Tag Archives: stress reactions

Football, Nursing and Clinical Supervision

When I started this blog in September 2012 I made a half-joke that watching Adelaide play in the AFL can inform clinical practice (see Number 8 meta4RN.com/about).

Well, as it turns out, this is absolutely true. Please let me explain. 

 

The Adelaide Crows, like all elite sporting teams, spend a lot of time preparing to play. For those unfamiliar with Australian Rules Football (AFL) it’s a fast, free-flowing, physical game that is played weekly during the winter months. Here’s a sample of play:

A game of AFL is played over four quarters, each lasting approximately 30 minutes (nominally each quarter is 20 minutes, but the clock stops when the ball is out of play). So, any player who stays on the ground for every moment of the game will play for two hours.

Guess how much time the player spends preparing for that two hours.

Crows warm-up at training. From left, Jarryd Lyons, Ian Callinan, Daniel Talia and Taylor Walker. Picture: Sarah Reed via Herald Sun.

Crows warm-up at training. From left, Jarryd Lyons, Ian Callinan, Daniel Talia and Taylor Walker. Picture: Sarah Reed via Herald Sun.

Think about what goes into preparation: recovery from the previous game, keeping-up and improving fitness levels, practicing individual skills, practicing team skills, discussing and developing team strategies, having coaches give feedback on what you did well and what areas could be improved, developing on-ground leadership and communication skills, nurturing confidence in yourself and your team-mates, learning about the team you’ll be playing against next week. The list goes on.

My brother, Bernie McNamara, has seen the Adelaide Crows up-close and personal over the last few years. Bern says that typically during the season a player will have about 25 contact hours each week with the club, and be expected to do about 10 hours of preparation away from the club.

So, each week, a diligent AFL player will spend  about 35 hours preparing for no more than 2 hours play.

How does that preparation:work ratio compare for clinicians?

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It’s not just the explicit hands-on knowledge that counts, it’s also very important that we make time for thinking-about, discussing and reflecting on our clinical roles. Clinicians, like footballers, have a desire to improve, but we may have to fight for support to do so. As noted at a recent seminar regarding clinical supervision, “in a time of austerity, high caseloads and increasing problems, the organisation is often satisfied with a ‘good enough’ (work task) rather than seeking excellence. This tends to reduce supervision to a control function rather than aspiring to best practice.” Source: Talking about supervision: conversations in Bolzano and London 

I have written about clinical supervision previously (in “Nurturing the Nurturers” meta4RN.com/nurturers), but perhaps undersold it – some have commented that it seems like a feel-good exercise for clinicians. There’s more to it than that.

Clinical supervision is a key component in providing high quality services with positive outcomes for those who use health services. Clinical supervision promotes a well trained, highly skilled and supported workforce, and adds to the development, retention and motivation of the workforce. High quality clinical supervision also contributes to meeting performance standards, meeting the expectations of consumers/carers/families and goes a long way towards developing a learning culture in a changing health care environment. Source: ClinicalSupervision

Clinical supervision guidelines are very modest compared to the preparation:work ratio of AFL footballers. Clinical supervision requires nothing like the investment of 35 hours of preparation for 2 hours of play, instead, it’s something like 1 hour of preparation for every 80 or 160 hours of work.

Are nurses, midwives and other clinicians worth the expense?

I’ve been thinking about this tweet lately:

I’m wondering whether we can tweak that sign a little – maybe something like this:

The Financial Perspective: “We can’t afford to spend money on nurses and midwives sitting around talking, thinking and reflecting.”

The Patient Safety Perspective: “We can’t afford not to.”

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As always, your feedback/comments are welcome.

Paul McNamara, 27th April 2014

Cyclone: Alert, Not Alarmed

Dear Mum and Dad (and anyone else who is interested),

outlookIn a couple of days you may see on the news that a cyclone has spun-up out in the Coral Sea. At the time of writing the cyclone is predicted but not named. The forecast map (see bottom of the page) suggests that Townsville is more likely to cop it than us.

