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From pets to Pictionary: How our nurses build incredible teamwork

A collage of nurses from The Ottawa Hospital

Hockey players grow playoff beards.  The New Zealand national rugby team performs the Haka before a game.  Professional football players dump Gatorade on their coach after winning the Super Bowl.  All of these rituals have an important purpose: to transform a group of talented individuals into a unified team with a single purpose.

In many ways, nurses are like elite athletes; each person contributes their expertise and energy toward the team’s single purpose of executing each patient’s care plan. 

No egos here.  Nurses know that they are part of a much larger health-care team, and are quick to give credit to other teammates like their allied health colleagues and support staff.

But in honour of National Nursing Week, we’re turning the spotlight on our nurses.

And just like sports teams have their rituals, our nursing teams do, too.

So, what works for them? We asked six of our nursing teams, who were recently nominated for The Ottawa Hospital’s Annual Team Nursing Awards, about how they foster teamwork, and here’s what they told us.

7E: A surgery recovery unit

Nurses on 7E

“Every January the nurses organize a ‘pie day’,” says Breanna Macgillivray, Clinical Care Leader for 7E. “On their day off, one nurse opens their home and invites everyone to make meat pies.  “They all roll out their pastries together and get to know each other in a different way than you would on the unit.”

Along with admiring each other’s creations in the kitchen, they also admire each other’s pets.

“We have a pet board in the hallway by the nursing station on our unit,” says Breanna. “There are cats and dogs, but there is also Goldy Deva- the goldfish in the wine glass. The board is popular among both staff and patients.  One patient liked the picture of one of the nurse educator’s dogs so much that they took it from the pet board and brought it to their own room.  When the patient was discharged, Tuka the husky was returned to the pet board.”

Square pictures of different pets are hung across a corkboard and attached with clothespins.
Pets of staff on 7E are proudly displayed near the nursing station.
Close up images if Goldy-Deva the goldfish and Buddy the iguana
Some of the more unusual pets on the 7E pet board.

For Breanna, these rituals help the team stick together.

“It’s about teamwork, it’s that bond,” she says.  “When you have good relationships at work, you’re able to be a better team.  You have each other’s back.”

Angela Ryan, Clinical Manager for 7E, agrees.

“I think it just speaks to the teamwork they do here,” she says.  “You’re not going to fly if you’re not working as a team, and I think these traditions take it to the next level.”

The Irving Greenberg Family Cancer Centre

Nurses from the Irving Greenberg Family Cancer Centre

“Every day at lunch the nurses sit around a table and play a card game or a board game together,” says Kelly Daigle, a registered nurse at the Irving Greenberg Family Cancer Centre.  “Some favourites include Pictionary, Trouble and Uno—the old-fashioned games.”

Casual card games are fun, but these nurses aren’t afraid to get fancy.

“A couple of the nurses are big followers of the Royal Family,” explains Kelly.  “On celebratory occasions like a wedding, they’ll set up formal tea, complete with fine china, a pretty tablecloth, fancy decorations, and even a three-tiered cake stand to hold their bite-sized goodies.”

Working at the Cancer Centre can be quite somber, so small moments of joy are cherished.

“We deal with a lot of tears—some of joy for a patient being able to go home, and some of grief because the news isn’t so good,” Kelly says.  “It can be very demanding.  That’s why, whenever we can, we like to have fun.  We like to really laugh.  Humour is a big part of us working here because we care for people in their most difficult times, and so it’s nice to find joy.”

4W: The Transitional Care Unit

Nurses on 4W

“We always have a bowl of chocolate and an ‘open door’ philosophy,” says Melanie Doucet, Clinical Care Leader on 4W.  “It’s a great excuse for the team to peek into my office, grab some chocolate and start a conversation or check in.”

From one-on-one conversations to grand celebrations, these nurses do it all.

