From the Boardroom to the Bedside: Execs Shadow Nurses

From the Boardroom to the Bedside: Execs Shadow Nurses

From the Boardroom to the Bedside: Execs Shadow Nurses

Published NOVEMBER 2, 2016 at

By: Ashley Pofit, RN, PCCN and Geri Towndrow, RN, Senior Vice President Chief Nursing Officer

Editor’s Note: Ashley Pofit is an SCL Health nurse who suggested the idea for some of our system executives to shadow nurses. This suggestion became a reality and is a great example of associate-empowerment, one of SCL Health’s top strategic priorities. This article is submitted by her about the program and the experiences.

In healthcare, the paths of senior executives and bedside nurses seldom cross. Yet, there is significant learning that comes from sharing the perspectives of such distinctly different vantage points. Having the top spend a day in the trenches would offer senior leaders a chance to witness a unique perspective of the organization at work.

So when I approached Geri Towndrow, SCL Health’s Chief Nursing Officer about engaging senior leaders to follow nurses at the bedside, her response was an enthusiastic “Let’s do it!”  My objective for the project was to demonstrate the evolving role of the bedside nurse.

Within the last three years, the growing number of quality initiatives and clinical changes has drastically transformed bedside nursing. “It is important for senior leaders to see this transformation,” Geri said. “I think it would mean a great deal to all SCL Health staff to demonstrate that we as senior leaders want to understand more about the work that drives all of our decisions.”

Six senior leaders immediately volunteered and were assigned to different Denver area care sites and nursing units. The leaders ditched their every-day business attire and donned scrubs and sneakers (except for Kerry Kohnen, Senior Vice President, Payer and Population Health Strategies, who wore his scrubs with dress shoes). Each executive followed a nurse for four hours. Afterword, the nurses, and the leaders submitted reflections about the experience.

From senior leaders

“The nurses were fully in charge of the workflow, anticipating the patient needs and managing all unforeseen events. It was an impressive ballet with a great many players and varying circumstances,” said David Pringle, Senior Vice President of Mission Integration. “They never lost enthusiasm. The nurses were like air traffic controllers managing a variety of tasks while being attentive to a multitude of needs.”

Senior leaders were impressed that everyone knew what to do and everything flowed like a well-oiled machine. It is clear that patient care is a team sport, and nurses are a critical player. They communicate with other team members respectfully, even while addressing interruptions professionally. In addition to this, the physical demands are draining!  Nurses rarely have a chance to sit down, drink water, or eat throughout the shift. However, what stood out the most was the graceful manner in which nurses allowed themselves to connect to the human condition. Their presence alone is powerful enough to heal. It is truly sacred work.


From nurses

SCL Health President and CEO Mike Slubowski shadowed Darlene Maury, a seasoned registered nurse at Saint Joseph Hospital. “The experience was overwhelmingly positive. I am impressed with how warm and approachable Mike is, ”said Darlene. “He immediately began making observations and taking notes. He is a big picture person and truly engaged. He seems to be the type of leader that people will follow and I do feel that Mike was able to see how difficult my job is.”

She and other nurses appreciated the time investment and interest in their work environments and challenges.

Dave Pecoraro, Senior Vice President, and Chief Information Officer shadowed Pat Duran, a registered nurse at Lutheran Medical Center. “I loved that Dave was able to see and experience the fast pace we nurses have to keep in order to provide timely, accurate care. I appreciated his willingness to roll with the punches. He was excited to observe how technology had made bedside nursing easier. He seemed sincere in his attempt to make our jobs as RN’s better and safer.”

Care site administrators also had similar reactions. Judy Austin, Interim Chief Nursing Officer at Lutheran Medical Center was impressed by the detailed observations from the system senior leaders. Their expertise provided valuable insight to improve the nurse’s and patient’s experience. Jamie Smith, President of Saint Joseph Hospital, noted how special it was to have the SCL leaders at the bedside, experiencing a day in the life of our frontline nursing staff. Danielle Molden, Clinical Manager of Internal Medicine at Saint Joseph’s hospital added: “It was so meaningful for my team to see a senior leader with this kind of time and commitment and sincere interest in the care we provide. In my 35 years here at SJH, this experience is in the top ten!”

“Mike Slubowski had his eyes and ears open. The best part of the experience knew that those of us on the ground-level have the attention of people like Mike. I felt like he was genuinely receptive to learning what a day-to-day experience is for the nursing staff. He is a very approachable fellow and I would feel comfortable communicating with him in the future.” 
– Alex Vorce, RN (LMC, Progressive Care Unit)

“To me, the best part of the experience was having Kerry Kohnen get a feel for all that nurses truly have to deal with on a day-to-day basis. He witnessed how constant interruptions interfere with our abilities to complete our duties as nurses. Nursing is an ever-evolving position that can be difficult to see where things are going, especially in recent years with all the changes in healthcare reform.”  
– Rebecca Ronald, RN (GSMC, Internal Medicine)

“I appreciate that Chris Woolsey sought out this experience herself. She was truly interested in knowing more about a nurse’s duties. I took this opportunity to explain the importance of the nurse’s clinical knowledge, especially in a teaching hospital. We did not have any CNA’s on my shift, and she was able to observe the added duties and difficulties nurses face when there is limited staff.”
– Nicole Hughes (SJH, CV Surgery)

“We should celebrate and recognize our associates caught in the act of providing exceptional care and going one step beyond. We should look for every opportunity to highlight exceptional associate performance.”
– Dave Pecoraro

An Ode to Nurses

After shadowing the nurses, many leaders expressed their preference to seek out care at an SCL Health facility for themselves and their family members. This experience reminds us that nurses have been, and always will, be the backbone of the healthcare system. We must stay connected to the bedside to understand how to best serve our patients and progress forward as a team.

“Thank you for all you do to serve our healing ministry. We are blessed to have your leadership and caring spirit to serve our community and one another.”
-Michael Slubowski, President and CEO

On behalf of all senior leaders at SCL Health, we are humbled by your service and we thank you for what you do.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not reflect the view of SCL Health or any affiliate organizations.

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