I think it’s a good idea to put you as fully in the picture as I can. We kind of like the way cyclones get named: it seems to give them each a distinct personality. We’ve had a few cross the coast nearby since we moved to Cairns.

katrinaCyclone Katrina mucked around for a couple of weeks, but never got organised enough to cross the coast as a big blow. Katrina did not cause any deaths in Australia, but a man in Vanuatu lost his life in her rough seas, and hundreds of homes in the Solomon Islands were damaged or destroyed. We were OK in Australia.

800px-New_Orleans_ElevationsCyclone Katrina was much more benign than Hurricane Katrina. The other difference is that although Cairns is not a long way above the high tide mark, at least parts of it are not below the high tide mark as New Orleans is. That’s why so many people died because of Hurricane Katrina: it was not the wind, it was the water. That’s true of most cyclone deaths: flooding and drowning is where most danger lies.

CairnsHospital

Cairns Hospital, 165-171 Esplanade

Luckily we do not own a house on the beach front (there’s also the small matter of not having a lazy couple of million dollars lying around). Storm surges that coincide with cyclones can be a bit of a worry, but at least our place is not in a red zone like the local hospital. Feel free to check our address using storm tide surge address search/evacuation maps here or (just in case the council’s website goes offline) here.

justinThere was heaps of flooding after Cyclone Justin: I remember water lying around for days. Justin is responsible for lost lives In Papua New Guinea and a boat at sea. Closer to home an Innisfail boy was electrocuted by power lines bought down by the cyclone, and a lady was caught in a landslide near Townsville. All that rain and the buffeting wind was bad for crops and trees (some of which fell on to homes).

larryAfter Cyclone Larry we did not have power for five days. It’s amazing how often we still automatically reached for the light switch when entering a room. The reflex of a life time of luxury, I guess. Did you know that about 25% of the world’s population does not have electricity? Info about that here. Going a few days without electricity is a nuisance, but we know it will always come back on. We are better-off than many.

steveCyclone Steve made things a bit soggy for a few days too. The Barron Falls were pumping – if we get another cyclone crossing the coast be sure to checkout the webcam here for a view of the falls in full flood – spectacular! All the tourist operators trot out this cliché at this time of year: “You can’t have rainforest without rain!” It is the wet tropics, after all.

yasiCyclone Yasi looked like it was going to give Cairns a shake-up: so much so they even evacuated the hospitals - the biggest hospital evacuation in Australia’s history. Cairns was lucky that Yasi took a slight turn south before crossing the coast: Tully, Cardwell and Mission Beach really copped a belting though. Yasi was a big, powerful cyclone, but did not directly kill anyone. There was one indirect death: a young man suffocated after bringing a generator inside.

header_logoWe are used to preparing for cyclone season. Every year the Cairns City Council issues information about preparing for cyclones – it’s just part of the annual ritual. we have done it 19 times now.

We have enough food to last a few days. We have containers to store water in, if required. We have batteries for the radio, so we can stay informed about what’s going on if the power goes out. We live high above sea level. We take cyclones seriously. We are prepared.

imagesHowever, we don’t take the hyped-up TV coverage seriously. If the TV shows start shipping their main in-studio people up to Cairns for live crosses please switch of the telly. These shows need to create drama and suspense to make the story compelling, but the truth of it that it’s just weather. Weather that we’re used to. Weather that will be nuisance to many and maybe even dangerous to a few. However, the reality is that it will be more dangerous to drive to the airport to pick you up when you next visit than it is to live in a city with strict building regulations. Houses can still sustain major damage of course, but they don’t blow away anymore. Those images of houses completely blown away by Cyclone Tracy are a thing of the past: Tracy changed building codes right across the Australian tropics.

forecastPlease don’t be worried. Please don’t get seduced by the inevitable media hype. I’ll call/text when I can, and give live updates on Twitter using the @WePublicHealth handle if a cyclone comes close to Cairns this week, otherwise i will use my usual @meta4RN handle. The purpose of Tweeting will to be to provide a non-alarmist account of what’s going-on. The mainstream media are not very good at this, so (to borrow a term from Melissa Sweet ) it is up to citizen journalists to do so.

