6 healthcare leaders discuss their hardest day at work

Becker's Hospital Review asked healthcare leaders to discuss their hardest day at work and what they learned from it. Read about their hardest day of work below, in their own words.

Mike Farrell
President of Advocate Children's Hospital (Oak Lawn, Ill.)

"It was 2:20 on a sunny Thursday afternoon. It was not only one of my hardest days at work, but also in my life. Early in my career, a 15-year-old girl committed suicide at an institution where I previously worked. While in our care, she jumped off the parking deck and over a hundred people witnessed it. I had to tell her father, then her mother, who arrived later, and also her physician. The experience reinforced for me the importance of accessible behavioral health resources. The teen had not been connected to care in her community. Had counselors or social services been involved, someone might have interceded sooner and maybe saved her life. That's why for the rest of my career, including here at Advocate Children's Hospital, providing accessible behavioral health care services has been and will always be a priority."

Karen Grimley, PhD, BSN
Chief Nursing Executive for UCLA Health (Los Angeles)

"My hardest day at work was when — as a brand new chief nursing officer — the state department of health filed formal action demanding to know why my hospital had turned away two patients in labor. I was stunned. I had known nothing of this. As it turns out, two women in active labor had gone straight to the OB unit, which was overburdened at the time. The unit had sent them to the main hospital just down the street. But the unit staff hadn't checked the patients and, further, hadn't notified anyone else at the hospital. We found out when the state told us.

"Needless to say, this violated an important law about triaging patients. It also violated the very essence of good hospital communication. This happened before I came to UCLA Health, and it was a hard — but important — lesson for me.

"From that day on, I've been determined to make everyone on my team aware of their obligation and accountability to the patients and to the organization. All staff, especially the nurses at the patient bedsides, need to understand the importance of communication and escalation: Tell supervisors what's happening, and know when to make other levels of administration aware of what's happening. Everyone needs to understand the rules so that, no matter how busy they are, they act in the best interest of patients and the organization."

Rick Majzun
President and COO of Women & Infants Hospital of Rhode Island (Providence)

"The hardest day I ever had at work was in many ways the best. It was about a week into my tenure at St. Louis Children's Hospital, and I was running out to an offsite meeting. While distracted, I had enough presence of mind to realize that the father on the elevator with me was in pain. I asked him if everything was going as well as it could. He proceeded to tell me of his 9-year-old daughter's seven surgeries at this hospital, of how many days they'd spent at the hospital in the last year, of the struggles her illness has taken his family through. As we left the elevator, he pointed at the building and said, 'I believe in God, and that's one of his best churches right there.' I walked to my car and with teary eyes, got in and took a minute to compose myself. It was the hardest day of work for me because I realized the significance of the work that we did at St. Louis Children's. After working in healthcare for 25 years, I finally understood why I did."

Patrick McCruden
Chief Mission Integration Officer for SSM Health (St. Louis)

"It's easy for me to remember my hardest day at work: July 19, 1989. United Airlines flight 232, a DC10 flying from Denver to Chicago, crashed in Sioux City, Iowa, with 296 passengers aboard. Miraculously 185 survived. Many of the survivors, including the most critically injured, came to nearby Marian Health Center (today Mercy Medical Center), where I — at the time, a young chaplain — was working.

"There were an enormous number of injured persons with everything from minor scratches to massive trauma and burns. As the medical teams were focused on the most seriously injured, the chaplains and other support staff were spending time with the less seriously injured and the miraculously unhurt, many of whom were searching for friends or family members. Many were in a state of shock. Others [were] joyful that they had made it through such a disaster with just scratches. Soon hundreds of phone calls were coming in as distraught family members and friends from around the country tried to locate their loved ones. There was little information to be shared as no official lists of passengers, survivors and deceased could be developed for days. As this was before cell phones, we set up phone banks so survivors could call home. The following hours were filled with much joy for those who survived as they connected with their loved ones, and much sadness, worry and guilt for those who couldn't locate family or fellow passengers. While it was a hard day, it seems trivial to comment on my thoughts and feelings as I recall the pain of the injured, the joy of the survivors, and the incredible efforts of all who responded. It's unbelievable that next July it will be 30 years. It seems like yesterday.

"I learned much that day but, most important, the ability of ordinary people to perform in extraordinary fashion. From the heroism of the flight crew, which saved 185 lives while contending with a mechanical failure that should have brought down the plane. The emergency personnel at the airport who put their training and skills to work. The dozens of first responders and hospital teams who worked for hours and days on end. The hundreds of volunteers and community members who did everything from donating blood to opening their homes to survivors' families. Many lives were lost and many lives were changed that day, and I still feel the responsibility to honor all involved by making a difference each day." 

Laura Sehnert, MD
CMO and emergency medicine physician at UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center (Steamboat Springs, Colo.)

"On my hardest day, that gut wrenching feeling of desperately wanting to get your child help met head to head with the terrifying reality that I was going to have to be the physician in charge of doing just that.  

"He was two weeks out from heart surgery. We were a three-hour drive or a 45-minute flight from his surgeon. Our hospital doesn't have platelets, and we don't have a pediatric vascular surgeon. We only had me, in the emergency department, feeling helpless. Was his pain a catastrophic complication of his surgery?

"My hardest day had a happy ending. I ended up not having to care for my sick child at all; in reality, he was just fine and his pain turned out to be just that he missed his mommy. But the fears I conjured up in my head, the worry only a mother can experience have made me a better provider after that day. I learned to understand that look in a parent's eye, the look of fear and desperation. I understand it now and I will always make sure I help my patients, their loved ones, and of course ... their mothers."  

Robert Sehring
CEO of OSF HealthCare (Peoria, Ill.)

"About 12 years ago when I served as CEO for OSF HealthPlans, one of our younger and, from all outward appearances, healthiest employees had joined two co-workers for a short walk over lunch. Out on the trail, this young man unexpectedly suffered a massive heart attack. Despite the efforts of the employees with him, the young man did not survive. His death was a devastating blow for his two co-workers who had witnessed his collapse, for his department, and for our entire organization. What I learned in the days, weeks and months that followed was that while sometimes in life there are situations that you can't understand or explain, as a leader you can help individuals and make a difference by just being there and being sensitive and relating through various emotions. This experience reinforced for me the importance of compassion and of working for a faith-based organization that encourages those interactions with co-workers."


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