“Four people on our unit are getting married, so they threw a joint bachelorette party for all the brides,” says Jenny Kingsley, former Clinical Manager on 4W.

“You can see teamwork everywhere,” says Melanie.  “The more experienced nurses support the new nurses, and when someone needs help, they don’t even have to ask—someone is already volunteering.”

“The teamwork creates a good vibe on the floor; it creates bonds and rapport, and makes them happier at work,” says Jenny.  “And when you have a team that is happy and healthy, that translates to our patients.”

6NE: An orthopedic unit

Nurses on 6NE

“We have a gratitude board right as you enter the unit,” says Maeghn Green, Clinical Care Leader on 6NE. “If one of our colleagues, or our whole team, gets nominated for an award, that’s where we put it.  We also have a ‘kudos’ wall close to the nursing station.”

“So when patients or colleagues want to give positive feedback, they can write their message and put it on the board for everyone to see,” says Kim Jemmott, Clinical Manager of the unit. 

Kudo 1 from Ming to Yvonne: ¬¬¬¬”Thank you for your positive mindset and care for the patients.  Kudo 2 from Maddy to Carly: “Thank you for being AMAZING!  Working with you is always fun, no matter how busy we are.  P.S. You’re an amazing baker + definitely should bring in more cake.” Kudo 3: Margary to Micheline: “She was the best medicine for me + I will never forget her. XOXOX
A few of the kudos on the 6NE kudo board.

As leaders, Maeghn and Kim believe it is important not just to say—but to display—gratitude toward teammates.

“Morale has been low for the past three years during the pandemic,” Maeghan explains. “Depending on the day, some of our nurses would be asked to help out on other units in order to keep staffing balanced, which put a strain on everyone.  We wanted each person to know that they matter.”

“When you feel appreciated, you come to work happier, and you want to go the extra mile,” says Kim. “You feel like you have a purpose, and when you walk on to the unit and see the gratitude board, it creates a positive mindset for each individual and for the team.”

7W: A surgery recovery unit

Nurses on 7W

“This unit is a family,” says Ginette Saumure, Clinical Manager of 7W.  “We want to make sure that each member knows that they have an important purpose and feels like they belong.”

To keep that family united, the team chooses small acts of support rather than grand team-building events.

“I think it’s pretty incredible that no matter how difficult things got with the pandemic, our teamwork never waivered,” says Tiffany Phillips, Clinical Care Leader on the unit. “Whenever there’s an emergency, everybody gets up and supports that nurse.  If one nurse has been called to four different areas, another person on the team will help out.  Nobody is left unsupported.” 

And that sense of family extends beyond the nurses to the personal care assistants, clerks, physiotherapist, social worker, occupational therapist, clinical educator and physicians—and to patients.

“Every week we get compliments from patients,” says Ginette. “They know that when they call, someone will check on them.  They feel safe.”

The Chemotherapy Treatment Unit, General Campus

Nurses on the Chemotherapy Treatment Unit, General Campus

“Every month we celebrate birthdays with homemade cupcakes, and the same kind of thing goes for retirements, baby showers and wedding showers, too,” says Natalie Smith, Clinical Care Manager for the unit.  “This Easter, we put on bunny ears, put up decorations and had an easter egg hunt.  Sometimes everyone will play Bingo throughout the day between treating patients.”

And they play an extra-special game during Nursing Week.

“We play ‘Hide Florence Nightingale,’” she explains.  “Someone will print off a picture of Florence and hide it somewhere on the unit.  It’s hilarious.”

That enthusiasm for one another translates into enthusiasm for other parts of their job.

“A lot of the nurses want to do quality improvement projects to improve things for each other and the patients on the unit,” Natalie explains. “It’s such a positive feedback cycle. Nurses are motivated to provide excellent care to patients, and patients are so appreciative of the care they receive, which gives the nurses the motivation to keep going and provide excellent care.”

Thank you to all the nurses at The Ottawa Hospital, and happy Nursing Week!


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