Fostering a Culture of Gratitude in the RT Workplace

 Published: July 27, 2022

By: Debbie Bunch


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We often compare workplaces to families, but like families, they can be functional or dysfunctional. You’ll find plenty rife with rivalries, where jealously reigns supreme and toxic chatter takes over the group mindset.

But walk into others, and you’ll see a place where cooperation is the motto, team members have each other’s backs, and everyone gives new ideas and changes a chance to shine.

What drives such vastly different scenarios? Many believe gratitude (or a lack thereof) has much to do with it.

We asked three RT managers to tell us what they think a “culture of gratitude” can do for the RT department.

Reflected in actions

“In 2012, the American Psychological Association conducted a study that indicated that more than half of all employees intended to search for a new job because they felt underappreciated and undervalued,” said Kenny Winn, MHA, RRT, director of respiratory care at Atrium Health Cabarrus in Concord, NC. “As leaders, we need to ensure that our respiratory therapists feel appreciated and valued as consistently as possible to continue growing a strong profession.”

Winn believes managers that express their gratitude to their staff members and instill a sense of gratitude in them reap many rewards, including maximizing team performance in a number of dimensions.

“High-performing teams have a strong personal commitment to the growth and success of each other and the team as a whole,” he said. “Appreciation is the starting point for this cohesion.”

The key to the effort is recognizing the talents each team member brings to the table — and acknowledging that those talents may be diverse.

“Strong teams have many different talents,” emphasized Winn. Applauding team member strengths only helps them become stronger overall.

Jerin Juby, MA, RRT, director of respiratory care services and an adjunct faculty member at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia, PA, believes gratitude is a lens through which we see ourselves and others.

“Our sense of gratitude reflects in our actions,” he said. “I believe it transfers from person to person through our responses.” While team members may be different from one another, when they appreciate each other’s strengths and weaknesses, they can easily stick together and support each other through good times and bad.

“A culture of gratitude is a common ground where we can come together,” said Juby. “It becomes an internal realization and an important factor to motivate us to do what we are called to do.”

Gratitude and team go hand in hand

Katlyn Burr, MSM-HCA, RRT, RRT-NPS, AE-C, director of respiratory care and sleep medicine at Nemours Children’s Health, Delaware Valley, in Wilmington, DE, believes “gratitude” and “team” are two concepts that go hand in hand.

“A patient does not have a good outcome after a 14-day hospital stay because of one RT on one shift,” she said. “If an RT is successful in extubating a patient, or helping them with early mobility, or getting them discharged after a procedure, not one RT did it without the help of others.”

She admits it can be challenging for therapists to keep that fact in mind, especially during busy shifts, but she says it is essential and has been even more so during these past two years of the pandemic.

“We all must set each other up for success and be thankful for each effort in that process,” she said. Taking a few moments to step back and see this big picture can be a powerful lesson for everyone in the department, including those in leadership. She uses it regularly to keep her going when work pressures seem insurmountable.

“The rate of burnout in RTs is around 80%, and the shortage of RTs is a large professional hill we must climb,” she said. “It’s easy to feel defeated when you look at those numbers or after a tough shift. Gratitude is one way to stay positively connected to the work you do every day and energize and engage yourself and your colleagues and friends at work.”

Patients need it too

All three managers emphasize that the culture of gratitude extends to patients as well.

“Showing gratitude to our patients is very important,” said Winn. “When we show appreciation and gratitude, we build trust. Our patients need to trust us in order for us to maximize the care we offer them.”

Juby says this gratitude is two-fold.

“One, it allows us to provide our patients with the best care we can give — physiological and emotional — while they are in stress,” he said. “Two, with each patient interaction, I believe we expand our sense of gratitude that we got to care for them. It is like another drop in our well of gratitude.”

Conveying gratitude to patients is important in any setting, but it takes on even more meaning when those patients are just children.

“I have had the fortunate pleasure of working with children all my respiratory care career, and I feel like this has given me immense insight into how the culture and environment influence children and their families,” said Burr.

When children and families go into the hospital, they are often filled with fear and tension, and she says a smile from a staff member can go a long way to relieving the stress. Taking a few extra moments to let a child try a device on a stuffed animal or doll before putting it on the child shows the child — and their parents — that you see them as more than just another patient in the bed. It shows you are happy to be there and appreciate the chance to offer them the extra care and comfort they need.

