Teamwork in Healthcare: Eight Truths That Can be Borrowed from Hockey

HealthcareJanuary 23, 2014

How does teamwork in healthcare relate to hockey? The Hockey Hall of Fame player, Wayne Gretzky, said "hockey is a unique sport in the sense that you need each and every guy helping each other and pulling in the same direction to be successful." Hockey is, in fact, not unique in this respect, but one doesn't need to look to scientific literature to see this. Here are eight truths from hockey that can be applied to healthcare.

1. Learn to skate properly. You can't function as a valuable team member unless you have the basics down, practice your craft and brush up on your skills throughout your career. 

2. If you don't have a shot, pass.  Sometimes you need to seek advice from a colleague. Perhaps a patient is not recovering as expected, or you're unsure of which blood collection tube to use. Depend on your teammates for their help.

3. Pass the puck to where the player is going, not where he is.  Good teamwork in healthcare involves forward thinking, and anticipating what will need to be done next. If you haven't prepared your work to be taken over by the person relieving your shift, you are making their job harder. 

4. Checking from behind will land you a penalty. In hockey, "checking from behind" is hitting someone from behind when they aren't looking and can't defend themselves. In a hospital, you could do this by neglecting to document something you've done with a patient, potentially causing them harm. Communicate with your team members so they know what is happening and what is coming next.

5. The goalie is there to protect you.  In healthcare, you can think of the goalie as rules, regulations, and operating procedures. These features are in place to protect both the worker and the patient. Sometimes, however, you may have to be the goalie, because it is everyone's responsibility to watch after the team. 

6. Leave the ice when your shift ends.  Just as hockey players only work for limited amounts of time before switching with another player, healthcare providers also need to know when to stop. While it might be tempting to take extra shifts as they are available, it is important to take care of yourself, too. This means taking time off and occasionally saying "no." For a team to be successful, all of its players must be healthy and rested.

7. Passing over two lines is against the rules and will trigger a face-off.  Always follow the proper chain of command, and don't escalate problems unnecessarily. There is a proper person with whom to address problems, and going outside the chain of command can cause distrust among a team.

8. The team is more than just its star player.  Every team has its own MVP. While that person may receive the most recognition, or be the most well-known player, he or she wouldn't be able to win a single game with no teammates. 

In a budget-restricted climate, you can be assured that every member of your healthcare team is there for a reason with a specific purpose. If each team member knows his or her role, and is respectful of the roles of their teammates, together they can create an atmosphere of camaraderie.

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