Terrible First Times

I recently took the opportunity to begin Brene Brown’s podcast, “Unlocking Us”, specifically the episode regarding FFT’s. What the heck is an FFT? For the purposes of this post, I will instead use TFT’s in an effort to keep the language less raw. Terrible First Times (TFT) – you know, that first time that you go through any situation, have to perform a task for the first time, that moment you are no longer the expert. That terrible feeling in the pit of your stomach that you are no longer in control and there is the opportunity that this could go less than optimally. Brown’s description of terrible first times really hit home, because I truly feel that is the world many of us have personally have lived in for the past almost 12 weeks.

We have said it a thousand times, this experience we are having is truly unprecedented. It is basically our terrible first time, relived and reinvented each day. Each day is presenting a first time challenge! Whether it be employee relations, employment status, patient care and satisfaction, telemedicine or shifting the strategic direction for our businesses. Brown’s process for walking through TFT’s began with identifying and naming the TFT. Previously, I believe we have been under the impression that if we name a thing, we give it control and power over us. By naming our TFT, we are in now in control of it. Pandemic, that is what I’m naming this TFT. The lessons learned and processes that have been reinvented are such that I could not believe we would be doing in the year 2020.

Being honest, we only spoke about the opportunity for telemedicine, it was an exciting innovation we were all looking forward to implementing within our healthcare facilities. Prior to early March, 2020 – there were more pressing things on our plates, whether it be affiliations, mergers, implementing new electronic medical records or concentration on improvement of our employee and patient engagement scores, the time was never right to invest the resources into pushing our telemedicine opportunities forward. And then, boom, COVID-19.

Speaking from my own experience, we were about 18 months from being even close to rolling out some semblance of telemedicine or video health visits. Suddenly, we were partnering with Zoom and seeing patients virtually in a matter of two weeks. I have the good fortune of working for an institution that was quite financially sound prior to the declaration of our pandemic, but soon, TFT #2 came into play and I was working with my leadership team about how to furlough employees while still maintaining appropriate staffing for the urgent and acute care needs in both the inpatient and outpatient settings. I never would have thought I would be customizing schedules for my surgeon and support teams in order to accommodate their needs for home schooling and childcare.

We are far from figuring out what the next chapter and next TFT’s are for each of us, and we are all experiencing different TFT’s currently. Remember that these TFTs do not define you, your resiliency does. The way we react as leaders now will define the way our collaborative teams will be able to respond in the future. All eyes are on us as leaders at this time and we are the ones who should have the answers. We don’t! And we need to be honest with ourselves and others about that.

Give the TFT a name. Define how it makes you feel. Begin working through the process of how you are going to get through your first steps of the TFT, and what resources you need to accomplish this. TFTs can only happen once, thank heavens. We just have to sort through many of them during this time.

Jennifer Pendleton, MS
WHCM Chairwoman