Well, citizen journalists and the Bureau of Meteorology, that is: www.bom.gov.au

Speak soon.

love, Paul

27th January 2014

Emotional Aftershocks

Warning: today I will take the risk of being ridiculed for over-sharing and being melodramatic (it’s a grand tradition amongst bloggers).

8683188_lgCrap Day at Work

Recently at work I spent a bit of time wondering whether I, one of my nursing colleagues, or one of the hospital patients or visitors was going to sustain a life-threatening brain injury at the hands of a man brandishing a fire extinguisher as if it were a weapon. Fire extinguishers are generally thought of as potentially life-saving devices. However, when a fire extinguisher is being held at shoulder height by a tall, fit, powerful young man on a violent rampage in a medical ward they don’t look like life-savers.

Fire extinguishers weigh 9kg and are made of steel. The fire extinguisher this man was holding looked a lot like a skull-cracking device to me. It was the most frightening workplace incident I have experienced.

I have been a nurse for 25 years. Like many nurses I have been struck while at work (39% of nurses have experienced physical violence according to this recent Australian survey, 36% worldwide says this quantitative review). I am lucky: I have only been hit by frail people with delirium or dementia, so have never been hurt – just surprised and amused. To illustrate: once, an elderly lady forgot I was the nurse making her bed, and suddenly started punching me (with the strength of a wet kitten) saying, “Stop it Malcolm! Don’t take my money from under the mattress and go to the pub again! You’re such a bastard Malcolm!” It was pretty funny – always wondered whether Malcolm was a memory from her past or a distortion of the present (probably a bit of both).

Zero Tolerance is Unrealistic and Unfair

I am not a fan of being abused or hit, but think that the “Zero Tolerance” campaigns that have popped-up in health services in Australia over the last 5-10 years are unrealistic and unfair.

This shouty "ZERO TOLERANCE NO EXCUSE FOR ABUSE" poster hangs in the main corridor of a medical ward, adjacent to the nurses station.

This shouty “ZERO TOLERANCE NO EXCUSE FOR ABUSE” poster hangs in the main corridor of a medical ward, adjacent to the nurses station.

Unrealistic because it is inevitable that health services, hospitals especially, will have a large percentage of patients who have cognitive and perceptual deficits due to the very medical condition that has them bought them to the health facility in the first place. More than half of older persons admitted to hospital will experience delirium, and about 9% of the over-65s (a significant component of health service users) have dementia. Often these people will not have the cognitive capacity to discriminate between friend and foe, and will, at times, lash out to defend themselves against a perceived threat. We can look out for the warning signs and be proactive in protecting ourselves, but we can not expect to transfer responsibility for our safety onto someone who does not have the cognitive capacity to even keep themselves safe.

In the health system it is very common to be spending time with people who are having the most traumatic, frightening and disempowering day(s) of their life. It would be lovely for staff if everyone experiencing acute emotional distress expressed their emotions in a clear, calm and composed manner, but is it realistic?

The “zero tolerance” concept is unfair because it is not reciprocated. We (that’s “we” as in “we the health system”) require patients and their loved-ones to be incredibly tolerant of us. Think waiting lists, physical discomfort, unplanned delays, unclear communication, unmet expectations, cancelled procedures, lack of privacy, lack of dignity, lack of control, lack of compassion, lack of progress… the list could go on. Can you find me a health facility where no patient has ever experienced these things? Our health system relies on people being tolerant – this “zero tolerance” malarkey doesn’t allow for a bit of crap.

