Tag Archives: emotional labour

She ignored her emotions while labelling his corpse #8WordStory 

Look. I’m a terribly busy and important person.

I barely have time to write this blog post, let alone satisfy my lazily-never-pursued fantasy of writing a novel.

Luckily, the Queensland Writers Centre offered a solution: the eight word story.

Eight words is the perfect length for somebody with the attention span of a stoned goldfish (eg: me).

Yesterday, one of my eight word stories was published by the Queensland Writers Centre. Published on electronic billboards, that is. Billboards that grace the busy roads, roundabouts and motorways in and around Brisneyland.

Billboard at Bowen Bridge Road, Hertson

The story published was one of three stories I submitted on Twitter for the #8WordStory project.

THREE whole stories! That’s TWENTY FOUR words, you know! #TypistCramp

Intentionally, all three of the stories relate to my work experiences. When writing these stories I was ambitious to be ambiguous. When there are only eight words to write, the reader needs to be able to bring their imagination to the story.

Interestingly, the story that was the most ambiguous of the three is the one that made it to the billboards.

#8WordStory x3

She ignored her emotions while labelling his corpse. [source]

I wrote this remembering my experiences of being with patients during the last hours of their life and for the first hours of their death. Nursing’s unique role of caring for a person’s body both in life and death is rarely spoken about or acknowledged. It’s one of those peculiar privileges of nursing.

The story is ambiguous enough for people to project their own meaning (eg: Lea’s tongue-in-cheek Tweet). I’m cool with that.

Impersonating a calm person, the nurse continued working. [source]

I was thinking of a young medical ward RN who had just intervened when a patient tried to harm himself. We had a quick “corridor consult”. She asked a couple of unanswerable questions, shed a couple of tears, wiped her eyes, washed her hands, then assumed her usual energetic and positive demeanour.

One minute there’s a crisis. Next minute it’s business as usual.

Hold and contain three things: the crisis, the patient, your emotions (not necessarily in that order).

The midwife didn’t smile until he heard crying. [source]

About 1 in every 60 Australian midwives is a male. I thought it would be more interesting and ambiguous to cite that minority in this story.

Crying is usually considered in a negative light in mainstream society, but midwives know crying as a sign of life.

Billboard on Lutwyche Road, Lutwyche

My 15 minutes 8 words of fame.

Billboard on Beaudesert Road, Moorooka

The story provides the frame. The imagination does the work.

Billboard on Logan Road, Upper Mount Gravatt

Finishing-Up

Why don’t you give an #8WordStory a go too? Submit yours via Twitter or web page.

Big shout-out to the Queensland Writers Centre for this great initiative.

Thanks for reading this far. As always, feedback is welcome via the comments section below.

End

Paul McNamara, 3rd November 2017

Short URL: meta4RN.com/8WordStory

Phatic Chat: embiggening small talk.

Small talk is a big deal.

Small talk is the oil that keeps the machinery of interpersonal relationships running smoothly.

Small talk even has its own name. It’s called “phatic chat”.

Phatic chat has been described as “A type of speech in which ties of union are created by a mere exchange of words”  by Bronislaw Malinowski (no relation to Barry Manilow). This is why I think it’s important that us health professionals be intentional about phatic chat.

Every, “Hello. My name is…” and “How are you today?” serves to create a working relationship between people. Health professionals rely on working, therapeutic relationships.

Academics (god bless their cotton socks) have even gone to the effort of researching and naming 12 functions of phatic communication (source):

(1) breaking the silence
(2) starting a conversation
(3) making small talk
(4) making gossip
(5) keeping talking
(6) expressing solidarity
(7) creating harmony
(8) creating comfort
(9) expressing empathy
(10) expressing friendship
(11) expressing respect
(12) expressing politeness

When we think about phatic chat in the health care setting, it’s not just a social lubricant, we can also see it as a stand-alone form of therapy. Think of phatic chat as the nonspecific factors of psychotherapy

BTW: “nonspecific factors of psychotherapy” an actual thing, let me google that for you: here

Phatic chat/the nonspecific factors of psychotherapy show the person that there is someone who is interested in them and their concerns. It helps people feel understood, accepted and respected. In my current gig – providing mental health support in the general hospital – I often get told by patients how good it is to be nursed by someone who is good at phatic chat.

