The challenge of caring in extraordinary times

Isobel McDowell, Assistant Team Manager and FoNS Inspire Improvement Fellow

My name is Isobel McDowell. I am the Assistant Team Manager of a multi-disciplinary Community Mental Health Team for Older People. We provide a secondary specialist service for the assessment, treatment and support for people over 65 living with a functional mental health illness and/or dementia and those under 65 living with early onset dementia.

These extraordinary times created by the pandemic has meant that “caring” has now taken on many meanings and forms. Caring within our team has meant staff are balancing caring for patients, caring for their own families, caring for each other and generally lastly, caring for themselves. As a leader, I believe that creating a genuine caring culture is not a dramatic one-off event, it is born in the everyday actions, the tone of your voice, in your presence, your availability and in your curiosity by inviting conversations and encouraging ideas. It requires an active listening ear, observing anyone struggling, knowing each other’s needs and vulnerabilities whilst incorporating gratitude, appreciation and understanding.

In recognition of the increasing challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic and natural anxiety among staff, we introduced within the team, compassion focused staff support sessions, we carried out regular information huddles and pro- actively increased our regular communication as a team. It was also at this time I was fortunate to be accepted on to the FoNS Inspire Improvement Fellowship Programme. This wonderful opportunity could not have come at a better time. It has offered support, ignited ideas and promoted reflection. It has affirmed my belief that being in a leadership role, particularly in the current times, requires us to continually look up from our day-to-day tasks, look with eyes that can see beyond the obvious, look around to see and feel the team culture. I see this as my responsibility as well as part of my vocation.

The Inspire Improvement Fellowship programme has also opened my eyes to see from a different perspective.  To date, the programme has challenged me, supported me, motivated me, permitted me to try, to seek out, to acknowledge what is good and ultimately has allowed me to see that small actions can make a difference. The support from the experienced FoNS team and the other wonderful fellows has been part of my anchor, providing a shared, safe, strong and solid base from which to work from.  I am grateful to be on this journey and be part of this opportunity. I will continue to embrace it with curiosity and courage in the hope that with small steps, collectively we can make a difference when caring for all, during this pandemic and beyond. I have captured my reflections and feelings into a poem:

Caring Together

In my fellowship journey, I pause and reflect
To be a nurse in these times I did not expect
Our duty of care is a gift from the heart
Our patients and families, we’re there from the start
A challenging year has taken its toll
We’re tired and torn but resolved in our role
Our families they worry but understand why
We keep strong and keep going, we try not to cry
We anchor and nurture each other with pride
So we can reach out, we stand side by side
Our journey of care is easier by far

when we are united there’s no brighter star
To guide and to brighten each day anew
We’ll not be beaten, we know we’ll get through
So no better time to be a FoNS fellow
So grateful and proud, as I’m sure others echo
Support, inspiration and friendship have grown
We look forward to nurture these seeds which we’ve sown
Next steps are unknown but we’ll take them together
But the learning so far … well that stays forever

Comments are closed.