Care and Crap

"Nursing ring theory: Care goes in. Crap goes out." courtesy of http://www.impactednurse.com/?p=5755 [thank you Ian]

“Nursing ring theory: Care goes in. Crap goes out.” courtesy of http://www.impactednurse.com/?p=5755 [thank you Ian]

Instead of zero tolerance, it is more realistic to expect that patients will occasionally need to vent their emotions. Not just the pleasant emotions like love, joy, gratitude and kindness, but also the less comfortable human emotions like grief, anger, sadness, worry, despair, frustration, fear, pain and hate. For these emotions swear words are adjectives, a raised voice is empowering, tears are cathartic.

In “Nursing Ring Theory” (more info here: impactednurse.com) when someone is in a ring that is smaller than the ring you are in you offer support, compassion, care and skilful expertise. When someone is in a ring that is larger than yours you are allowed to ventilate your emotions with them. It is pure client centred care: everyone sends care going towards the direction of the patient and accepts that there will be crap coming out at times.

This acknowledgement of crap coming out is not an offer to hold out nurses and other health care workers as targets for abuse. That’s not OK. However, let’s shelf the zero tolerance crap: of course we’re tolerant of people ventilating their emotions. All we ask is that nobody is put at risk and those closest to direct patient care also have an avenue to safely ventilate their crap.

In ring theory care goes towards the patient and crap moves away from the patient. Proximity to the centre of the ring will be a fair predictor of the intensity of both care and crap.

Fire Extinguisher Guy* 

Fire extinguisher guy is admitted to a medical ward for investigation of possible neurological disorder, but it might be something mental health related. So the Consultation Liaison CNC (me) spent a lot of time talking to fire extinguisher guy before the violent outburst, and again afterwards.

Fire extinguisher guy works hard, is creative, can be warm and funny at times; sadness, anger and tears bubble-up during our conversation then settle quickly. Talking to someone is both distressing and helpful, says fire extinguisher guy. He wants to get these strong, bouncing-all-over-the-place emotions under better control. Fire extinguisher guy’s experience of terrible abuse in childhood and his recent over-the-top cannabis and alcohol use wouldn’t be helping his labile hypomanic symptoms.

Fire extinguisher guy isn’t an unlikable person – he has a job, a car, a girlfriend, workmates, footy mates, other friends and a family. Fire extinguisher guy and the people who love him are all normal people. Fire extinguisher guy is one of the 20% of Australians who will experience problems with their mental health this year.

I am really grateful that fire extinguisher guy made the choice to direct his violence at property and not people. He had the capacity to make a very bad decision to hurt somebody; he chose not to. The only person physically harmed during this violent outburst was fire extinguisher guy himself: cuts from punching glass, bruises from punching and kicking windows, doors and walls of the medical ward.

I can’t figure out how long fire extinguisher guy’s violent outburst lasted. Replaying the scene in my mind I guess it was less than 2 minutes, but it’s like time measured in dog years… even though everything happened very quickly it somehow felt like slow motion too.

The fire extinguisher had been hurled into a storeroom doorway (THUD! CRACK!), the outburst was tentatively over, and fire extinguisher guy’s mum and i were lightly holding him and talking to him quietly when security arrived. Fire extinguisher guy allowed us to lead to him to an empty room and was cooperative with all of our suggestions and interventions. He apologised first to me, then to each of the other clinicians who provided care in those first couple of hours after the event. His apologies were heartfelt. He let the nurses, the doctor and the cleaner go about their business uninterrupted: his wounds were dressed, he accepted oral medications to dampen the intensity of his emotions, the blood and broken glass were cleaned-up, the other patients and visitors were reassured, detailed file entries were made, incident reports were filled-in, and negotiations between various members of the hospital’s multidisciplinary team were underway. The request for transfer off the medical ward could not be accommodated, but the insistence on two security guards overnight for staff and patient safety was.

Those of us up-close-and-personal to the incident took a couple of moments to exchange thoughts, but we tried not to get too bogged down in feelings at the time – it’s the beginning of the shift and fire extinguisher guy is just one of many patients on this busy medical ward.

Hole punched in the wall? No problem! One of the nurses covered the hole with this poster. Nurses are good at irony.