It’s easy to imagine, isn’t it? Who would you rather attend to your vital signs, IV antbiotics, wound dressings, and pain relief in hospital: a friendly person who chats and listens, or someone unfriendly and officious who just goes about the tasks at hand? There’s more than one way to prime an IV line.

It sounds simple, and (to my ear anyway) pretty patronising. However, it’s clear that many clinicians do not routinely engage in phatic chat.

You may already know the story of Kate Grainger. Briefly, for those who don’t, Kate was a doctor in the UK who tweeted her experience of living with a terminal illness. One of the many observations she made was that it was refreshing, but actually pretty unusual, for hospital staff to introduce themselves by name and role when they came to see you in your hospital bed. That observation lead to this tweet:

That simple idea has been one of Kate’s greatest legacies (she died in 2016).

If you’re not familiar with the #hellomynameis story, I urge you to visit the hellomynameis.org.uk website for more info.

#hellomynameis = a very successful campaign promoting phatic chat in healthcare

I live and work a long way from the UK. Although I don’t wear a #hellomynameis badge, I borrow heavily from the idea that phatic chat is important, and toss-in a few more Aussie-fied ways to go about using it in the hospital setting. As argued above, phatic chat is important for building relationships and can be therapeutic in and of itself. Sometimes to be culturally safe you need to try a little harder to facilitate trust and rapport. With that in mind. here’s 4 ideas that usually (not always) work for me:

One

“Are you Cyril? G’day my name is Paul McNamara, I’m a nurse with the psych team here at the hospital. Is it OK if we sit down and have a bit of yarn?”

Two

Shaking hands is a respectful thing to do. I always offer a handshake when introducing myself to patients (they’re often surprised!).

Don’t worry infection control peeps, I’ve got that covered: meta4RN.com/hygiene

Three (this is my second favourite: I stole it from Professor Ernest Hunter)

Make a cup of tea for the patient. Even if they say “no thanks”, let them know that you’re making one for yourself anyway, so are happy to make them one while you’re at it. Take instructions on how the person likes it . Apologise if you make it too hot/strong/weak or spill it. Sip yours when they’re talking: if for no other reason, it let’s them know you’re not about to interrupt.

This might be the best journal article ever written by a psychiatrist:
Hunter, E (2008) The Aboriginal tea ceremony: its relevance to psychiatric practice. Australasian Psychiatry, 16:2, doi: 10.1080/10398560701616221
Despite the paper’s title, the same demonstrations of humbleness, politeness and respect work for whitefellas too.

Four (this is my favourite: I made this one up myself)

I nearly always use when Google Maps when introducing myself to people who have come to the hospital from out of town. “Oh you’re from Aurukun? I’ve been to Wujal Wujal, Laura and Hope Vale, but I’ve never been there. Do you mind if we use this map on my phone to see where you live?” It’s nearly always a great way to break the ice, especially when meeting with someone from a different culture. It sets the right tone of showing that you’re interested and approachable.

I’m lucky to work in a place where I meet with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people all the time. By getting the Aboriginal/Torres Strait Islander person to show me around their community on a map, I’m acknowledging/demonstrating that they know stuff that I don’t know, and I’m prepared to learn from them. Sometimes I’m a bit more skilled at using the Google map app on my phone, so I get to show the person how I can be helpful, in a kind and respectful way. It probably doesn’t hurt that we’re both looking at the map together and working on the same task (it demonstrates that we can work together, and you don’t want to rush into making a heap of eye contact with someone you’ve just met). While we’re using the app to find their house, the local school, favourite fishing or camping spot, and other landmarks we’re getting to know each other a bit. I’m not left in that clumsy position of being accidentally too pushy, too intrusive, too task-orientated.

Spending a few minutes establishing rapport is what phatic chat is all about. The phone/map app is just a prop, but it’s a great prop.

In Closing

That’s it.

A while back I had a gig educating uni students. One of the best tricks-of-the-trade when in a uni lecturer role is to introduce people to words they have not heard before. This makes you look cleverer than you really are, and lends an illusion of credibility.

