I am an adult nursing student, and I am in the later stages of my third year. I am also a mature student, and I have found the pandemic challenging, to say the least. In previous placements, I have always found that teamwork allows me to enjoy the environment I am in because I am a very social person who likes to share what I have learned and wants to learn from others. A strong team has proven invaluable in facilitating this in the past, so it is something I always watch out for wherever my placements may be. So, it wasn’t a surprise that the effects of the pandemic on teamwork were a concern when heading off to placement, especially this time.
Before the pandemic, my placement was going to be in the Accident and Emergency Department, and I was so excited. Critical care and ED were my top desired management placements. But when Covid-19 hit all plans were cancelled, and everyone was so unsure of what next, myself included.
Either way, I was going to complete my course, come what may. So, like many others across the country, I opted in, not knowing what would happen next. At a hurried pace, we were all assigned new placements, and for me, I was allocated one in an area that I did not necessarily have a great deal of interest in. But I took to the challenge and decided I would make the most of it. Now, if you have ever been a student and you are reading this, you may be able to relate.
As I stood there being introduced to the team where I was going to be undertaking my next placement, I couldn’t help but feel very odd that I could not see their faces because of the masks covering them. My usual reassuring smile could not be seen, leaving me feeling anxious because I could not tell if my new teammates were smiling back under their masks.
As happy and frightened as I was to be there, this gave me a feeling of insecurity and a lack of confidence. I had not experienced these feelings since my very first placement in year one, and this took me back. Since that first placement, I would call ahead, visit the placement area, introduce myself and check who I would be working with. This time around, I had almost not been able to attend placement and just being there felt like a stroke of luck, all because of Covid-19 and the challenges it brought with it.
Being a part of the team has always been important to me because of the changing nature of our placements, and it did cross my mind how difficult it would be to get to know everybody and vice versa. Not being able to see my colleagues’ faces under their masks felt like a real bridge placed between us and the social distancing certainly was not going to help. Mainly because I would have to reintroduce myself on each shift and the connection just wasn’t forming like before.
Not only did I get so many people’s names wrong, when they were out of uniform, but I also couldn’t recognise them at all. All this led to a few apologies as people would pass me by on the corridor and when I said hello, they could not place where we had met as I had resorted to saying hello to everyone.
So fitting into a new team is not always straight forward and the challenges that we were all facing were alien on every side of the fence you looked from. Activities such as hoisting had to be well thought out with excellent communication to enable adequate safety while still maintaining social distancing. The uncertainty of how to conduct myself and decide if the other person was comfortable around me took a lot of body language reading and asking questions to clarify their position. Whether to keep my mask on in break areas or not?
Fortunately, this was taken well and reciprocated.
The guidelines changed almost daily, and sometimes it felt like a catching up game. What did help though was that the nurse leaders on duty daily updated us on any new working practices during handover safety huddles and chipped in when we were short of staff.
I especially witnessed this when a colleague came in not feeling so well, but the fact that we had a strong team meant that they could let us know how they felt and the rest of us having an okay day would help out where we could to get things done. Seeing everyone come together like this for the sake of a colleague, and ultimately our patients has really made me think of the kind of environment I want to work in. Such human behaviour is so admirable that after a few weeks, it didn’t seem so hard to get to know people. Largely, this was because we had gained mutual trust, and I knew that I would be well supported if I needed the help.
In hindsight, although it took longer than expected, I eventually felt a part of the team, and some of the strategies were as simple as communicating effectively what my needs were and being flexible. There are times I needed to weigh when to go on shadows and when not to, so I would not leave the ward short.
I felt that this was one of the disadvantages of being counted in the numbers. It carried some level of guilt and satisfaction to get to know what other teams were doing in dealing with the pandemic. This felt like an opportunity to come back onto the ward and replicate good teamwork practices among staff and patients.
A few other strategies were taking a few minute breaks to have a drink, which was a challenge due to the masks and an infection control issue (not to take masks off on the bays). Staff would have a drink and remind their partner to do the same, almost like a game of tag. The patients often commented about how harmonious the staff were, laughing and making the atmosphere of the ward light in what were trying times at best. This helped a lot, especially on days when we had a few people on shift. And whenever I would get a bay that was lighter, I would go and see if the others were okay and needed help. This rubbed off because others started doing the same. The main reason I felt confident enough to handle a patient who was not assigned to me was the comprehensive handover of all the patients on the ward.
Allocation of patients would come after handover, which meant we would all listen keenly. I had experienced different wards where only the bay you were assigned was handed over. I was not too fond of this system, and I finally understood why I did not feel confident enough to venture onto other bays, as I had no clue what to do with the other person’s patients.
Another area I found great teamwork, was with patients because we would encourage patients to remind us if we missed anything or they felt like they missed their families. This was because of visiting restrictions. Therefore, we were provided with mobile phones that could support video calling, and together we taught so many of our older patients to use smartphones. Something that I am so proud of, because this made them feel more independent, and that we were working with them towards their complete well-being.
As a final word, I would hope that the pandemic has managed to bring people together to find ways of “working well together”. I certainly have seen people come together in a way I did not expect, and this experience gives me a good standing in choosing where I work next and the clues that people give out showing the quality of their team-working behaviours. The pandemic may change our ways of working. Yet, we have also had an opportunity to support each other more, which shows the essence of nursing — compassion, not only to our patients, but also amongst ourselves as a collective.