5 Steps to Handle a Crisis Like a Pro

Being a nurse leader when everything is going smooth is one thing, but being a nurse leader when a crisis comes along is a whole other beast. Many Nurses shy away from leadership roles because they fear to be the one in charge when it hits the fan. What do you do when all eyes turn to you for answers? How do you step in and lead your team? Here are 5 steps all nurse leaders need, to take charge.

1. Slow it down


When you’re frantic, there is no thinking, decision making, or acting to resolve the issue at hand. Slow down the situation and those involved. The only way to do this is to control your thinking. Instead of letting your inner dialogue go down all the ways this bad situation could get worse, focus on what is going on now, and what steps are needed to correct it. There will come a time to come up with a plan to counter the fallout. But in this first step keep it simple. What is the path of least resist that bring the most positive outcome and resolve the situation at hand?

“Slow is smooth, Smooth is fast” – Mel Gibson in The Patriot.

2. Get “Most” of the story

Nurse Crisis 80%
Copyright: viperagp / 123RF Stock Photo

Once you have slowed it down get the information you need to make informed decisions. Ask questions. Often key facts are left out in the heat of the moment, so it’s important to make sure to dig a little deeper until there is enough information to act swiftly. I remember a situation when a resident was choking. It was lunch time, and one would assume the resident was choking in the dining room. In fact, when the caregiver came running up to us, we immediately ran off in that direction. Luckily, the caregiver stopped us long enough to tell us where the resident was so we could move in and act swiftly.

With that said once we knew where the resident was had enough information to act. Now could have we asked more questions and gotten more information? Yes but that would not have helped this resident.

Bernstein Crisis Management speaks to the 80% rule.

80% rule. Leaders certainly want to make the right set of decisions. Strong leaders understand they will not always have all of the information they might like. They know that making an imperfect decision can often be better than making no decision at all. Even if the decision needs to be “fine tuned” for implementation, they are comfortable making it.”

3. Exhale

Nurse Panic Stop and Breath
Copyright: vipervxw / 123RF Stock Photo

pan·ic1 – a sudden overwhelming fear, with or without cause, that produces hysterical or irrational behavior, and that often spreads quickly through a group of persons or animals. – Dictionary.com

Before rushing into battle take a deep cleansing breath. Here is the weird part, in a panic situation, you can’t do it. First, you need to exhale. Force all the air out of your body completely emptying you diaphragm then breath in.

“When you feel like you can’t catch your breath, it’s because you forgot to do something.

You forgot to exhale.

That’s right. Before you can take a deep breath, you have to give one away. Why? Because, when you’ve been breathing in a short, shallow manner (from your chest), if you try and take a deep inhale, you just can’t do it. All you can do is take a more labored, shallow breath from your chest. That will give you all the air you need, but it won’t feel good.” Anxiety Coach.

4. Be ready to work

Crisis Nurse leader

The quickest way to lose the respect and trust of your staff is to sit there and delegate out all the sacrifice that must be made. However, By being the first to put yourself in the front of the fight, you will gain the respect and loyalty of your staff and be able to model how to handle the situation at hand.

“If there are sacrifices to be made – and there will be – then the leaders should step up and make the greatest sacrifices themselves. Everyone is watching to see what the leaders do. Will they stay true to their values? Will they bow to external pressures, or confront the crisis in a straight-forward manner? Will they be seduced by short-term rewards, or will they make near-term sacrifices to fix the long-term situation?”- Developing a Leader

5. Rely on your training


Crisis Nurse Training
Copyright: leremy / 123RF Stock Photo

It’s interesting that when people need to perform CPR they often come away saying something to the effect of “I can’t believe I remembered how to do it. It’s like I just knew what to do”. This is why state regulations often require us to complete our CPR training every 1 – 2 years. Hopefully, when the situation comes to hand, we are able to react and have our muscle memory primed to handle the emergency. The old adage “hope for the best, prepare for the worst” is a mantra every nurse leader should become intimate with. The one thing anyone can do to prepare for the worst, keep calm in a crisis, and be the leader the situation needs, is to keep learning, keep training, and keep drilling.

Have more tips for crisis management? Please comment below! Also, drop us a line if you have subject matter requests.


Author: Derek Di Camillo

I have been a nurse since 2010 and come from a variety of fields. CPR Instructor, Customer Service, IT/Technology to name a few. Through my travels I have learned many lessons that have prepared me for leadership roles in the Assisted Living industry. I am constantly seeking to better myself and share what I have learned and am learning along the way.

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