National Nurses Week is a time for thanks – and to shine a light on the importance of providing holistic care for patients and families

As we celebrate National Nurses Week, I want to take a moment to reflect and celebrate our nursing teams for their strength, resilience and determination to work through the challenges of the past year. The pandemic impacted every part of nursing within our system and through it all, our nurses never stopped focusing on providing high-quality care for the patients and their families.

Our healthcare system has changed in ways we could never have imagined. To fellow nursing leaders, I encourage you to consider the following three themes and apply these concepts to the betterment of patients, families — and in support of our dedicated nursing staff. 

Holistic care is now the expectation by patients and families

While holistic care is not a "new" concept, the pandemic shined light on its importance and relevance in the healthcare industry. Patients and consumers drove this movement a long time ago, but the past year put our capabilities to the test as an industry.

Nursing is about caring for the whole patient, not simply alleviating an injury or disease. Seeing beyond any ailments or COVID-19 as a disease, meeting the patient where they are, focusing on a person's wellness, including providing for their spiritual and psychosocial needs, has fast become the norm. It is important to remember that our care services — whether for mothers, babies or adolescents — are always centered on meeting patients and family's needs. This concept was challenged by visitor restrictions put in place to protect the safety of patients, staff and visitors. On numerous occasions, we learned and heard stories about how our nurses became not only the caregiver but de-facto family members due to COVID-19 visitor restrictions. 

Patients are astute and consumer expectations continue to elevate every year, in large part due to technology. If individuals do not feel they are being treated correctly, equally or if they do not feel safe, they will express those expectations or seek providers/institutions that will meet those expectations. 

We should evaluate and understand whether our organizations are cognizant of these new consumer demands and how a holistic care experience is implemented to address physical, emotional, social and spiritual well-being. 

Two examples I would like to point to that will help illustrate this in practice:

In many of our high-acuity obstetric and pediatric cases at Stanford Children's Health, we've had to manage families that are at extremely high risk due to critical disease or illness; giving patients the comfort and care management they need goes beyond treating the illness or condition — it involves meeting psychosocial needs and communication.

When it comes to caring for and supporting a patient's need to communicate with family members, our nursing staff have been at the forefront of using iPads in the obstetric rooms so that patients could communicate with family members outside of the hospital during the pandemic. In addition, for non-English speaking patients we provide iPads as a translation tool to support communication between staff, patients and family members. During times of childbirth, for example, it is about providing an elevated, memorable experience — helping mothers connect with loved ones who cannot be there themselves, during arguably the most stressful and often emotional times in their lives. It is part of our duty to support patients in sharing this experience with others in a safe manner that still allows and supports family connections to occur.

I believe that we, as healthcare leaders, should adapt these new approaches for all our patient population and in all our care settings.  

Enable nurses to bring their whole selves to their line of duty

The pandemic was not just a steep learning curve for our patient populations; it was for all our healthcare staff and providers as well. Of critical importance is supporting our nurses and front-line workers with resources and assistance. As we move past our pandemic response, it's now time to help support and recover from the emotional toll it has taken on all of us.  

At Stanford Children's Health, our leadership strives to build an environment where our staff feel that they can bring their full selves to work for the benefit of our patients and families. If we are unable to provide that, their health and the services provided to our patient population is at risk.

While a company's culture is driven by the individuals who represent it, there are things that nursing leaders can do to facilitate this welcoming environment. Examples include holding focus groups to connect, engage and share experiences with individuals on a more personal level. Another is welcoming dialogue on challenging subject matters such as the effects of recent wildfires, work/life balance challenges during a pandemic and navigating today's racial tensions. These are difficult topics and issues all our staff are managing. Having open and honest conversations can be very supportive in creating the culture we all strive for.  

Nurses play a critical role in enabling the future of continuous care

To provide this level of holistic care, organizations need to focus resources on empowering their front-line staff to close care gaps and eliminate silos. Especially now in an age of heightened demand, balancing patient engagement and the role technology plays in supporting the patient and the community is imperative.

We must ask ourselves how we can continue to provide seamless patient services across the care continuum. To truly empower our nursing staff and front-line workers, we are encouraged to work together to connect these services and eliminate barriers that cause delays or complications. One example is patient visit scheduling and coordination. We are already seeing organizations do a great job streamlining appointments so that multiple tasks can be achieved with one visit or supplemented via telehealth. For this to be optimized, nursing leaders and nursing staff also need a seat at the table to ensure that technology implementations and solutions sets are built to work in a way that makes operational sense. 

National Nurses Week is a time for reflection. I have spent more than two decades in healthcare leadership positions and have been lucky enough to have held roles as an executive in both nursing and operations. Earlier this year, I joined Stanford Children's Health as its chief nursing officer, a field that I continually find myself passionate about and energized by. 

With fortitude, the nursing community exceeded expectations and patient demands through trying times — the resilience of the front lines and innovations learned over the past year has caused a ripple effect across the industry that has healthcare leaders continuing to look for new ways to empower front-line staff, eliminate silos and deploy technologies and solutions that enable a true continuum of care. 

I am so honored to be working with so many great nurses. A career and nursing community full of purpose-driven, courageous individuals who are selfless in their pursuit of what is right for patients and families. Nurses make an impact each and every day. My goal is to further elevate this experience through holistic approaches and strengthen our connections with our patients and the community.

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