So, with that in mind, my call-to arms for health professionals is this:

Let’s embiggen phatic chat!
It’s a perfectly cromulent thing to do. 🙂

Acknowledgement

The phrase/notion of “phatic chat” as a defence against the forces that seek to turn nurses into unempathetic box-ticking robots came to my attention via Professor Eimear Muir-Cochrane’s keynote presentation at the ACMHN 39th International Mental Health Nursing Conference, held in Perth, Western Australia, 22nd-24th October 2013.

Storify of the keynote here: storify.com/meta4RN/zero

Follow Professor Eimear Muir-Cochrane on Twitter here: @eimearmuirc

End

As always your thoughts/feedback is welcome in the comments section below.

Paul McNamara, 12th October 2017

Short URL https://meta4RN.com/phatic

 

 

Hand Hygiene and Mindful Moments

Nurses and other health professionals are expected to attend to hand hygiene about eleventy seven times a day. The WHO and HHA recommend 5 moments for hand hygiene: before touching a patient, before clean/aseptic procedures, after body fluid exposure/risk, after touching a patient, and after touching patient surroundings. 57.4% of Australia’s nurses/midwives are hospital/ward-based [source], they’re doing A LOT of hand hygiene. 

On top of that, while they’re going about their business and busyness, ward-based nurses are interrupted 10 times an hour [source]. Yep, every 6 minutes there’s something or somebody distracting us from our tasks and thoughts. Dangerously disorderly much? Hopefully that doesn’t happen to neurosurgeons, commercial airline pilots, tattoo artists or Batman.
Especially Batman. 

batman

Pro-Tip: most of us can not do this at work. Only respond to distractions with face-slapping if you are Batman.

So, here’s the idea: if you’re going to do hand hygiene dozens of times a day anyway, don’t just do it for your patients: do it for yourself too. We’re not cold callous reptilian clinicians, we’re educated warm-blooded mammals who do emotional labour. We need to nurture ourselves if we are to safely continue to nurture others.

poster1

5 moments for hand hygiene & head hygiene!

Turn the 5 moments of hand hygiene into mindful moments. Make the 5 moments for hand hygiene 5 moments for head hygiene too. Yes, clean hands save lives – let’s not forget that clear heads save lives too!

Come up with a process/script that works for you, maybe something a bit like this: 

Mindful Moment (The 30-Second Handrub Version) 

  1. Step towards the pump bottle with intent. This is my mindful moment. I’m taking a brief break. 
  2. Squirt enough to squish. 
  3. The rub is slippery at first. Frictionless fingers feel fine.
  4. Feel the product texture and temperature. The rub is cooler than the air. The rub is cooler than my fingers. It feels nice. 
  5. Start with cleaning. The first half of my hand hygiene routine is about rubbing stuff off. Let the stuff I want to get rid of float away. 
  6. Move on to restoration, healing. The second half of my hand hygiene routine is about rubbing in resilience and health. Let the stuff that sustains me seep into my skin. 
  7. Check in on the breathing. The slower and deeper the better. If the breathing or the brain are running too fast, slow down and repeat steps 5 and 6. 
  8. There’s no rush. Slowly scan the surroundings. With any luck someone from infection control is watching. 
  9. Smile.
  10. Breathing slowly, its time let the air rinse off the residue. 
  11. One more slow breath. Its time to get back to work. 

Mindful Minute (The 60-Second Handwash Version)

  1. Step towards the sink with intent. This is my mindful minute. I’m taking a brief break. 
  2. Let the water flow.
  3. Feel the water flowing over both hands. The water’s warmer than the air. The water’s warmer than my fingers. It feels nice. 
  4. Add soap. It’s slippery. Frictionless fingers feel fine.
  5. Start with cleaning. The first half of your hand hygiene routine is about washing stuff away. Let the stuff you need to get rid of flow down the drain. Let it flow away. 
  6. Move on to restoration, healing. The second half of my hand hygiene routine is about rubbing in resilience and health. Let the stuff that sustains me seep into my skin. 
  7. Check in on the breathing. The slower and deeper the better. If the breathing or the brain are running too fast, slow down and repeat steps 5 and 6. 
  8. There’s no rush. Slowly scan the surroundings. With any luck someone from infection control is watching. 
  9. Smile.
  10. Breathing slowly, its time rinse both hands. 
  11. Breathing slowly, its time to thoroughly dry both hands together. 
  12. Throw the towel in the bin.
  13. One more slow breath. Its time to get back to work. 
poster2

Clean hands save lives. Clear heads save lives too!

