your nursing teams and make that phone call yourself! Reach out and ask for help so that you can refer to the experts and utilize the potential resources that are available to you.
Exercise perspective shifts.
This is what I teach in my Nursing from Within™ model. When I present Nursing from Within™, I lead the audience through a “don’t want” / “do want” exercise that teaches perspective shifts.
Essentially, the mind is a powerful thing. It can propel us forward to your goals or leave you stuck in fearful procrastination.
What you want to encourage the new graduate or newly hired nurse to do is become aware of their thoughts. What are they thinking or feeling that is causing the intimidation? And, once a person is aware of this, it can be shifted.
If it is “I am worried that I will look stupid…” you want to help the nurse from “If I do not want to look stupid, what I do want is to appear confident.”
Now the confidence is what can be focused on and brought about with purposeful intention. Through another Nursing from Within™ exercise, the new graduate or newly hired nurse can create intentional affirmations. A statement like, “I choose to appear confident as a nurse”.
The nurse needs to then say that over and over, even looking at themselves in the mirror. This practice, over time, will allow them to shift from “I am feeling worried” to “I am feeling confident”.
It takes time and patience- but it sure does work!
And of course, always remind the new graduate and newly hired nurse to JUST BREATHE.
OK- what did we miss? What are some other ways to decrease the intimidation factor in new graduate and newly hired nurses? How have you broken down perceived barriers when it comes to nursing communication? Share a comment below to help a fellow nursing colleague out. And thanks for reading!
About the Author: Keynote speaker and virtual conference host, Elizabeth Scala MSN/MBA, RN, partners with hospitals, nursing schools, and nurse associations to transform the field of nursing from the inside out. As the bestselling author of ‘Nursing from Within’, Elizabeth guides nurses and nursing students to a change in perspective, helping them make the inner shift needed to better maneuver the sometimes challenging realities of being a caregiver. Elizabeth received her dual master’s degree from Johns Hopkins University. She is also a certified coach and Reiki Master Teacher. Elizabeth lives in Maryland with her supportive husband and playful pit bull.