It takes a special type of person to be a successful children’s hospital leader. In addition to their clinical expertise, healthcare professionals who specialize in children’s care have a distinct set of interpersonal skills that position them to successfully navigate the particular challenges associated with caring for sick children and their families.
First and foremost, leaders in children’s hospitals must create a culture of compassion from top to bottom. Tensions can run high when parents bring their young child(ren) into the inpatient setting. Leadership must exemplify composure and compassion for the parent’s situation to reassure them that their child is in good hands.
Moreover, care teams may find themselves in the difficult position of delivering bad news. Forming meaningful relationships with parents and delivering information in an effective yet compassionate manner helps parents understand that their child’s care team will go the extra mile to assure high-quality care.
But how can you tell if a prospective leader is actually compassionate? It’s all well and good for a candidate to say they’re compassionate, but the proof is in the pudding. During the interview process, focus on letting the candidate tell stories about their previous experiences. Outcomes look great on resumes, but be sure to ask probing questions about how they were achieved. Pay close attention to the type of language they use while recalling the story — is it cold and clinical or empathetic and emotional? This will shed some light on their interpersonal skills and allow you to make a more informed hiring decision.
2. Emotional Intelligence
High-performing children’s hospital leaders possess higher-than-average emotional intelligence. Succeeding in a child-centered environment requires near-superhuman levels of resilience and the capacity to imbue their staff with such attributes. A patient’s decline is a traumatic event and can be extremely demoralizing, particularly in pediatrics.
Studies have shown that “emotions play an important role in the relationship and communication between nurses, and patients and families, and there is a growing body of evidence that emotional intelligence and compassion are essential interpersonal skills for establishing confident empathic communication.” Children’s hospital leaders are able to deliver bad news with decorum and compassion.
Communication is the cornerstone of both interprofessional collaborations as well as care team-to-patient and family relationships. Successful leaders in this space are not only good communicators themselves, they also encourage, role model, and value these skills for their teams. Again, when interviewing prospective hires, pay attention to their verbiage and whether it lends credence to compassion, trustworthiness, and clarity.
Parents in the children’s hospital setting are understandably anxious about their child’s wellbeing. They may jump to conclusions, imagine the worst, or misunderstand a situation. Experienced care teams and leaders know to remain calm and collected to explain the ins and outs of the child’s situation, all while inspiring confidence in the plan. These types of communication skills are imperative in children’s hospital leadership.
As a subset of communication, conflict resolution is a major part of any healthcare leadership position. Good leaders in children’s hospitals are well-versed in this skill because they’ve spent their careers addressing parental concerns while maintaining the integrity of care.
4. Patience & Trustworthiness
Leadership in children’s hospitals should work to instill the values of patience and trustworthiness in their teams. They know that treating children presents new challenges when compared to treating adults because kids may:
- misconstrue explanations (depending on age)
- be unable to articulate their feelings effectively
- be afraid of certain treatments
- lack situational awareness
Connecting with children on their level and clearly explaining what’s happening will help allay their fears and lead to better outcomes.
Additionally, parents may have knowledge deficits regarding protocols, procedures, and processes. Care teams must recognize this and educate and establish trust to move forward with the plan of care. This demonstrates dedication to relationship building with the family, making subsequent visits more manageable and comforting for the whole family.
5. Commitment to Mentorship
Pediatrics, like many areas of healthcare, is in a staffing crisis. While the coronavirus pandemic has undoubtedly exacerbated the issue, it was not the direct or exclusive cause. Nurse enrollment in pediatrics began to dwindle as far back as 2013 when “6% of the national nursing workforce were employed as pediatric nurses; in 2017 that percentage was reported as 4.7%.”
Because the skill set required for successful children’s healthcare teams is unique, leaders must commit to mentoring programs that position the next generation of providers for success. Piquing interest in pediatric practice through sponsorship and mentorship helps the upcoming workforce understand the unique dynamics of working with children and their families. After all, there’s no better way for new team members to learn the ropes than to have experienced leaders show them the way.
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