After 25 years, Penny Stewart made a big career leap — from managing Utah’s surgery recovery team to managing an outpatient endoscopy unit. Here she shares what she learned about herself, integrating with a new team, and developing a culture of learning.
After 25 years in one area of University Hospital, I made a huge change. I went from the post-anesthesia care unit (PACU) to Endoscopy and GI Clinic at Redwood Health Center. It taught me a lot about myself, about resiliency, and about our system’s commitment to learning and community.
1. Give yourself (and new employees) time to adjust
After years in the same department, much of my work was done on autopilot. That is part of why I needed a change. But I was shocked by how much time and energy it takes to learn things like, “where’s the bathroom?” “what’s my new phone number?” It made me much more compassionate to new employees who are learning so much all at once.
Another challenging adjustment was getting to know my new work family. I felt a deep connection with everyone in the PACU. I had hired and worked beside them, in some cases for decades. I knew their family members’ names. We had a history together.
I thought I’d be able to connect and relate to my new team right away. I didn’t give myself permission to take some time to let new relationships develop. I expected it to happen faster and easier that it did. It took time.
2. Know what makes a good day for you
In the PACU, I had plenty of opportunity to provide direct patient care and it was (usually) the best part of my day. At Redwood, months went by with my focus on the managerial aspects of the job and I desperately missed the ability to provide direct patient care. I had not realized how different the patient care in Endoscopy would be and I no longer felt proficient stepping in.
It had always been my mantra that I would not ask my team to do anything that I wasn't willing to do myself. If they call in sick, I need to be able to cover them. If they say a certain task is too hard or can’t be done a certain way, I need to be able to say, “You’re right — I’ve been in your shoes. Let’s fix it.” I needed to get back to my core value of being able to support every member of my team and the patient at the bedside, not just from my desk.
3. Supporting a culture of learning
Cynthia paved the way for me to take a month off from my manager responsibilities and learn how to be an endoscopy nurse. She has built such a strong community of managers that value a culture of learning. Her team is characterized by trust and support. I’ve learned in the last year the kind of impact relationship-building can have. My colleagues have my back.
My staff did without a dedicated manager on-site for a month. The other Endoscopy managers stepped in to cover my manager responsibilities. The whole team supported me in this endeavor. Once I allowed myself some time to adjust, identified what really brings me fulfillment and then got the right education and training, I was finally able to successfully transition to my new role. The fact that everyone pulled together to make it happen actually strengthened the entire team.
How Cynthia Develops a Strong Team Culture
It's about building trust.
—Cynthia McComber, Senior Director of Endoscopy, Medical and Specialty Clinics at University of Utah Health
As a leader, you must have a relationship with your team to move things forward. I am a relationship-based leader. I have learned through the course of my career that if your team is truly invested in each other, you are able to accomplish great things. Relationships are the denominator for everything I do.
Giving my team an opportunity to develop these relationships through various modes is extremely important to me. It’s okay to take a break and have some fun together. These activities strengthen the team and have proven their worth repeatedly. As you build relationships, you build trust.
We are able to have open honest conversations as a team. We are able to accomplish our goals as a team. The support that surrounds a functional team by the individual members of the team is amazing. Because of these relationships, you are able to seek out help and support from your peers without judgement.
If a relationship is based on fear, you will not accomplish much. There will be no trust. Understanding how to build and maintain those relationships is the key.