The Collaborative Spirit in Healthcare

Keith Carlson, BSN, RN, NC-BC

Keith Carlson, BSN, RN, NC-BC


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Collaboration has long been a pillar of the delivery and management of healthcare, and in the age of the COVID-19 pandemic, it could not be more crucial as we struggle to get ahead of this chaotic and perplexing virus.

Despite the specialized silos that many of us often find ourselves involuntarily squeezed into, the fact remains that collaboration is essential to successful patient care, research, education, and any aspect of this labyrinthine system that we might care to name. In that regard, what can be definitively said of the collaborative spirit in healthcare? 

Our Collective Aim

When a nurse practitioner or doctor submits a nursing order, it is, in essence, a collaborative act. Why? Since the nurse receiving that order must read, confirm, perhaps question, and then follow through on that order if it all checks out as valid and in accordance with the nurse’s clinical judgment and the plan of care, the nurse’s following of the order is collaborative in nature. 

If a physical therapist, social worker, and nurse are to create a cohesive post-surgical home health regimen for a mutual patient, they must cooperate with one another in the interest of positive patient outcomes.  

In pharmacological research, nursing and medical education, mental health, and any aspect of care, if collaboration falls on its face, our collective aim is potentially abandoned. 

Not Collaborating? Think Again

For human beings, ego and pride can naturally get in the way of collaboration, but if we allow hubris to trip us up, then everyone stands to lose in the end. 

Specialization can be a wonderful thing, but many opportunities fall by the wayside when one specialist doesn’t want to share the sandbox with others. 

For example, a hand surgeon performs a surgery on a carpenter who suffered a grievous occupational injury. When the surgeon walks into the patient’s room waxing poetic about the success of the surgery while dismissing the psychologist’s diagnosis of acute PTSD and grief reaction, the collaborative spirit is damaged. And if the patient is confused by the surgeon’s praise of the surgical outcome in comparison with the psychologist’s assessment of his deteriorating emotional wellness, the potential for collaboration between patient and providers can also suffer. After all, it’s not only the team that collaborates, it’s also the patient and their loved ones. 

Building Bridges

Trust is what builds bridges between clinicians, teams, units, agencies, facilities, and the families and communities they serve. 

A partnership between a community hospital and local non-profits brings collaboration to new levels. When hospital employees and homeless shelter volunteers plan and execute a successful community-wide flu vaccination initiative, vulnerable segments are reached more effectively since volunteers living in local neighborhoods can more readily elicit fellow citizens’ trust. This results in more community members attending the clinics and engaging with the local healthcare system, which can lead to more overall preventative care for the community. 

Other collaborative public health efforts might include mental health nurses and clinicians teaching a course to first responders on dealing with citizens addicted to methamphetamine,  or perhaps a Viet Nam veterans’ group giving a presentation to VA nurses on vets’ greatest psychosocial challenges. 

Bridges can be built in support of many types of collaborations when willing parties engage in open dialogue and the building of trusting and cooperative relationships. 

We’re All in this Together 

Whether during the COVID-19 pandemic, a influenza outbreak, or a sudden spurt of homelessness in a city, community and collaboration count. “We’re all in this together” doesn’t need to simply be lip service; it can also be a rallying cry for cooperation on the individual and collective scale. 

There is no definitive user manual for human cooperation and collaboration; however, many before us have studied, theorized, and implemented strategies related to increased collaboration. From emotional intelligence to medical improv exercises, collaboration can be taught, learned, and passed on from one thoughtful individual to the next, and one community to another.

We are indeed all in this together, and collaboration is very frequently the keystone of success.

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