Transform Healthcare by Turning Nurses Into Wolf Packs

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You’re probably asking yourself what how wolf packs could transform healthcare. I understand your confusion, but just stay tuned.

I recently spoke with a newer nurse who was struggling with the reality versus the fantasy of being a nurse. She envisioned nursing as a career where she could truly make a difference with her patients. Where she could sit with them while she provided comfort and education. Where she would leave every day feeling good about the impact she was making on the world.

Now her reality is all about doing more with less. She doesn’t have an extra minute to do more than what is absolutely necessary, let alone sit with her patients. She leaves at the end of her shift feeling like she failed her patients and the nursing profession.

Does this speak to you as a nurse in today’s healthcare climate?

My mind was flooded with opinions and advice on the subject, but the first question I asked her was if she worked with a strong, supportive team.

Why? Because the fantasy of being a nurse should never be about one nurse. It should be the collective impact that a team of nurses have on one person, a group of people, and the human race! It is impossible for nurses to meet the needs of the public and make a positive difference with each one of them if we feel like we work alone. The my patients, my shift, my unit approach won’t get you very far as a nurse.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Not if you and your coworkers learn how to be more like wolves. Yes, I said wolves.

Nurses know that it’s humanly impossible to care for patients in today’s complex world alone. Successful nurses have evolved beyond the days of, my patients versus your patients (although, unfortunately, there are still some dysfunctional units and nurses who practice this way). Successful nurses recognize that it takes a village, as they say, or a pack of wolves.

I recently read an excerpt from a book about wolves titled, The Wisdom of Wolves, and immediately saw the application to nursing practice. Here’s the deal: Wolves are more devoted and committed to their family and community than any other mammal on earth. Nothing will stop a wolf from protecting the pack. Not even the threat of harm or death. Each pack member takes full responsibility for supporting and protecting every other pack member – no matter what.

Imagine if nurses behaved this way – protecting their pack. That would mean, every new nurse would be nurtured, supported and protected from harm. Every patient and their family members would be included in the pact. Each and every nurse would take full responsibility for their care. Everyone would go out of his/her way to ensure the success of his/her coworker.

Imagine the beautiful world we would have if nurses behaved like wolves.

Several years ago I was fortunate to get a glimpse of working with a wolf pack when I was working casual status as a bedside nurse on a neurological unit.  I was working with another nurse and her student in a 5 bed mini step-down unit (it’s a part of the larger unit but with more critical patients). In this mini unit, you don’t have a nursing assistant – you have to rely on each other. Throughout the day, I was amazed by the pack behavior of both this nurse and her student.

Here are a few examples of how they demonstrated wolf behavior.

I had a patient in isolation who needed repositioned and cleaned, so I asked for their help but then my other patient needed pain medication. I told my co-workers to give me a minute to take care of my patient in pain, however, as soon as I treated my patient, I saw that they were already gowned and gloved, in my patient’s room, taking care of her. Done!

The student told me my patient was incontinent (all over the bed). I immediately asked if she could help me (the patient was obese) but she said her and the other nurse already took care of it. Done!

The student walked my patient to the bathroom – twice.

I was getting a transfer from the medical surgical unit. Not only did they help me get the patient settled, but also my co-worker noticed the patient’s medications were due and GAVE THEM for me!!! Don’t worry, she asked me first.

Seriously, I have no idea how I would have been able to care for the patients assigned to me the way I would want MY family to be cared for if it weren’t for these amazing nurses.

What can you do to create wolf like behavior in your unit or department?

1. Adopt a wolf pack mindset

A wolf pack mentality is that of extreme loyalty and devotion to the group, which binds them together as a unit, despite times of hardships and stress.

Coach K, who has been honored as one of the greatest coaches once said, “The goal is to create a dominant team where all 5 fingers fit together in a powerful fist.” The ability to care for patients effectively, compassionately, and safely requires that everyone sees themselves as part of the same hand – as one team with one goal.

2. Put the performance of the team first – not the individuals

Wolves are highly social animals that live in packs. A pack is an extended family group comprised of different skills, strengths, and weaknesses. However, as a pack, there isn’t any group stronger.

When I worked on a cardiac unit, I was really good at drawing blood gases, but not so good at managing chest tubes (still hate them). As a cohesive team, we all knew the strengths and weaknesses of every nurse on the team. When ANY patient on the unit was ordered a blood gas, whoever was assigned that patient asked me to draw it (if I was working). If I had a chest tube, some of the other nurses knew to stop by periodically and check my system (bubbling okay here but not there!). We all knew that for our patients to receive the very best care, they needed the skills and strengths of all of us – not just the nurse they are assigned to that shift.

3. Make all decisions based on the following set of priorities:

Wolves work as a pack to defend their territory. They always make decisions based on what’s best for the pack as a whole.

In my article, 3 Military Mindsets That Can Transform Your Healthcare Team, I share insights from the military and how they make decisions. Follow this system and you will transform your unit!

1st – Mission

Every decision we make needs to be made based on what’s best for our patients. That’s our goal and purpose – not what’s best for ourselves.

2nd – Team

Once the patients are taken care of, the next decision should be made based on what’s best for everyone on the team. Did everyone get a break? Who needs help with patient care or filling out that new learning management system during your annual competencies? Focus on your team.

3rd – Self

Last but not least, make decisions based on what’s best for you. As a reminder, we are not inconvenienced every time we walk into work. Nursing is a service industry and it’s a privilege to serve others. The problem is that many nurses have it backwards. They make decisions based on what’s best for them, then patients, and maybe, if there’s time leftover – the team.

I will never forget the support I received from those wonderful nurses on the neuro unit that day. We were a pack of wolves – protecting and supporting each other AND taking full responsibility for our extended pack (patients). Kudos to April (nurse) and Elissa (student nurse) for understanding that the only way nurses can provide high quality compassionate care to patients is if we treat our co-workers like wolves treat theirs.

And as for the new nurse who is struggling with the reality of what it’s really like out there, I told her to be a wolf and encourage others to join the pack!

What can YOU do to adopt a wolf pack mentality on your unit?

Be kind. Take care. Stay connected.

Helping you cultivate a healthy happy workforce,

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4 thoughts on “Transform Healthcare by Turning Nurses Into Wolf Packs”

    1. Renee Thompson

      Thanks so much for commenting. Working together as a pack makes it so much easier to care for our patients and each other!

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