AORN Blog - The Periop Life

COVID-19: Pandemic-Inspired Leadership Lessons

Call of Duty
August 12, 2020

In March, as the COVID-19 pandemic began to wreak havoc worldwide, Daphny Peneza, MSN, RN, CNOR, CSSM, TNCC and the team at the Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center in Houston knew they needed to act fast to protect their patients and staff from the deadly virus.

Not surprisingly, leadership decided that the best team to train frontline workers and monitor PPE compliance was the operating room team. Under the Chief Nursing Officer’s guidance, a Surgical Services PPE Task Force was quickly established and Peneza, an RN IV/neurological practice specialist for education in the neurosurgery department, was chosen to lead the project.

“Suddenly taking on a new role during a pandemic was really daunting. I was scared but motivated,” Peneza says. “My energy was channeled to give my best while finding the team’s strengths. The initial actions I focused on were how to support, educate, and motivate the team to help make an impact from day one.”

She hit the ground running knowing this leadership experience would be like no other and understanding this critical PPE-focused project would impact the entire staff–and patients.

Peneza says her number one goal was to help improve PPE use and selection among frontline workers caring for patients during the COVID-19 pandemic. As the project began, the main concerns the task force identified were:

  • inconsistent use of PPE
  • lack of knowledge related to the proper donning and doffing of PPE
  • conflicting recommendations for donning and doffing

Intradisciplinary Team Set the Pace

The 60-member Surgical Services PPE Task Force consisted of perioperative RNs, surgical technicians and patient care technicians who offered diverse expertise and broad support. Peneza describes the benefits of collaboration as, “Working with an exceptionally reliable and motivated team is a huge plus during a global crisis of this magnitude. The vision of our CNO, guidance of my directors, support of the unit managers, as well as the dedication of the task force members was commendable. The collaborative spirit of the team enabled us to withstand the natural process changes brought on by COVID -19.”

Peneza’s educator skills kicked in at the project’s onset as she reminded the task force the importance of standardization, leading by example, and transparent communication. Specifically, the guidelines that the task force created and would have to adhere to, and communicate were:

  • providing a systematic approach for donning and doffing,
  • validating compliance with PPE protocols,
  • supporting healthcare worker during donning and doffing,
  • offering guidance through answering questions and reporting risks, and
  • educating on proper PPE selection.

Be Ready to Take on New Roles During the Pandemic

As an educator, Peneza is accustomed to training her perioperative colleagues on best practices in neurosurgery care and emergency crisis management. However, she says, taking on a large intradisciplinary team in the middle of a global pandemic really puts your leadership acumen to the test.

She believes her fellow perioperative nurses will likely be taking on additional projects outside their normal job descriptions as the COVID-19 cases begin to tick upward again. Here are her top tips for taking on a project leadership role during this crisis and beyond:

  1. Don’t underestimate the importance of strong communication skills.
    Strong communication skills are extremely important in navigating the complexities of large organizations. Understanding and acknowledging that the task force members are all individuals with various communication styles was imperative. Our entire organization is consistently focused on our core values that stress open, honest, collaborative communication. I knew everyone would need to rely on these values, if we were to be successful.
  2. Don’t forget professionalism even in a fast-paced global crisis
    Despite the intense time crunch, my goal was to lead the team by presenting clear and attainable goals while always keeping compassion and flexibility top of mind. We accomplished the mission collaboratively because we trusted each other’s strengths and we remembered that we were all going through it together, yet in our own individual ways.
  3. Eternal optimism wins the day.
    They say that when the going gets tough, the tough get going. The challenges that COVID-19 has presented to my facility are unprecedented. Having a positive attitude during it all helps on tough days. With that said, it’s also equally important to practice self-care, too. You must take care of yourself before you can adequately give energy back to your team. My favorite ways to recharge are video calls with my family and making hearty meals. What are yours?

Peneza’s experience leading the task force during a worldwide pandemic has given her a new perspective on what it takes to lead through change and the importance of keeping morale up. Her facility’s surgical case volume was back to almost 100% in June, and the task force disbanded, with an internal research team is collecting post-exposure data from the COVID-19 units as well as from the task force.

As of August 5, due to the recent COVID-19 case surge in the Houston area, the program has been reinstated to include three units, 30 volunteers, and seven Periop 101 nurse interns. Peneza knows her earlier experience leading the task force will help her take on this next COVID-19 PPE challenge.

Perioperative Care of the COVID-19 Patient

Learn how to effectively implement COVID-19 leadership strategies, resume operations, and help ensure safe PPE practices from pre-op to post-op – with updates as new guidance emerges.


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