Acknowledgements & Context

This is not my original idea. I first stumbled across the idea of combining hand hygiene with head hygiene via Ian Miller‘s November 2013 blog post “mindfulness during handwashing”: http://thenursepath.com/2013/11/18/mindfulnurse-day-8/. I’ve been using the idea myself and suggesting it to colleagues and students ever since. When I left the clinical environment for a few months, I found myself really missing intentionally punctuating my day with mindful moments. Since returning to clinical practice I’ve come to appreciate the strategy even more than I did when I first started using it 3 years ago.

So why am I blogging about it too? Why now? Well, on Monday I attended the Australasian College for Infection Prevention and Control 2016 conference to chat about Twitter [link to that presentation here. Also, check-out the #ACIPC16 hashtag here and here]. Luckily I was there for the opening plenary sessions, and was pleasantly surprised at the emotional/psychological literacy that was being displayed and advocated for. The opening presentations by Peter Collignon, Mary Dixon Woods and Didier Pittet all went to some lengths to emphasise the importance of emotional intelligence, constructive communication and building relationships. It was really impressive stuff; giving the hand hygiene and mindful moments idea a remix is my way to give recognition/thanks to the #ACIPC16 conference delegates and organisers.

How to win friends and influence people: https://twitter.com/emrsa15/status/800495292642508801

How to win friends and influence people: https://twitter.com/emrsa15/status/800495292642508801

Just so you know, a quick google search reveals that others have also thought of using hand hygiene as a mindful moment, eg this paper:

Gilmartin, Heather. (2016) Use hand cleaning to prompt mindfulness in clinic: A regular prompt for reflection could reduce distraction. BMJ 2016; 352 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.i13 (Published 04 January 2016)

and this video:

There are others too. Do you think using hand hygiene as a mindful moment could become mainstream?

5mindfulmoments

End

That’s it. As always your comments are welcome via the space below.

May you hands be clean and your head be clear! 🙂 

Paul McNamara, 26 November 2016

Short URL: http://meta4RN.com/hygiene

Crisis? What Crisis?

I’m a nurse. Every day at work somebody is in crisis.

Every. Single. Day.

People have life threatening injuries and illnesses. People experience suicidal ideation and sometimes act on those thoughts. People experience delirium, dementia and psychosis – they lose touch with reality. People behave in unexpected and challenging ways.

All of these people are in crisis. They are having the worst day(s) of their life.

When you are part of the clinical team trying to help out these people it’s always useful to acknowledge and clarify the nature of the person’s crisis. It’s surprising what the individual’s perception of the crisis is. I’ve met a person who was desperately unwell – ICU unwell – who’s subjective crisis was that the cat was home alone without anyone to feed it. That was the crisis she wanted me to respond to. I’ve met quite a few people who need urgent medical/surgical interventions, but who perceive their biggest crisis as being unable to smoke a cigarette right now. I’ve had the peculiar privilege of spending time with people who have survived suicide attempts, who have experienced a crisis related to abuse, financial problems, relationship breakdown, and loss of job/role/independence/sense-of-self. An existential crisis in mind, body and spirit.

All of these people are in crisis. It is their crisis.

It is important to ascribe ownership. The nurse/midwife/physician/other clinician is not experiencing the crisis; they are responding to the crisis. We (the clinicians) have not been immunised against crises, but we do have the responsibility to do whatever we can to not get overwhelmed by them. Also, truth of the matter is, I’m not sure how long you would last if you responded to every day at work as an adrenaline-filled, too-busy-to-wee, emotional rollercoaster. That be the road to burnout and breakdown, my friend.

So, what do we do?

We use Jedi Mind Tricks, pithy sayings and clinical supervision. That’s what we do.

Clinical Supervision
I’ve written about clinical supervision before (here and here). Despite the name, it’s not about scrutiny. Clinical supervision is about reflecting on clinical practice with a trusted colleague, and asking simple questions of yourself: what did I do?; what were the outcomes?; how did I feel?; what lessons did I learn?.

The idea of clinical supervision is to acquire and refine clinical skills.

