A Story About Nurse Peer Coaching Part 3: A Good Match.

Posted on April 2, 2024 by VITAL WorkLife

Updated April 8, 2024

In a lot of ways, Kelsey Smith, RNC-OB, was thriving at Wildwood, the large hospital that had presented so many challenges in her first few months. She was coping with the scale of the place, far beyond anywhere else she had worked and with its pace and the demands it made upon her. And she was succeeding with patients too—she’d garnered a lot of positive reviews of her labor and postpartum care. One fourth-time mom had taken the trouble to email obstetric nursing director Yunjin Kim to say that “Kelsey’s combination of skill, efficiency and warmhearted concern, no matter how busy she is, is what nursing is all about.” Kelsey carried that message in her heart for a week.


Still, there were issues, and they tended to be person-to-person. She had gotten off on the wrong foot with anesthesiologist Dr. Luke Ward and it seemed she just couldn’t get onto the right one. For her, he exemplified the ‘superior physician’ who felt he could treat nurses like less-than employees. Obstetrician Dr. Veena Prakash could also rub her the wrong way, by asking curt questions like, “resuscitation equipment ready?” and “is her blood pressure holding?”—when she should realize that a veteran nurse like Kelsey would always be prepared with the right equipment and would sing out the moment there was a BP issue.

And then there was Karine Collins. It seemed to Kelsey that this traveling nurse went out of her way to get on her case. Never missing an opportunity to mention the breadth and depth of her experience, which ranged from under-resourced inner-city public hospitals to campus research facilities, Karine always appeared to be at least skeptical of Kelsey’s methods—and sometimes she openly called them into question.

Even on good days, Kelsey was weary of hearing “I never give them popsicles after labor—all that sugar? No, thanks” or “Kelsey, I’d love to pass along to you these fundal massage techniques we used at New York Presbyterian.”

On bad days, it was all she could do not to tell Karine off but instead she would take the whole mess home as a pain in her stomach. On top of her work fatigue, she was continually short with Kyle and the kids and had trouble sleeping as she ran “what I should have said” scenarios through her head.

One evening after work at a nearby coffee shop favored by Wildwooders, Kelsey found herself venting at great length to Dr. Amelia Morton, the obstetrician who’d become an informal mentor.

When Kelsey was done speaking and had apologized for going on so long, Dr. Morton said, “Kelsey, have you thought about coaching?”

“Coaching? Coaching what?” said Kelsey.

“I mean getting coached. Wildwood’s got a well-being program—I hope you got the notice in your packet when you came on board. They’ve got these peer coaches available to talk to.”

“Amy, I’m not looking for a therapist,” said Kelsey. “I just want to somehow deal with these people. I want to be fair to them, I even want to learn from them! But I’m at a loss as to how.”

“Well,” said Dr. Morton, “I’m pretty sure a coach can help you with that. They’re not therapists. They’re like problem-solving midwives.”

Both women smiled.

“Like obstetricians helping you bring to birth new ideas you can try if you’re frustrated in your work,” said Dr. Morton, smiling again.

It took Dr. Morton another half hour or so of urging, but eventually Kelsey agreed to learn more about peer coaching.

To her surprise, the coach that Wildwood’s employee well-being program suggested for her was a nurse herself—Greta Holmberg, RN, an oncology nurse who did not work at Wildwood. Kelsey was delighted to hear Greta worked at a different organization, one of her biggest hesitations was what felt like a lack of privacy when it came to peer coaching.

The other letters Greta had after her name, CPEC, stood for “Certified Personal and Executive Coach.” Greta was trained to work with clients to help them achieve goals that the clients themselves set. These are usually modes of fulfilling their personal and professional potential.

Kelsey certainly wanted to do that, but early into her sessions with Greta she simply appreciated being able to unburden herself about what was bothering her about her interactions with colleagues. As she sat with her coach, she did her best to articulate her issues over the first couple of sessions.

In session three, she got to the meat of the problem. “It’s not that these people are bad or bad at what they do,” she said. “They’re excellent! But they so often rub me the wrong way, and when they do, I clam up and this inner resentment grows.”

“How would you like your interactions with them to be different?” Greta asked.

Kelsey paused and inhaled—then exhaled.

“I guess I’d like our interactions to be more…on an equal footing.”

Greta nodded. “Mutual respect?” she asked.

“That’s it,” said Kelsey.

“So, I wonder,” said Greta, “how you could help that to happen.”

Kelsey recognized this was the million-dollar question as soon as she heard it. She’d been very focused on what her colleagues had been doing and saying—wanting them to change both. Instead, Greta was able to bring up the issue of what Kelsey could do. She recognized it as a practical application of a mantra she’d heard several times from Greta: “It’s great to figure out what you don’t have the power to change, like other people’s behavior, and what you can change—your own.”

She and Greta sketched out a whole sequence of scenarios: Kelsey could politely let a colleague know that what they said had seemed like critique—had the colleague meant it to be? She could admit to a certain sensitivity to criticism, but also a desire to be the best nurse possible. When a remark from a colleague struck her as too sharp, she could tell them so, speaking only about her response, not her idea of their intent, and neither attacking them nor remaining silent.

Kelsey wasn’t sure that she could do these not-so-easy things without some trouble and awkwardness. But Greta said, “trouble and awkwardness are perfectly okay. You’ll always do the best you can do—not necessarily the best you can imagine.”

And with that statement, Kelsey found some lightness and optimism rising inside her. As she left Greta’s office, her eye landed on a wall calendar, and she realized that as of Wednesday, she would have been at Wildwood for 9 months and ready to start a new chapter.

Continue with the final part of the story.

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