A little fun at work used to help build team spirit

The other week, thanks to promotion, I finished my last shift in the emergency department I have worked in for the past 15 years. I first worked in emergency care as a student in 1987 and immediately loved it. I applied to go back as soon as I qualified and, after six months on a surgical ward, I returned as a staff nurse at King’s A&E, London. Things were different then, and even 15 years ago, when I started back in A&E after having my children, the life of an emergency nurse was very different.

Although we took on extended roles, they were considered an extension to our caring responsibilities, and not an expectation. In those days, everyone did short shifts so at lunchtimes there were twice the number of staff in the department. The staff on each shift would all go for lunch together, and there was an opportunity to have teaching and staff meetings, a chance to reflect on interesting or difficult cases.

On night shifts, the department would have emptied out by 1am or 2am with only a trickle of people coming in after that. It gave us the chance to clean and sort out the department, and even sometimes to have a game ten-pin bowling with empty urine bottles. This may seem unprofessional but it was a time to build teams and relieve stress, to relax with your colleagues.

It is particularly important to be able to do this as we need to rely on each other in emergency situations. Nurses now may be amazed to hear that, when staff left, we would play jokes on each other like writing out casualty cards with silly names for the new doctors to call out: Patty O’Dawes, Hugh Jarse and the like. I was plastered to a broom handle and ‘arrested’ on my last day and taken to a local police station, for impersonating a nurse.

Now staff are disciplined for taking photos of themselves on duty. Emergency departments are stressful environments, with unpredictable workloads, patients with complex needs and sometimes high rates of staff burnout. It is important that we consider how we can continue to work effectively as teams and support and nurture the new staff who are following us.

About the author

Shelley Cummings is professional lead for safeguarding at the Royal Surrey County Hospital NHS Foundation Trust and at Ashford and St Peter's Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, Surrey