Building a Better Health Service


The ripple effect of a good gesture

Nurses reading


When I see my colleague’s everyday actions in caring for patients and service users, it gives me an insight into the kind of people they are and what motivates them to work in the health service.  The recent Values in Action Bootcamp reminded me these very same colleagues often show enormous care and compassion to each other too.


A colleague experiencing a difficult time

One particular example has remained with me after many years, from my time working as an Assistant Director of Nursing in an acute hospital.  I had worked in a similar role in the UK and was confident that I had seen and done it all.


However, I had a staff issue that was troubling me. One of the nurses in the emergency department was having a tough time at home. Just when things couldn’t get any worse, her son was involved in a road traffic accident and suffered a severe head injury. After weeks in the intensive care unit she was delighted when he was well enough to be transferred to rehab, however, the rehab facility was 60 miles away.


My colleague was balancing working full time, driving a 120 mile round trip daily to see her son and trying to hold the rest of her family together. The result was that she was emotionally distressed and physically exhausted and had used up her annual leave entitlement. 


Putting themselves in their colleague’s shoes and doing an extra, kind thing

As I was considering the options on how best to support this staff member through a difficult time, the emergency department nurse manager came to me.  She handed me a list of names and signatures of over 30 nursing staff from the Emergency Department team.  She explained that everyone on the list had agreed to ‘gift’ one of their annual leave days to help their colleague manage her personal commitments.

30 days would give their colleague 6 weeks of annual leave. I was astounded by this incredible and unanimous gesture of kindness and goodwill.  Although I thought I had seen and done it all before, at that moment in time, I wasn’t entirely sure what to say or do and I’m rarely speechless! The emergency department nurse manager simply smiled, told me to ‘figure it out’ and left. 

In a busy hospital it was very hard to keep news of this gesture quiet. Word had seeped hospital-wide within two days, and a steady stream of nurses from other departments made their way to me to add their names to the list.  After a week there were almost 300 names with annual leave days donated. That’s almost a full year!

Living our values

Every day I experience my colleagues living our values of care, compassion, trust and learning as they care for patients and service users.  When I see them putting themselves in the shoes of their colleagues and doing an extra kind gesture, that’s when I experience the culture in my workplace.  Culture is described as ‘how we do things around here.’ 


For this act of kindness there was no policy document, there was no memo from senior management, it was just colleagues putting themselves in another colleague’s shoes, living our values and offering a gift of time to someone who needed it most. I was overwhelmed by the camaraderie, the compassion, the empathy and the understanding that was being shown by the collective team towards their colleague.

I had never experienced anything like this before.

One of the 9 behaviours that underpins Values in Action is ‘Do an extra kind thing’, which is about recognising that a small, unexpected gesture can create a great sense of caring and compassion. It doesn’t have to be a big gesture, it can be as simple as saying a kind word, showing the way if someone gets lost or rings the wrong department, or holding a hand in a time of need.


Whether for a colleague or a patient, a kind gesture can have a hugely positive impact, because sometimes it’s the small things that can make a big difference to people.


Dr Mark White, Director, Nursing & Midwifery Planning & Development HSE South