I BEGAN my nursing career as a practical nursing student at Eisenhower Army Medical Center at Fort Gordon near Augusta, Ga. Working on a medical unit one day, I needed help bathing my patient and changing his bed linens. Poking my head out of his room, I called for help. “I'm coming,” I heard someone say. A tall, gray-haired nursing officer in nursing whites came through the door.
“Thank you so much, ma'am,” I replied. The patient, an older man with end-stage lung cancer, was grateful for our help. As I put the used linens in the hamper, I glanced over at the nurse who had come to the rescue. The collar insignia of a full colonel glistened on the left side of her collar. She was the nurse manager for the entire medical center. I think my heart stopped for a second. I stammered out my thanks and was rewarded with a smile. She vanished out the door, on to some sort of meeting. I never saw her again.
This remarkable lady took the time and made the effort to help me take care of my patient. It was a selfless act that I have never forgotten.
That was back in 1979. To my shame, I do not remember her name; however, I remember what she taught me in that brief encounter. A leader is someone who lends a hand in a moment of need, not acting as though a task is beneath them.
Fast forward to 2000. I was working as an RN in the busy ED at Blanchfield Army Community Hospital in Fort Campbell, Ky. We were swamped, and the waiting room was full of patients. The hospital's commanding officer poked his head in as he was headed out the door. He was a busy man, but he was also a wonderful leader: approachable and down-to-earth with a dry sense of humor. It took him only a second to realize that we needed some help. “Set me up in an empty room and I'll help you out,” he said.
He was as good as his word. We secured an empty room and started seeing patients. He bailed us out. He didn'thave to do that, but that is the kind of leader he was. His efforts made a difference to us, his staff, and our patients.
These two leaders did something extraordinary that transcended their very busy and hectic schedules: They reached out to meet the challenge of clinical situations in a timely manner. Their willingness to step out of their usual roles to meet a need made their actions so special and extraordinary.
Clinical leaders are experiencing extraordinary pressures in this current environment of managing busy hospitals, with the omnipresent pandemic overshadowing every part of the building. Understanding the pressures and trying to mitigate the frustrations of the nurses and other bedside clinicians are crucial components for staff morale and unit effectiveness.
Selfless actions are the marks of true leadership. The leaders I have described made a positive and extraordinary contribution, not just in the lives of fellow clinicians but the patients as well. My experiences with them represented only a few moments in their very busy and remarkable lives, but I remember them to this day. People like them deserve to be honored and their memories cherished, and I am proud to share their stories.