“This really makes a difference and creates a partner in care culture that is valued beyond measure by so many patients and families,” said Burr. “I have seen it translate into increased compliance and lower amounts of sedation in my environment, and I know these things happen in every facility around the world.”

Parents at her hospital especially appreciate that level of care. Burr recalls a recent experience when a mom shared how happy she was for her child to have been assigned to a certain RT. The therapist had already demonstrated such a caring attitude toward her child that she felt comfortable getting a shower and running down to the cafeteria to pick up some breakfast.

“We often take for granted the little things, but those things often mean so much,” she said.

Creating an environment of gratitude

How can hospitals and RT departments foster a culture of gratitude in their workers? Kenny Winn says a simple “thank-you” goes a long way in his facility, and he also believes his department shows staff they are valued by helping them climb the clinical ladder.

Communicating departmental changes consistently is a way of expressing gratitude, as is saying yes to the ideas and thoughts staff members bring to the table.

“You’ll never know if an idea is good if you say no,” noted Winn.

In his department, praise is shared whenever possible as well.

“When we hear a praise from one teammate to another, we will repeat that praise to as many others as possible through conversations,” he said. “Recognizing these efforts will create an environment of gratitude, and gratitude tends to be infectious.”

At Thomas Jefferson, Juby says he encourages his staff members to take the time to support and thank each other, something that’s been especially important during the tough couple of years they’ve been through.

They also have a Mission Moment award wherein any employee can nominate any other employee or team for practicing the organization’s mission and values. The department is also instituting the PHIL Award, which specifically recognizes excellence in respiratory therapists.

Nemours Children’s is also a PHIL Award hospital with several other initiatives designed to keep the culture of gratitude going strong. For example, twice daily huddles end with employee recognition, and rounds with leadership include some dedicated time to ask questions and recognize others for their work.

“This gives associates a time to reflect, and then the manager or myself sends a ‘kudos’ to the recognized associate, letting them know they were mentioned, and their efforts are not going unnoticed,” she said.

The kudos program extends to the hospital intranet and app as well. Any employee can send kudos to another employee, and Kudo dollars can be attached to the thanks. Employees can then redeem their dollars for merchandise in the hospital store.

A morale committee organizes goodies for the staff on birthdays, holidays, anniversaries, etc., is also part of the mix. In addition, leaders host a monthly event featuring even more goodies for staff. Finally, a new mentor program is helping to create relationships and gratitude in the workplace.

“We also celebrate the wins at work,” said Burr. “For example, the educators in our department track the charting errors made monthly. An RT with no charting errors for the month is recognized, their name is put into a drawing for a cafeteria gift card, and each month the winner is presented at huddle for each shift.”

Nemours also offers employees a chance to get paid for volunteering in the community, helping to further the culture of gratitude in the facility.

Practice makes perfect

Gratitude doesn’t always come naturally, but as these managers suggest, practice can make perfect.

“I think the thing that works the best is normalizing a culture of gratitude,” said Burr. “Gratitude should be built into the everyday processes and core of the department. Only talking about it or showing gratitude once a month is not going to be as impactful as doing it every day.”

Juby says gratitude begets more gratitude.

“I believe the mindset of gratitude is contagious,” Juby said. “It spreads joy in the midst of struggles.”

Winn believes it is up to managers to make sure gratitude is not just instilled but treasured.

“In every workplace or on any team, people innately want to feel appreciated and valued,” he said. “Every respiratory therapist who considers themselves to be a leader has the responsibility to foster a culture of value and appreciation.”

Living that mindset is critical, and Juby may have summed it up best.

“As a respiratory therapist, I find it deeply touching that every breath that I take without any additional support is an ongoing reminder to be thankful,” he said. “I think ‘culture of gratitude’ in respiratory care workplaces is a reflection of these breaths that keep us going so that we can give breaths to those who can’t.”

Email with questions or comments, we’d love to hear from you.

Debbie Bunch

Debbie Bunch is an AARC contributor who writes feature articles, news stories, and other content for Newsroom, the AARC website, and associated emailed newsletters. In her spare time, she enjoys reading, traveling, photography, and spending time with her children and grandchildren. Connect with Debbie by email or on AARConnect or LinkedIn.

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