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Members of Unit 4B Fell
(L to R) Nurse Manager Alan Doyle and Administrative Assistant Jen Pittman showcase 4B Fell’s Cheers for Peers board along with team members, Emily Harrilal, Eric Pallarca, Amita Patel, Joy Allanic, and Marjorie Imperial. (Photo: UHN)

Though the focus at UHN is patient care, that's best done when people also remember to care for themselves and each other, which includes staff appreciation.

Boosting staff morale and team spirit became a top priority on Toronto Western Hospital's (TW) 4B Fell General Internal Medicine (GIM) inpatient unit earlier this year. Alan Doyle had recently moved into 4B's Nurse Manager role, and staff feedback indicated there was room for improvement when it came to recognition.

"One of the consistent things I heard from staff was: 'no one tells us when we do something good,'" says Alan. "And I wanted to find a way to make positive feedback a bigger part of our team culture."

He brought this challenge along to TW's annual Goals and Objectives retreat in April – an opportunity for teams from all of the hospital's units and departments to come together to brainstorm and choose a short list of goals they would like to work on over the next year.

Jen Pittman, 4B's Administrative Assistant, was part of the unit's delegation at Goals and Objectives and volunteered to take on the goal of better staff recognition.

"Before becoming 4B's administrative assistant, I was the ward clerk which is pretty much the hub of all the activity on the unit," says Jen. "I saw first-hand how intense the days could be and how hard my colleagues worked every day to keep everything running smoothly, so I was really motivated to come up with something special to recognize those efforts."

In her following brainstorm, the name came first: Cheers for Peers.

"I thought that was a fun name for the initiative and I liked that it rhymed," says Jen.

The concept followed shortly after. Drawing on inspiration from her young daughter, Jen designed a colourful and joyful bulletin board where staff could leave compliments and positive feedback for each other.

Staff can ask for a piece of coloured paper in the shape of a star on which to write their message which is then placed in a "Star Jar" affixed to the wall beside the board. Team photos and a cast of colourful characters round out the board which sits directly across the unit's nursing station.

'Made me feel acknowledged for good practice'

However, though it's nice for the unit to have a focal point for positivity, the team took it a step further making Cheers for Peers an active part of their daily routine.

Before the unit Safety Huddle, the team gathers at the board to hear and acknowledge the messages left in the Star Jar as they are each pinned to the bulletin board.

"We usually have at least one star every day," says Alan. "But in the odd event there isn't one, we'll instead discuss the things that went well on the unit the previous day."

Though it started as an initiative among staff, the colourful presence of the bulletin board soon prompted questions from patients and visitors who then usually ask to participate, and all interested are now encouraged to contribute.

Six months after it began, the initiative has been a resounding success as demonstrated by the overwhelmingly positive feedback Jen received through a staff survey about the board.

"The Cheers for Peers board made me feel acknowledged for good practice," says Frieda Antonio, Ward Clerk, 4B. "It makes a difference when you're acknowledged in public and in writing and, come on, who doesn't like to be a star for the day, especially when you get an actual star?!

"It's made such a difference for me."

On Nov. 29, Alan will share the results of Cheers for Peers on behalf of 4B at TW's Goals and Objectives Celebration, an event for units and departments to present one success or challenge that arose from goals chosen back in April, and share learnings with colleagues on how they achieved or resolved them.​

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