Hole punched in the wall? No problem! One of the nurses covered the hole with this poster. Nurses are good at irony.

There is a hole in the wall that fire extinguisher guy created by punching it. One of the senior nurses on the medical ward covers the hole in with an anti-violence poster. We all laugh at the delicious irony and get on with our jobs.

As with the poster covering the hole, we crudely paper-over the cracks… it’s not fixing a problem, just covering it over… that’s good enough for now.

Emotional Aftershocks

In the days that follow I find myself a bit preoccupied at times thinking about the event. Get teary every now and then when I think of what could have happened: those skull-cracking thoughts are the worst bit… acquired brain injury anyone?

Skull-cracking thoughts are from my fear and imagination not from what actually happened.

That’s a good reminder. Keep saying that.

I’m OK: no flashbacks, no vivid dreams, no avoidance, no hyperarousal. I was back at work the next day (left a few hours early because I stayed back a few hours with fire extinguisher guy the night before). I’m seeing patients in the same medical and surgical wards, spending time with my very supportive colleagues.

I’m OK: I’m resisting the urge to quietly whisper to every fire extinguisher in the hospital, “Stay where you are my little red friend. Stay gently hooked on the wall. Do not allow yourself to be raised higher than my head. Please don’t go violently leaping about medical wards – people don’t like that THUD! CRACK! sound you make. Stay exactly where you are my little red friend.”

I’m OK: I’ve told the story a few times now – it’s losing its potency. The funny bit about the poster is good – every story needs a punchline (you’re welcome). The scary bit about the fire extinguisher is getting less vivid – it feels more like a story from the past now. It’s turning into a half-joke about fire extinguishers staying on walls exactly where they belong.

I’m OK: the only thing I’ve noticed is a bit of kummerspeck (great word, eh?). Kummerspeck is a German word that literally translates as “grief-bacon” – it refers to the weight gained through emotional over-eating. I’ve had to let my belt out a notch, and my favourite shirt feels too tight. Still going to the gym, so it must be the eating, Better keep an eye on that.

Yeah yeah yeah. If you’re so OK why are you blogging about it?

Part of the motivation is catharsis. Very self-indulgent, I know.

More importantly, senior clinicians should offer information and support that will empower and protect junior clinicians. Just a few days after the most frightening workplace incident I have experienced these two tweets popped-up on Twitter:

I do not know either of these people IRL (In Real Life), but I do feel a tremendous responsibility towards Emily, Dani and any other nearly-nurse who is as enthusiastic and passionate as these two. But what to say to Emily and Dani? How do we nurture them safely into our profession and keep their enthusiasm intact?

Nursing – mental health nursing especially – needs people like Emily and Dani.

Sharing a battle story is not enough.

Referring to a patient as “fire extinguisher guy” is not a good example to set (more about that later – look for the red asterisk*).

As a senior nurse I should be supportive and encouraging to Dani, Emily and other enthusiastic nearly-nurses, and also be providing safety-tips and useful hints. I have two:

One: Make Like a Boy Scout

Be prepared.

Be prepared for some fantastic days at work where you’ll glide home feeling like you’re doing the most important and rewarding work that any one human can do. Those will be the days where you will use your knowledge-base, your skill-set and (most importantly) yourself to make a profoundly positive difference in somebody’s life. That person might never forget you.

Not every nurse gets exposed to violence or abuse, but you’ll see it up-close-and-personal through your patient’s eyes sometimes. Nurses do emotional labour: be prepared for the emotional aftershocks that come with the job. Find out about stress reactions and how to be pro-active in protecting yourself. I have an old, kind-of-dicky resource to share with you here, but you might find something better.

