The alchemy of teamwork: how do we transmute base practice into noble excellence?

5114199360_414703d434_oLiz Charalambous is a qualified nurse on a female, acute medical HCOP (Health Care for Older People) ward at Queen’s Medical Centre, Nottingham University Hospital Trust.

Recent weeks have seen a huge challenge to healthcare teams across the country. The NHS has had to rise to the demands of increased numbers of people accessing services in all areas.

My suspicion is that the areas performing the best were the ones who already had strong teams in place, positive leadership and supportive group cohesion, adding the extra strength and resilience to a burgeoning population of patients.

In years gone by, whenever times were hard staff looked to the ward sister for a role model to get them through the crisis. Navy blue sleeves were rolled up on the front line, junior staff were shown exactly how things were done, and standards were subsequently maintained. Thirty years later,  I see that this hasn’t changed in my practice: good leadership and the exemplification of excellence often make the difference between sinking and swimming.

But there is more to it than this. In our team we are not only fortunate to have an excellent ward sister, who works on the front line and looks after the team, but also a diversity of altruistic characters and personalities, a unique and special melting pot, people who come together to ensure our patients are comfortable and well cared for throughout their hospital stay. In short, an alchemy of personalities with differing nationalities, ethnicities, religious beliefs and ages underpinned by an collective understanding and common goal that person-centred care and respect for each other is paramount in order to deliver an excellent service.

The routine helps, everyone pitches in. I have seen a consultant mop up spilled water to prevent accidental slips, something that most certainly would not have happened thirty years ago in my experience. Tasks do not have an ascribed status, the priority is patient care, and everyone contributes. The ward routine and working structure may seem a little rigid when times get tough, but essential duties get done and patients are kept safe, happy and comfortable as a result.

So what is the hidden secret ingredient that makes our team work?

A heterogeneous, yet at the same time homogenous group, with esoteric values. In the great tradition of alchemists, the elusive recipe is not contained in some enigmatic magnum opus but in the hearts and minds of  the very people who work here.

Image credit: Thierry Ehrmann via Flickr.


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