Connecting, learning and reflecting through COVID-19 – Denise O’Donnell

I was going into a new job role at a very difficult time for nursing.”

Denise O’Donnell is one of many staff who have stepped up over recent times to provide care to the most vulnerable of our patients. She was redeployed as a ward manager to a Covid-19 assessment ward in Antrim where she helped form a new team of staff, leading them through an unprecedented time whilst navigating different obstacles and undertaking many changes.

In the third of a series of Northern Trust Nightingale Blogs, Denise reflects on her leadership and networking skills throughout the COVID-19 escalation and surge.

Denise O'Donnell, Ward Manager
Denise O’Donnell, Ward Manager, Covid-19 Assessment Ward

Preserving safety during a challenging time

When I started the Nightingale Challenge earlier this year, I wanted to gain a greater insight into leadership within the acute hospital setting as well as develop my own personal leadership skills.

The first challenge I was set was redeployment from my role as deputy sister in an acute medical unit to acting ward manager of a COVID-19 assessment ward. Within this ward we screen, isolate and provide acute care to the most vulnerable patients.

I have been involved in forming a new team of staff and leading them through an unprecedented time while navigating different obstacles and undertaking many changes to ensure that we deliver the best quality care, whilst continuing to preserve safety during this challenging time.

This was a very daunting experience at the beginning, I was going into a new job role at a very difficult time for nursing. I was very apprehensive at the start, doubting my capability, but through great support from my senior management team and all staff having the same shared objectives to meet, this opportunity has been a positive experience. I have learned greatly from having new leadership responsibilities.

Professional unity and dedication

During this COIVID-19 pandemic it has become evident that there is an incredible display of professional unity, sense of commitment and dedication amongst staff, with each member of staff stepping up and overcoming challenges with the same shared objective, and the attitude of ‘We are all in this together’. It is said “anyone working in the NHS regardless of their position, grade, qualification or place of work, may be a leader or agent of change and improvement.”(DH 2001)

The change in role has meant that I am now working with a new team of staff and has also led to me having a greater involvement with the senior management team. This has allowed me to gain a wealth of knowledge by observing different leadership skills and behaviours and learn from the experiences and knowledge of others. I have been given the opportunity to build professional links with numerous other staff from various different backgrounds within the hospital.

I now have a greater awareness of the need to focus on meeting the needs of staff, ensuring their wellbeing and sustained motivation to help them deal with this rapidly changing situation.

Visible leadership

I have learned from my experience that you have to adapt your leadership approach and use different type of leadership skills depending on the situation.

My personal vision of leadership is to be a transformational leader- the type of leader that has skills to share their vision, motivate the team, and gain commitment which results in inspired performance.

We are now working in unfamiliar times, experiencing things we have never experienced before, and this has brought with it all kinds of emotions. Staff are anxious and have many concerns, including PPE, risk to themselves, their families and their patients, which all contribute to the pressures that nurses are working under. Florence Nightingale said ‘how little can be done under the spirit of fear’, I feel that it is paramount to relieve as much of this fear from staff as possible to be able to achieve the best outcomes. In order to do so I also have to take a collaborative approach by including and engaging with staff, being honest, guaranteeing they have sense of belonging within the team, listening to them and taking into account their opinion, knowledge and experience.

It is evident within the acute division that senior management are very visible leaders, this has allowed for me to learn from the leaderships skills they portray. I feel that being a leader it is essential to be visible and approachable, to lead with care and be on the ward floor providing clinical leadership through supporting and assisting staff to develop their capabilities and set direction.

Sense of belonging

We cope by feeling supported with a sense of belonging as part of the team; this I feel is being achieved within our team by ensuring a positive and supported environment for all members of staff throughout the ward structure.

From the pandemic I have learned that a self-care approach has never been more important. We need ‘time-out’ to reflect on our experiences. Our ward has now allocated ‘team-time’ which has been a very beneficial coping mechanism, allowing us to share experience and emotions together and have down time before leaving work.

With every negative of this pandemic there are also positives, from the learning opportunities, the camaraderie, the recognition of our role, to the gestures of thanks be it the food parcels delivered generously by the community or the Thursday night applause.

Every morning I walk onto the ward I feel proud to be a nurse and am prepared to take on another day.

Denise O’Donnell, Deputy Sister, Acute Medical Unit (B1) currently redeployed as Acting Ward Manager in Covid-19 assessment ward (C7), Antrim Area Hospital.

@nhsctrust #NorthernNightingales
@NursingNow2020 #NursingNowNI #NightingaleChallenge
#InternationalYearoftheNurseandMidwife

Other Nightingale Blogs

Gemma McClean, Hospital Diversion Nursing Sister
Judith Shevlin, Community Mental Health Nurse

Northern Nightingales

2020 International Year of the Nurse and the Midwife logo

2nd July 2020

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