Two. Nurture the Nurturer

I’ve written about this before: meta4RN.com/nurturers

I am so angry that my nurse and midwife colleagues don’t have ready access to clinical supervision as a tool to reflect on practice and keep themselves (and their patients) safe. People say it would be too expensive to provide clinical supervision to every nurse who wants it, but there is huge cost already being paid. This cost (in terms of relationship stress, sleep disturbance, emotional trauma, anxiety, depression, substance use and kummerspeck) is being borne by individual nurses and the people who love them. Clinical supervision allows another way – through guided reflective practice many of these costs can be prevented.

I don’t see why looking after a nurse’s practice and emotional self through regular confidential support with a trusted colleague would be any less important than looking after a nurse’s back. Australian health facilities all have tools, time and training devoted to safe lifting, it is time to provide tools, time and training devoted to safe thinking.

Clinical supervision is available to mental health nurses, but not nurses in general hospital wards. In his epic novel Catch-22, Joseph Heller wrote:

People knew a lot more about dying inside the hospital, and made a much neater, more orderly job of it. They couldn’t dominate Death inside the hospital, but they certainly made her behave. They had taught her manners. They couldn’t keep death out, but while she was in she had to act like a lady. People gave up the ghost with delicacy and taste inside the hospital.

It is the nurses that make death and illness more neat, orderly and ladylike.

It is the nurses who paper-over the holes punched in the walls.

It is the nurses who stay on the ward to make sure that care keeps going in.

The nurses should be provided with an avenue to let crap out.

Guided reflective practice (aka clinical supervision) should be available for all nurses and midwives.

Closing Remarks

I would like to leave the story there because I have waffled-on for a long time already. However, it is necessary to address two tricky subjects raised in this blog post: [1] mental health and violence, and [2] my use of “fire extinguisher guy” when referring to a hospital patient.

Mental Health and Violence

Let’s get the facts straight:

  • the overwhelming majority of people who experience mental health problems are not violent: never have been and never will be
  • most violence is not perpetrated by people with a mental health problem
  • people who experience mental health problems are more likely to be victims of violence than perpetrators

I started specialist education in mental health nursing in 1993 and have spent most (not all) of my career working in clinical mental health nurse positions since then. I have never been physically assaulted by a person experiencing mental health problems. Never. However, earlier in the week there was a newspaper article reporting that “half of the nurses working on hospital psychiatric wards are themselves suffering from mental illnesses such as post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and anxiety.” I know that I have been more fortunate than some of my colleagues.

There are lots of myths and misunderstandings about mental health and violence. Please scroll to the bottom of the post for evidence-based resources and references.

Explanatory Note re the use of “Fire Extinguisher Guy”*

Using the term “Fire Extinguisher Guy” protects confidentiality and is, obviously, an irreverent, playful way to refer to a person. I don’t think this is wise for somebody creating a professional social media portfolio – somebody might think I’m being disrespectful.

Yet, here i am doing it anyway. Why?

Irreverence, humour and playfulness can be useful defence mechanisms: used correctly they can trivialise the other/traumatic events and empower the self. During the event I did what I could (very little) to assist this man to regain control and to keep himself and others safe from physical harm. It would not be useful to dwell on how powerless and vulnerable we all were at that time. I spent many hours talking to the man both before and after the event and treated him with kindness, respect and dignity.

Care goes in. Crap goes out.

This blog post is some crap coming out.

End

As always, your comments and feedback are welcome (scroll down).

Paul McNamara, 11th August 2013

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References and Resources re Mental Health and Violence

SANE Australia have a very readable resource, downloadable fact sheet and MP3 file here

Queensland MIND Essentials includes a resource for nurses and midwives caring for a person who is aggressive or violent here

The references below are via Australia’s Mindframe National Media Initiative:

New South Wales Health. (2003). Tracking tragedy: A systemic look at suicides and homicides amongst mental health inpatients. First report of the NSW Mental Health Sentinel Events Review Committee.

Walsh, E., Buchanan, A., & Fahy, T. (2002). Violence and schizophrenia: Examining the evidence. British Journal of Psychiatry, 180, 490-495.

Noffsinger, S. G., & Resnick, P. J. (1999). Violence and mental illness. Current Opinion in Psychiatry, 12, 683-687.

