By PATRICIA CORRIGAN
When Ashley Pofit, a registered nurse with SCL Health's hospitals in the Denver area, heard her co-workers say they wished hospital administrators knew what nurses do and how hard the work is, Pofit wondered whether nurses could show administrators, rather than tell them.
"Nursing is well respected at our organization, and that's what pushed me to develop a shadow program, one where administrators could spend time on the floor with nurses," Pofit said.
Mike Slubowski, left, president and chief executive of SCL Health, shadowed Alex Vorce, right, a registered nurse in Lutheran Medical Center's Progressive Care Unit to get an unfiltered look at the daily workload of hospital nurses.
Pofit's idea was implemented last summer at Saint Joseph Hospital in Denver; Lutheran Medical Center in Wheat Ridge, Colo.; and Good Samaritan Medical Center in Lafayette, Colo. All three are part of the SCL Health system, which also has hospitals in Kansas and Montana.
By all accounts, the shadow program was a success, and SCL Health may expand it. "The administrators saw nurses taking on additional jobs when staff was limited; they saw a nurse juggle other patients' needs while searching for a cell phone charger for one patient and I think the executives were impressed by the detail required for reports," Pofit said.
Pofit, 29, worked as a nurse in New York City before moving to Denver almost four years ago. From June 2013 through January 2016, she was a staff nurse and a clinical educator at another hospital in Denver. "As a nursing educator, I had a taste of leadership, and I realized how easy it is for nurses to have an influence where they contribute," she said.
In January 2016, she joined a pool of registered nurses and certified nursing assistants who float among SCL's Denver-area hospitals. Eager to promote her idea for a shadow program, Pofit contacted Geri Towndrow, senior vice president and chief nursing officer for SCL Health.
"I was thrilled with Ashley's idea, first of all because a nurse working at the bedside wanted our senior leaders to understand the role of a nurse," Towndrow said. "The point was to help develop an understanding of how the role of the nurse has changed over time and what the challenges are now," she continued. "Today, nurses interact with patients and with their families as case managers; they provide required documentation for the state and federal governments; and, 24/7, they are the eyes and ears of physicians," she said.
Senior management at SCL Health immediately echoed Towndrow's enthusiasm for Pofit's proposal. "That our senior team was excited about a shadow program — that they wanted to stay connected in the flow of care — that spoke volumes to me," Towndrow said. "I am still so jazzed about this. The shadow program truly is one of the best things I could help support and sponsor in my career."
To date, seven administrators have taken part in the program. Mike Slubowski, president and chief executive at SCL Health, was the first to step forward and don scrubs, eager to shadow nurses at Saint Joseph Hospital and Lutheran Medical Center.
"This program was not a foreign concept to me," Slubowski said. "Early in my administrative career in Southfield, Mich., I made it a practice every Friday to go to a different department and shadow a nurse, a medical technician or a respiratory technician. That experience gets you close to the customer, gives you a great feel for what's happening on the ground and reinvigorates you about why we are here."
Laughing, Slubowski noted that he got in his full step count on his Fitbit while taking part in the shadow program last summer. "There is a lot of walking while delivering care." He also saw people deeply engaged in their work. "I saw nurses provide patient-centered social and emotionalsupport — the commitment of these people, the passion for their work, is tremendous," he said.
Slubowski also observed unexpected examples of what he called "inventiveness" on the job. One nurse brought in double-thick rubber gloves to wear while going through clothing of individuals who may have needles in their pockets. He also began to question how the electronic medical records system might be reconfigured to make it less cumbersome for nurses.
"The shadow program was inspiring for me and the others who took part, an opportunity to think about our higher purpose, about being in this ministry," he said. "This experience reinforces us, gives us energy to keep going, knowing we are making a difference."
Tammy Saunaitis, left, SCL Health's senior vice president and chief human resources officer, learns about clinical care by shadowing Ashley Pofit, a registered nurse with the system's Talent Share Float Pool. Pofit originally pitched the idea of the executive shadowing program to SCL Health's chief nursing officer.
Nurses also responded with enthusiasm. One told Towndrow that in 30 years of working as a nurse, having executives shadow her was one of the best experiences of her career.
"Plus, the impact spread well beyond the nurses and executives to everyone on the units, including dietary workers, respiratory techs, case managers and physicians," Towndrow said. "We have to play that forward — I have goose bumps just talking about it. I see lots of possibilities for this program."
In the future, Towndrow hopes to reach out to administrators who weren't able to take part last summer. She also wants to broaden the program to include other hospital executives interested in seeing how their colleagues do their jobs.
Pofit is eager for the shadow program to continue. She has thought about how to tweak it, make it better. "Next time, I will do a better job briefing the nurses about the intention of the program so administrators witness nurses' frustrations as well as their achievements," she said. "We also could look at the possibility of nurses shadowing administrators, to increase understanding both ways."
Pofit wants to draw attention to the evolving role of the nurse. "I went into this wanting others to understand how challenging the job is, but now I want to show the full value of nursing. Eventually, that could provide a unique competitive edge for SCL Health," she said.
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