Wellness - organisational

Holding it together -the sticky tape (connection) and glue (belonging) of our Emergency Departments

By Jo Cole – Paediatric Emergency Physician

Our emergency departments are often the ‘sticky tape and glue’ that hold our hospital acute services together through day and night. When other services’ lights are out and doors are closed, we are relied upon to be there – our lights are always burning and our doors are always open.

Now more than ever, not only are we the specialised emergency providers, but we are also the ‘gap-fillers’, the ‘safety net holders’, the ‘I didn’t know where else to go’ worry-soothers.  Many of our patients need us to be there to stop them from falling through the cracks of a stretched healthcare system, just as much as they need us to be masters in resuscitation.

With pandemics, lockdowns, ever increasing acute demand and the recurrent ED staffing shortages across Australasia, it often feels like the core of our own emergency departments are literally being held together by not much more than ‘ sticky tape and glue’.

I know there are days when I feel like I am barely holding it together but then I stop, breathe, and remind myself – emergency medicine is a team sport and ‘holding on together’ is more powerful than just one person ‘holding it together’.

And that, I think, is the metaphorical ‘sticky tape and glue’ of emergency medicine.

What holds us together is the power of our teamwork and the strength of our connections.  The sense of belonging created by being at the coalface together on both our good days and our bad days. The feeling you get walking on to a shift, seeing your trusted colleagues and knowing – today we will have each other’s backs.

So how can we strengthen and maintain these connections in our teams? 

How can we create a sense of belonging for all team members?

‘Connection and belonging’ is essential for our wellbeing at work and to help our teams to function optimally.

Sometimes, our fickle human natures combined with a hierarchical resource-constrained healthcare system can get in the way of connection and belonging at work. Time is often against us, our teams change frequently with staff turnover, our workloads are heavy and our emotional bandwidths are often at capacity.

So, let’s get intentional about creating connection and belonging within our teams.

  1.  What’s your WHY?

A shared purpose is one of the foundations of strong team connections. In emergency medicine we are blessed to have a clear ‘why’ visible in our work every day. But it is still easy to be disconnected from this by the challenges of access block, ‘mission creep’ or challenging training rosters. Embracing those moments of ‘this is why we do this job’ – perhaps a great clinical case or resuscitation – is a great tonic for this. Sharing those moments together, at team huddles and handovers, helps us to be explicit, as a team, about how we embed and remain connected to our shared purpose.

  • What make you and your team TICK?

Knowing what makes each other ‘tick’ helps build a strong sense of community in our teams.  Not only does this bond us together but it also makes it easier to know how best to support one another through the hard times. Understanding what matters to each other outside of work is vital too. Though our work in emergency medicine not only fills many of our days and a lot of our cognitive and emotional bandwidth, we know it is only part of who we each are. We are also friends, spouses, parents, siblings, aunties, uncles, sportspeople, musicians, artists, writers, linguists and much more. When we get the chance to hear, see and appreciate each other in these roles too it is awesome!

  • Celebrate the WINs. 

Celebrating wins at work and appreciating one another helps build positive social capital within our teams.  This can be simple things such as saying thank you regularly on shift, sharing food together, a handover gratitude practice or mailbox treats. Embedding a ‘learning from excellence’ programme in our ED has helped make peer appreciation a more regular practice in our department. 

In the slightly crazy chaotic world of shift work and emergency medicine our work teams are like family.  And just like in families, this means that we see each other at our best and our worst.

  • Be OPEN – remember none of us are perfect, despite our very best intentions!

Being open, willing to be vulnerable through uncertainty and tough times, just being our ‘imperfect, human selves’ with each other helps to build trust and connection.

We can do this by sharing our ‘lows’ as well as our ‘highs’, owning our mistakes, asking for help,  as well as being there when a team member needs a hand.

Like everything in life, the more we do it the easier it gets – vulnerability can feel uncomfortable at first but little by little, sharing our ‘humanness’ builds deeper connections and allows trust to grow.

I am proud to ‘belong’ to the ‘emergency medicine family’, and love celebrating the connections we can build together with so many incredible teams and individuals across the world. 

Most importantly, every day, I am so grateful for the ‘sticky tape and glue’ that for me, is my work team – we couldn’t do this job without each other.

Ki te kotahi te kakaho ka whati, ki te kapuia e kore e whatiAlone we can be broken, standing together we are invincible (Kingi Tāwhiao)

About Jo Cole

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