Pithy Sayings
A lot of us use and repeat pithy sayings such as the ED adage: “In the event of a cardiac arrest [or any other patient crisis for that matter], the first pulse you should take is your own.”

If you recognise your own anxiety you’re more capable of managing it. Intentional slow breathing is an excellent intervention for this. You can do it while you’re scanning the patient/file/environment.

Breath. Slowly.

It is not a crisis. A crisis is when there’s a fire, storm-surge, tsunami, earthquake or explosion that requires evacuation of staff and patients. If the hospital is not being evacuated it’s not a crisis. It’s just another day at work.

IMG_1099

Jedi Mind Tricks
The other thing I like to do when feeling anxious is impersonate a calm person. It’s like a Jedi mind trick. “This not the anxious nurse you’re looking for. This is a calm nurse.”

When impersonating a calm person  I conjure-up a person who was a CNC when I was a student nurse at the Royal Adelaide Hospital. Part of the apprenticeship model of nursing education at the time was to give students experience in RN roles. I had been thrown into the Team Leader role on a day when the neuro ward was especially busy. There were emergency admissions, a stack of post-op patients – two of whom were really unwell, a person dying in the side room, and an inexperienced unqualified overwhelmed drongo (me) coordinating the whole thing. We were in trouble. We needed more nurses and a proper team leader.

I sought-out the CNC – a smart-as-a-whip young woman not much older than me (i was quite youngish 25 years ago). The CNC spent all of about 5 minutes with me prioritising the ward’s workflow:

  • “First things first. No need to shower/clean anyone unless they’re incontinent.” There goes about 50% of the morning’s workload in an instant.
  • “Don’t bother with routine 4-hourly obs unless the person looks unwell. Only the post-op patients and the clinically unwell patients need their obs done.” There goes another 10% of the work.
  • “Let’s get Fiona (the most experienced and skilled nurse on the shift) to look after the two dodgy post-op patients and nobody else.” The biggest concern was instantly taken care of.
  • “Bring all the nurses in here (a cramped nurses station overlooking 2 bays of 6 patients each) and tell them the plan. Make sure they all drink water and coordinate their breaks.” Got it. To look after the patients you need to look after the nurses.
  • “After you’ve told the nurses the plan, tell the patients/visitors who aren’t critically unwell the plan. They’ll understand we’re abnormally busy if we tell them.” Open, honest communication? Who’d have thought?
  • “Slow down your breathing. Use your humour. You’ll be fine. Come and grab me if you need.” My racing thoughts slowed. Panic evaporated.

We, nurses and patients alike, had a good shift. All the vital stuff was done. It wasn’t a crisis. It was a day at work.

I haven’t seen that CNC (her name is Lee Madden) since 1992, but I think of her every now and then. Whenever I see a crisis unfolding or see/feel anxiety rising, I wonder, “What would a calm person do?” and conjure an image of Lee floating serenely into the space. I channel Lee’s reassuring smile and clear understanding of priorities, and do my best to behave in the way she modelled to an impressionable overwhelmed student nurse.

Crisis? What crisis? I’m impersonating a calm person.

IMG_1098

End

As always, you’re welcome to leave comments below.

Paul McNamara, 5th September 2015
Short URL: meta4RN.com/crisis

Living Close to the Water

August 8th is “Dying To Know Day” – an annual day of action dedicated to bringing to life conversations and community actions around death, dying and bereavement. More info about that here: www.dyingtoknowday.org

#DyingToKnowDay

The first time I read “Field Notes on Death” by Lea McInerney was two years ago when I stumbled across it via the #DyingToKnowDay hashtag. It is a beautiful, poignant piece of writing, where Lea draws on her experience growing-up Catholic in the 1960s/70s, and later becoming a nurse. I’ve re-read Field Notes on Death four or five times over the last couple of years. I re-read it again this morning. Just as I did every other time, I quietly started crying about three quarters of the way through.

I cry too easily. I have been terribly embarrassed by this on many occasions. It’s not that I don’t think men shouldn’t cry, it’s just that I think I cry too easily. Too easily for my liking anyway.

A couple of things happened recently which make feel slightly less embarrassed.