Brennan, P. A., Mednick, S. A., & Hodgins, S. (2000). Major mental disorders and criminal violence in a Danish birth cohort. Archives of General Psychiatry, 57, 494-500.

Nurturing the Nurturers

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about how we nurture those who nurture: nurses and midwives especially. It’s a subject that has popped-up in a couple of journal articles, on social media (including my recent blog), and in conversations at work.

Before we think about nurturing nurses, let’s think about miners.

Believe it or not, the mining industry with its big burly blokey image has some valuable lessons in nurturing for us namby-pamby health industry types.

Pit Head Baths + Pit Head Time

Back about 100 years ago Welsh coal miners said to their bosses, “We work hard in your mines all day. We get sweaty and covered head to toe with coal dust from your coal mines. Then we go home and use our time, our bath, our laundry to get cleaned up. It’s a mess of your making, shouldn’t the daily cleanup be your expense?”

Then, as now, the mining industry bosses threw their collective hands in the air and said, “No! We can’t afford to do that! Your excessive demands will send us broke!”

So the miners went on strike.

And stayed on strike until, eventually, the mining companies installed pit head baths so miners could get cleaned-up and changed in the boss’s time, using the boss’s resources. It’s called “Pit Head Time”: it’s enshrined in award conditions for miners and pit head baths are just part of the infrastructure of mines.

Todd and Brandt clocking-off.

Todd and Brandt clocking-off.

Remember the Beaconsfield miners emerging clean and shiny after a fortnight underground? They clocked-off AFTER getting cleaned and changed. The infrastructure is in place – somewhere between the working part of the mine and the clocking-on/off area is a shower and change room – the pit head baths. The miners clock-off by moving their tag from the red “underground”  section of the board to the “safe” green area of the board. That’s how pit head time works – you clock-off after you’ve cleaned-up.

"Care for the Caretaker" generously shared by Kath Evans via Twitter: https://twitter.com/KathEvans2

“Care for the Caretaker” generously shared by Kath Evans via Twitter: https://twitter.com/KathEvans2

So what?

Nurses don’t usually get covered in coal dust.

Nurses do emotional labour.

Nurses get covered head to toe in the emotional experiences of people who are, very often, having the worst, most traumatic, day(s) in their life.

Shouldn’t nurses get cleaned-up on the boss’s time too?

Clinical Supervision

Clinical Supervision is the name given to the process of cleaning-up after doing emotional labour.

Clinical Supervision is a slightly clumsy name for it, because the word “supervision” implies scrutiny. Nurses are a bit thingy about scrutiny. Nursing was born in the church and raised by the military – it has shameful history of bombastic, bullying, bellowing scrutiny. Nursing and feminism (ie: the gender equality movement) have fought hard to overcome the worst of some very bad power imbalances. That’s why it’s understandable that some nurses are cautious about volunteering for something called “Clinical Supervision” without understanding it fully.

Clinical Supervision does go by some nom de plumes: “Supported Reflective Practice” and “Guided Reflective Practice” being the most common alternatives I’ve come across. Whatever the nomenclature, they each generally attend to the same task – assisting and supporting the clinician to reflect on their work, with the intent of keeping them and their practice safe.

ProctorCSBrigid Proctor is considered one of the rock stars of Clinical Supervision, mostly because she had the capacity to simply articulate the primary functions of Clinical Supervision.

The Formative Function of Clinical Supervision (learning) attends to developing skills, abilities and understandings through reflecting on clinical practice. We don’t know what we don’t know; sometimes it is only through reflecting on our work with a trusted colleague that we get a glimpse of some of our blind spots.

The Normative Function of Clinical Supervision (accountability) is concerned with maintaining the effectiveness and safety of the clinician. Sometimes we need a trusted colleague to prompt us to revisit clinical practice guidelines, policies, procedures and legislation as a way to make sure we’re working within expected norms in everyday practice.

