Connecting, learning and reflecting through COVID-19-Gemma McClean

“There is a time and place for various leadership styles.”

Gemma McClean, Hospital Diversion Nursing Team Sister in Community Care is one of 27 nurses and midwives in the Northern Trust who will reflect and share learning in 2020 as part of the Nightingale Challenge.

Gemma McClean, Hospital Diversion Team Nursing SisterThe Nightingale Challenge encourages healthcare employers to support at least 20 nurses and midwives to develop their leadership skills during the 2020 International Year of the Nurse and Midwife.

In the first of a series of ‘Northern Nightingale’ blogs, Gemma reflects on her leadership and networking throughout the COVID-19 escalation and surge.

When I began the Nightingale Challenge in January 2020, I wanted to gain a greater understanding of what leadership means in Community Care. I have worked in Community Nursing for almost five years and find it to be an area that is often misunderstood. I think that this needs to change and hopefully this is starting to change due to effective leaders advocating for this sector of healthcare.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the role of good community care was highlighted regionally and nationally in terms of care homes and the independent sectors. I was able to witness first-hand the difference that can be made by reducing barriers and focus on our shared objective of provided first class care to our service users.

I was challenged when in our Trust staff had no hesitation in helping to provide care and support in our care homes, and knew this needed to be carefully managed.

Engaging and connecting with other leaders and professionals

I have found over the last three months that there has been greater comradery amongst healthcare staff as a whole. Staff are genuinely caring for their colleagues as well as our service users. This has been particularly helpful in building professional links.

I have been working much closer with staff in care homes who are facilitating care of their residents in community, assisting hands-on and also providing telephone support to them. Through this, I feel that I have formed more links with those within Community care, particularly from social work. It has been an encouragement to see that, despite having a different professional title, we all have a shared focus that all interventions aim to achieve the best possible care for those in our care. From a practical level, it has been good to be able to put names to faces, particularly as working in community offices could be at opposite ends of the Trust!


Something I have witnessed and learnt during this pandemic is that there is a time and place for various leadership styles.

When staff are anxious and concerned, there is a need for a leader to be strong and make decisions on behalf of others, particularly when staff feel overwhelmed by their current workload. In fact, sometimes taking this style of direct leadership can be a practical way to lead with care. However, this should only be a temporary measure as I have witnessed staff feeling ‘out of the loop’, an example is in relation to the use of PPE, on reflection this was due to the fast pace of change and communication at the beginning of the pandemic surge.. For a true collaborative approach all staff need to feel engaged and respected and this is certainly something I have witnessed multiple times in the last few months.

Since attending a workshop on Collective leadership, I recognised the need for leadership to be the responsibility of all and that compassion should form this basis. This is something that I experienced from those in leadership over me, and has challenged me to provide this leadership to the members of my team. I personally value honesty in all areas of my life and the last few months have highlighted to me the importance of this in leaders – no surprise that this is central to our Health and Social Care shared values.

Coping strategies and resilience

At the beginning of this pandemic, I think I undervalued the importance of self-care. I am naturally quite a resilient person, and so naively had the opinion that I would be fine.

What I did find, however, was I had underestimated the impact that listening to and dealing with my teams’ fears and anxieties for their wellbeing and for that of their families, would have on me. I found this overwhelming at times. And found that it was quite a lonely place to be in.

I find my faith an immense source of strength for me, and this time really highlighted how important it was to me, especially as I was unable to see family and friends. At the start of this pandemic, I decided that each day I would find something to be thankful for or something that had brought me joy that day- even if this was a free lunch in the canteen! I also introduced this into my team, with much amusement! This simple practice really showed me how that even on the worst of days, there is a something to be positive about and highlighted the importance of deconstructing a negative into a positive!

Gemma McClean, Community Sister
Hospital Diversion Nursing Team, Community Care, East Antrim

The Nightingale Challenge has been launched by Nursing Now – a programme of the Burdett Trust for Nursing to improve health globally in collaboration with the International Council of Nursing and the World Health Organisation.

@nhsctrust #NorthernNightingales
@NursingNow2020 #NursingNowNI #NightingaleChallenge

Northern Nightingales

2020 International Year of the Nurse and the Midwife logo

18th June 2020

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