One was seeing the generous, open display of grief shown by Adelaide Football Club players and staff after the death of the team’s coach. For those not familiar with Australian Rules Football, the players are mostly “blokey blokes”. They are men so manly they make other men question their manliness. They’re fit and fearless. Tonka trucks are nowhere near as tough.

These manly young men wept openly in public. Not embarrassed. Not ashamed. They have never been more inspiring. Never been better role models.

The other thing happened at work. I met a lady who was referred because of postnatal depression. My job involves listening mostly, but I ask questions too, in the hope of gaining an understanding of what support strategies would be most useful. When I asked her whether she had been more tearful than usual, she responded:

Where I grew up we have a saying that translates into English as “lives close to the water”. It refers to people who are sensitive. People who cry easily.
I have always lived close to the water. 

It’s a lovely metaphor. Doesn’t everyone want to live close to the water? That’s where you’ll see some of the most beautiful views.

Trinity_Inlet_Cairns

Trinity Inlet, Cairns

In Closing

Field Notes on Death is a great read. I intend to re-read it and re-share it every year on #DyingToKnowDay. I thoroughly recommend it to anyone, and think nurses and other health professionals who are exposed to end of life care/issues will find it especially useful.

In case you missed the subtle hyperlinks to “Field Notes on Death” above, here is the full URL: https://griffithreview.com/articles/field-notes-on-death/ 

Lea

End

Thanks for reading. As always your comments are welcome below.

Paul McNamara, 8th August 2015
Short URL:  http://meta4RN.com/water

 

Humanity to Man

The Cairns Post, 29th March 2003:

cairns post column 290303Man’s inhumanity towards man has been getting plenty of coverage lately – it might be time a good time to be reminded of men who demonstrate humanity.

Not quite 10 percent of nurses are male (please don’t call us male nurses – we’re nurses, but happen to be male).

Like our female colleagues, we’re spread across all aspects of health. Blokes nursing in Cairns include Stephen in Intensive Care; Adrian and Denis who work with elderly people; Bill the midwife; Andrew in orthopaedics; Colin who runs a medical ward; Sean who visits new parents and their babies in their homes; Greg and Clif who work with people battling mental health problems; Andy does mostly policy and administrative stuff; Steve and Scott on the local crisis team, and Nick who has spent a fair bit of time nursing out bush and is currently back in town.

There’s plenty of blokes nursing locally not mentioned (sorry fellas), but you get the picture – we pop up everywhere.

So, why nursing? I won’t presume to speak for other nurses of either gender, but I can tell you what I like about the profession – I like being useful.

It’s a peculiar privilege being a nurse. Peculiar because, for all its different guises and specialities, the basic job description is the same – try to be useful to people. It’s a privilege because nursing offers an amazing level of responsibility and intimacy.

It might sound more convincing if it wasn’t coming from a bald bloke with a bit of a beer gut, but nursing is a nurturing profession. The nature of our relationships with patients is therapeutic, but first and foremost it’s a human relationship.

We often have the privilege of being with people at very important stages of their lives, and we get the opportunity to show that nurses can be professional, skilled and caring.

I’m sure it’s not unique to nursing, and it’s certainly not unique to nurses who are male, but let’s not forget that there are daily demonstrations of man’s humanity towards man.

Final Notes

Back in 2003 a journalist from The Cairns Post invited me to submit an article for the My Say column (a daily feature presenting the views of a cross-section of the community). The article’s reference to man’s inhumanity to man is in the context of current events at the time – it was published during the second week of the war in Iraq.

As I was identified as an employee of a local hospital, at the time of publication the content of the article had to be approved by the hospital’s media department. The media department approved the article without changes to content.

In 2003 I should have used the phrase “man’s humanity towards mankind” instead of “man’s humanity towards man”. Sorry. I was tempted to correct it in this 2014 version, but decided it was more authentic to leave the original unaltered.

Anyway, I stumbled across the very-low-resolution JPG version of the article today and thought it might be worth reprising. Man’s inhumanity towards mankind is still dominating the mainstream media. This is a tiny, inadequate bit of counter-balance.

As always, your feedback is welcome in the comments section below.

Paul McNamara, 26th October 2014

Short URL:  meta4RN.com/men

Originally:
McNamara, Paul (2003). Humanity to man. The Cairns Post, 29 Mar 2003, pg 19.

 

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