Guest Blog – Teamwork makes the dream work

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Today on the MDS Outreach blog we have a post, from Dr Ella Quintela, a junior doctor working in intensive care, talking about the importance of teamwork in medicine.

The ability to work well in a team is one of the most important qualities that a good doctor should possess. Classically, TV shows and films have depicted the doctor as the ‘hero’ who saves the day. But in reality, a patient gets better as a result of not just a doctor, but because of other professions such as nurses, physiotherapists, pharmacist and the list goes on and on. Furthermore, remember that as a doctor you can subspecialise in different specialties and often more than one specialty will be involved in a patient’s care.

Think about the different teams that you have been in before. Whether it’s a sports team, a musical group or for charity, it doesn’t matter. Now think of a challenge that you needed to overcome. Maybe a match, performance, goal? My example would be that I am currently a junior doctor working in intensive care with other medical staff, nurses, physiotherapists and pharmacists. The challenge that we faced – looking after the many patients that required intensive care admission during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Next, think about what makes a good team? Some examples of qualities that a good team would have are:

• Members share a common goal and work together to achieve it
• Flexibility and ability to adapt to challenges together
• A supportive environment

What do you think? Can you think of any more qualities that a good team should possess?

And now, taking each of the bullet point that you have, see whether you can find a direct example of how your team has demonstrated this. Here are a couple of examples:

‘Members share a common goal and work together to achieve it’

During the pandemic, we all had the same goal – to provide the best possible care to the critically unwell patients that needed to be admitted to the intensive care unit. These were the most unwell patients in the hospital who needed multiple-organ support. They often needed to be put on the ventilator and would need very strong medications to support their heart. At times, they would need dialysis. Whilst everyone had their own set job (doctor, nurse etc), we all worked together to get tasks done and to also support each other. For example, the medical staff would help the nursing staff with preparing some of the medications before they were given to the patient to save them time. We even had sub-teams dedicated to certain tasks – for example there were a group of people who made sure that everyone was wearing the correct PPE (personal protective equipment) before stepping onto the unit!

‘Flexible and adapt to the challenge together’

To cope with the increased number of patients, doctors, as well as other types of staff were redeployed to intensive care from all areas of the hospital. They supported the intensive care staff by not just being an extra pair of hands but also in the clinical management of the patient. Normally in intensive care, you have doctors who are specialising in either intensive care, anaesthetics and sometimes medicine. But in the pandemic, our team expanded to include different types of surgeons such as urology, orthopaedic and cardiothoracic surgeons and medical specialties such as respiratory and infectious diseases! This only enhanced the skillset of the team, as the different specialties were able to directly and quickly contribute their expert advice if a particular issue came up. This saved time as they were already part of the team and familiar with the patient and did not need to be called from a different area of the hospital. Another bonus that teamwork across different specialties/professions bring is that you all learn from each other.

‘A supportive environment’

There were times that people struggled with working in intensive care during the pandemic, as we saw many patients who were very unwell with COVID-19 come in and deteriorate. Many of the patients would then remain critically unwell for weeks on end, and some would die. At times, it would seem that this whole period would never end. The importance of mental health and well-being was emphasised to us all and we there were plenty of opportunities to talk and debrief about what we had encountered during our shifts. But just as we went through the tough times together, we also celebrated our successes together. The patients that recovered and were able to be discharged from the unit onto a ward received a round of applause from the staff as they were leaving. During these days, it felt very rewarding to be part of the team and it was very heart-warming to see someone be discharged from the intensive care unit.

Hopefully you can see that medicine is definitely a team sport. You are constantly working in many different teams and without the other members, you would not be able to get the job done. What examples have you put for your bullet points? After this, think about what makes you a good team member…but that is for a different day.

By Dr Ella Quintela

A huge thanks to Ella for all the time and effort she put into writing this blog.

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Author: Clare Ray

Clare Ray is the College of Medical and Dental Sciences lead for Outreach and Widening Participation.