The Restorative Function of Clinical Supervision (support) addresses the inevitable emotional response to the privilege, the frustrations, the joys, and the stresses of working in a caring, nurturing role. Sometimes it is only through discussing our work with a trusted colleague that we recognise the emotional effects of our work, and learn how to manage our reflex responses.

It is the restorative function of clinical supervision that I value the most. By (metaphorically) cleaning-up the dust and grime I get covered in doing emotional labour, I feel that I am being nurtured, sustained. By being nurtured in the workplace not only do I avoid spending my entire wage at Dan Murphy’s bottle shop as a maladaptive coping strategy, but it also equips me with the capacity to nurture others.

http://www.psychologyboard.gov.au/documents/default.aspx?record=WD12%2F7465&dbid=AP&chksum=wn1dw%2FoJV9PLEAY7hO5kJw%3D%3DIn some workplaces (mine included) there have been attempts made to make Clinical Supervision part of the infrastructure, just like the showers and change rooms the Beaconsfield miners used. If you’re interested in an example of what the infrastructure for assisting clean-up after emotional labour looks like, take a look at the Queensland Health (2009) Clinical Supervision Guidelines for Mental Health Services [PDF].

I know that many of my Nurse and Midwife colleagues don’t have this infrastructure available to them, and I can’t understand why. If it’s good enough for miners to have pit head baths and pit head time, surely it’s good enough for Nurses and Midwives to have Clinical Supervision.

Shouldn’t we be nurturing the nurturers?

Paul McNamara, 15th January 2013

That Was Bloody Stressful! What’s Next?

It was 1998 when the decision was made to use comic sans and screen beans in this staff resource... the idea was to make a heavy subject accessible. Please don't judge me.

It was 1998 when the decision was made to use comic sans and screen beans in this staff resource… the idea was to make a heavy subject accessible. Please don’t judge me.

Gather around children, Uncle Paul has a story to tell…

No! Don’t run away! It’ll be quick, I promise!

Back in the late 1990s I was working as a Nurse Educator in Community Health – it was good to get back in touch with general nursing after a few years in mental health. One of the things that popped-up at the time was that some staff (both clinical and non-clinical) were getting pretty stressed-out at work, usually because of work-related stuff. My boss at the time was keen to tap-into my background in mental health to see if it was something we could address as an organisation.

Some of the nurses, indigenous health workers, admin officers and cleaners I chatted to at the time made it clear that they didn’t want to show their vulnerabilities to clients, colleagues or management for fear of being thought of as weak or unable to cope. Staff asked for information and support that could be accessed discretely, without it being necessary to disclose anything to anyone at work.

One nurse put it succinctly: “This place is bloody stressful. There’s no avoiding it. We know we’ll cop stress, we just don’t know what to do about it; about what comes next.”

That’s how the staff resource, That Was Bloody Stressful! What’s Next? was born. Since 1998 it has been on the workplace intranet. We told people how to find it, “Just search for ‘bloody stressful’ on QHEPS”, and asked that they pass the tip on to workmates. It has sometimes been used with general hospital patients too – feedback is that some patients find it validating to know that staff can relate, in part at least, to their experience of having a stress reaction after a traumatic event.

Over recent years information about the organisation’s employee assistance program has become much more visible and easy to access on the intranet; so much so that a dinky, amateurish, screen-bean & comic-sans laden little PDF with 10-year-old references probably isn’t really necessary anymore. Nevertheless, we made the decision a couple of months ago to keep it available because each month a dozen people or more search the organisation’s intranet using these key words: bloody stressful.

Here is what they find: BloodyStressful

Perhaps you’re wondering why, in 2013, I have decided to liberate this shabby-looking resource from the intranet to share with the internet. Well, nurses experiencing secondary traumatisation popped up as a topic in a Twitterchat last month, in a Google+ community a week ago, and again on Twitter this morning.

Nurses do emotional labour. Maybe we should pool our thoughts and resources about how best to manage the effects of this.

Paul McNamara, 4th January 2013