A Worldwide Pandemic or A Personal Experience - Healthcare Leaders Make a Difference

Apr 03, 2020

The newest buzzword is “unprecedented.” These circumstances are unprecedented. Never have healthcare executives, leaders, and administrators been expected to make decisions as rapidly, on unconfirmed data, at the direction of political leaders, with the knowledge it could be communicated in a nano-second across the word. Regardless of the hospitalization percentages, and flattened curves, and fatality statistics, the reality is you are making life changing and lifesaving decisions. Without expecting it or asking for it, you now stand as the generals in this viral war declared by the President. 

Your cavalry of employees and volunteers move to test patients in the parking lot, then special forces meet the sickest patients in the ER. Your core of engineers erects additional facilities and treatment wards in cafeterias and gymnasiums. Your combat support team requisitions and deploys masks, ventilators, and ICU beds. Your combat ranks care for patients admitted to the hospital. Your colonels, lieutenants, and sergeants direct the activity and patient care. You coordinate with other commanders and generals at the CDC or NIH. 

As if that is not enough, you still run the command center, hospitals, community practices, clinics, and support services for the hundreds of patients who are sick and hospitalized with non-COVID-19 related conditions. And after 18 hours of war planning, you have about six hours to sleep and figure out how to prepare for the pending new normal.  

Because nationwide, non-COVID-19 patients are staying home, postponing routine care, holding off on vaccinations, blood sugar tests, well patient exams, and an endless list of chronic care appointments. That demand is building in the pipeline. Afraid to enter any healthcare location and, as requested, to shelter in place people are avoiding their physicians. 

Nonetheless, a new normal will occur and those patients will erupt into the healthcare system. And it will be up to you to meet the need. While this is a global pandemic, it is a personal experience.

America’s healthcare providers are wired to walk into the storm. They are called to care for the sick, to answer the need, to extend themselves beyond their own safety. These amazing individuals return day after day even when knowing they will likely succumb to the virus. Medicine is a personal “calling.” For some unfortunate administrators and facilities, that “calling” may be the only reason they keep coming back. This is a global pandemic, but it is more so a personal experience. 

The hundreds of physician and advanced practitioner candidates we speak to every day tell us, that while they won’t abandon their teams and patients now, they intend to leave at the first opportunity. They are not unreasonable, they understand shortages. They know the system is overwhelmed. They give grace again and again, knowing tempers are short and leaders overwhelmed. But, over time, the individual experiences paint a picture of leadership and organizational culture that they deem unacceptable. And as you know, they have many options. 

One young nurse, helping a physician with the intubation of a COVID-19 patient is instructed to put a mask on, after already being in the room. Afterward, she walks out into the hall to be berated by her supervisor in front of her co-workers for wasting a mask. She wonders when participating in the intubation of a contagious patient without a mask become okay? Then again, she hasn’t heard an update in days. Another in the series of her personal experiences.

A newly graduated physician working on the 32nd hour of his shift is told, if he wants to eat, he should go to the cafeteria. He wonders which patient he should ignore, while he potentially infects others in the cafeteria. Being a doctor was his calling, this was his dream job. Is this the team he thought he joined? 

That nurse sleeps alone in a hotel she pays for because she is afraid to infect her grandmother at home. That doctor doesn’t take the time to eat. Young people are drifting away from medicine, because the sacrifice and debt is too great. What happens when these young providers decide that the “calling” no longer outweighs the personal experiences?

As a healthcare leader you hold the key to the new normal when the global pandemic abates. What will remain are hundreds of thousands of personal experiences.  

As a leader, are you present? Are you the calm in the storm? Do they see you confident that perseverance wins, and this will end? Sure, overworked supervisors yell, tired people snap, and priorities get messed up, but who sets the expectations and tone? As the situation evolves do you react, or do you take a moment for a calm thoughtful response? Because, while this is a global pandemic, it is a million personal experiences. 

Leaders know they cannot think of or solve every experience. But they encourage those around them to attend to the details. No way one leader, worried about strategy, capacity, and supply shortages can remember sandwiches, much less encouraging an apology to that young nurse. But the good one’s empowered teams who do. They know that physician retention began the day the provider started.

One CEO, of a large hospital overrun with the virus, leaves the administration area every day and enters the fray. He speaks with people, asks what he can do, and updates them on the status of masks and ventilators. He jumps in when he can. He empowers his team to solve problems like sandwiches, apologies, and helping young nurses who are alone and afraid. Just try recruiting his providers away.

Medicine is the interaction of one person with another. Physicians, advanced practitioners, and nurses tell us, that in the absence of strong, caring leadership, they won’t abandon each individual relationship, but when they can finally come up for air, well, it was a personal experience for them as well. 

You cannot control the politicians, the governors, mayors, and judges. You can’t control the patients or the percentages. You can control the environment where healthcare providers have a thousand personal experiences.

Failing to do that now, would be great for my company. We are happy to answer their calls and give them options. Because physician and provider retention began long before that candidate called us or took a call from a recruiter. What you might wonder is, how many are already on the list?