My First Year As A Ward Manager

Exactly a year ago today, I walked in to my new work place in my black jumpsuit and 2.5-inch stiletto- excited that finally, after so many years, I no longer have to wear uniforms. Most importantly, I finally found an excuse to wear nice clothes and some heels. Earlier that day, I had my corporate induction and then I was shown around the hospital. Then, to my office. Yes, my office. It was kind of hard to believe that I had an office all to myself. It used to be a toilet I was told. Did I really care? No, because I would rather be in a toilet office alone, rather than share with people whose moods are as fickle as the British weather. I was so excited, I immediately dropped my handbag on top of the drawer and sat on my chair. I wanted to absorb the possibility that this job could ultimately fill in the missing piece in my career. I closed my eyes briefly and then I heard a commotion by the door. It was the ward sister. I stood up to introduce myself- but before I could even extend my hand to her, she got down on one knee and told me that I was heaven sent. It was such a humbling experience, at the same time embarrassing as I wasn't expecting such a respectful welcome. Besides, I have not proven anything just yet- until a few minutes after the exuberant welcome from the team, when a situation arose and I was compelled to showcase my managerial skills, which at that point was zilch. I ran in my heels to where the problem was, and I have not stopped since. Unfortunately, wearing heels had to stop eventually because I walk fast and I love running up and down the stairs, so I realised that I was putting myself at risk of injury considering my clumsiness.

Later that month, I held my first staff meeting. I had no clue how to do these things but I did it anyway. In the end, I found myself preaching in front of my staff. In a trembling voice, I asked them to please be kind to one another. I continued by emphasizing how important it is to help each other out because "no matter how hard the job is if we are working with kind and helpful people, things always become easier". I ended my speech by saying that life is too short to be unkind. Those words have become my mantra ever since, and up to now, I still say it in the middle of the nurses' station at random times. I suppose this is the closest thing I could ever get to achieving my dream of becoming a motivational speaker at TED talks. I left the room feeling proud of myself. Firm, but fair- this was how one of my staff described me after the meeting. She then asked me how I learned to speak that way. I honestly didn't know and I still don't. I think I just have a big mouth and I often speak my mind. But the most important thing from that very first day was that, for the first time in 5 years, I was confident again. I held my head up high from that moment on because I knew then that I could definitely do the job despite my lack of managerial experience.

The first three months were not easy. I suppose I made myself too available to some people- people who sucked my energy out of me. Everyday, I was bombarded with childish complaints about colleagues whom they've worked for years. I realised eventually that they were deprived of attention. No one seemed to have given them the opportunity to talk and be listened to. As someone who I believe is gifted with the ability to listen, I was generous with my time. I was patient and allowed them to talk- until someone became very worried. "There is now a lot of negativity", I remember her telling me. Whilst her face showed so much concern, I was blase about the whole thing. She went on and said, "people never talked, and now all they do is complain". All I could do was to reassure her that it was not negative to speak out. I explained to her that "these people were deprived of the freedom to speak. And now that they have found someone to talk to, they are talking". I realised from that moment that I had to work hard on my staff. I realised that they were my foundation to be successful in my role and so I invested time, energy and positive words in them. 

I lost a few staff in my first 6 months as a manager. I would have considered that a bad thing, however, those people were the same people who have wanted to leave even before I came into post. People who were consumed by negativity and failed to see the good things in the work place and in others. People who said they will not support me. People who were under performing, and people who had hidden agendas. Their departure did not bother me that much because at the end of the day, the right people will stay no matter what happens. Besides, I firmly believed that this was not a reflection of my management. They simply had to go.  

Staff came and went throughout my first year. I can't honestly remember how many nurses I interviewed during that time, but it was exhausting. The problem was that people didn't have genuine intentions. They were not who they said they were during the interview. Some looked good on paper, but couldn't even give a concrete answer as to why they were applying for the job. Most of them said that they were tired of having too many patients as they were always short-staffed. Some were too honest to say that they wanted an easy job. What they didn't realise is that nursing- be it in a private hospital or the NHS, will always be hard-work. In different aspects and in different levels, yes, but they are equally challenging nevertheless. 

I just realised that I have now written four paragraphs about people. This only proves that the biggest challenge of my first year as a ward manager was basically people.

But of course, not all people have been challenging at work. Otherwise, I wouldn't have made it to a year. There are at least five people that I am very grateful for as they have not stopped supporting me since day one. Without their help and support, I wouldn't have survived. My ward sister being one of them. I know some people saw her differently, but I knew from the moment I saw her that she was very capable. Perhaps she was just not given the right support. I owe her so much that I can't stop thanking her until now. Without her unquestionable loyalty, unwavering support and perseverance, we wouldn't be where we are now. My Head of Nursing, whose kind words gave me the confidence that, despite not having a background in management,  I could do the job just as well. Every constructive criticism she gave me only pushed me to work harder and deliver with utmost confidence and efficiency. From the day of my interview, she has empowered me, perhaps unknowingly, to be the manager that the ward needs in order to get to where they needed to be. 

A year on and I believe that I now finally have a robust team. One of my not-so-new nurses has been a blessing. She has proven to be a very important part of the team and with her help, I am confident that we will succeed.

I can't say whether my first year as a ward manager has been successful or not because I feel like I have not done enough. I just hope that my staff feel supported and that they are happy, because I believe that happy nurses deliver the best care to patients. 

As I embark on another year in my managerial role, I remain optimistic that one day, this challenging journey will lead us to where we want to be. There are still a lot of work to be done but I know that we will get there.

It has been a very challenging first year. There were times when stress got the better of me. I broke down at least twice because life's demands became seemingly unbearable. But the challenges I faced in my first year as a ward manager left me with some valuable lessons that inspired me to be a better manager and most importantly, a better person.

I guess one of the biggest lessons I learned during this journey is the fact that experience becomes insignificant when you were born to do a job. And with this comes authenticity and pure intentions.



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