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Leadership and professional development in nursing: Urs Wildbolz on his journey

Alina Bolz

Alina Bolz

May 16, 2024

reading time

15 min

Urs Wildbolz has been in charge of our private ward specialising in acute geriatrics for five years. In his role, he wears several hats every day, which he talks about in this interview. He talks about what drives him, who his mentors were and provides insights into his motivation and the challenges in nursing. What advice would he give to someone at the start of their career? Find out all this and more here.

Urs, you are Head of Private Ward 2 specialising in acute geriatrics here at Zollikerberg Hospital. What tasks fall within your area of responsibility?

I see myself as a generalist. In my role as the direct supervisor of a nursing team, I am responsible for personnel. This means that I take care of the recruitment of new team members, plan their induction and support them in the long term in order to empower and develop them. My tasks also include traditional elements of personnel development such as conducting annual appraisals. I am also involved in health management, particularly when it comes to managing absences and reintegrating employees back into the nursing profession.

Day-to-day business is also an important part of my job, and I am particularly responsible for ensuring that the service runs smoothly. This starts with resource planning to ensure that we can fulfil our basic mission - to care for our patients. It is very important to me that our carers can focus primarily on looking after our patients.

Education also plays a central role in my role. Even though I don't act as a vocational trainer myself, I work closely with our vocational trainers. This primarily involves implementing the training concept of the Department of Internal Medicine and managing the vocational trainers. I am also involved in the area of speciality development. Our ward is staffed by nursing experts who develop and implement concepts and standards - I'm also involved here.

We are a private ward and it is essential for me to maintain contact with our supplementary insurance patients. I always strive to maintain an open dialogue and am always present.

Promoting interdisciplinary collaboration is just as important to me. I regularly liaise with our head physician and the other doctors in Internal Medicine.

I am also involved in the "Visit" project in the area of personnel management, although I am not the central figure there, as is the case on our private ward.

You've been working here for five years. What makes you feel particularly at home in your place of work?

I moved from a very large hospital to a regional hospital, and the first thing that appealed to me here was the dual management system: here, the hospital management is always a combination of doctors and nursing staff. This was very important to me, because I believe it is essential that we are involved in the processes - a practice that I did not find in a large hospital run exclusively by doctors. For this reason, I made a conscious decision in favour of Zollikerberg Hospital.

We have a good working culture here; we work as equals, we know each other, can network well and are welcomed openly. Another important point for me is the room for manoeuvre that I have here. In a large hospital with many levels of hierarchy, as a ward manager you're mainly in an executive role. You don't have much room for manoeuvre, which I no longer find so appealing. This can be helpful at the beginning, as it can serve as orientation, especially for new managers. But the more you find your feet in your role, the more you want to make your own mark. Both steps were important for me. Perhaps I would have been overwhelmed at the very beginning without these guidelines, but in my current phase I really appreciate the room for manoeuvre here.

What experiences or encounters have influenced your professional direction and are there people who have particularly shaped your career path?

Yes, there definitely were for me: when I was a new graduate, I joined a team in which we had a ward manager who really was an outstanding personality. She was an Austrian - always charming, eloquent and very humorous. It was always important to her that we had a good working atmosphere and she often said: "We work a lot, but we also laugh a lot". We really had to work a lot because the patients were often very complex, but she totally inspired me and was extremely influential in my first year of work. I'm not even sure if I would have ever got into such a flow if I hadn't met her.

Later on, we had a head of nursing in visceral surgery who really encouraged me and took me along as a leader. It was a steep path at the beginning without any management experience. A lot was demanded of me, and then I demanded even more of myself. But she really guided me and I learnt a lot from her.

Looking back, these were certainly the most formative personalities, but there are also several people here at Zollikerberg Hospital who inspire me. But I think such personalities are even more influential at the beginning of a career.

What drives you in your work? What are your main motivators?

I've probably always been more of a doer type, someone who likes to get stuck in and isn't afraid to put myself out there. My biggest motivation is definitely my employees. What I find particularly cool is seeing how they develop - and you automatically develop with them. Over the years, we have become better together, both in terms of conflict resolution and our performance.

Then there's the work in the hospital with the patients and their relatives, which I still find extremely exciting. I used to be particularly fascinated by cutting-edge medicine, especially visceral surgery. Here at Zollikerberg Hospital, I opted for operations and came into contact with acute geriatrics - and I have to say, I think it's extremely cool. I am confronted with incredible stories and am always surprised at how older, elderly people manage to leave hospital independently. That really is an amazing realisation. The way we deal with patients in acute geriatrics is also completely different.

Was there ever a moment when you doubted your career choice - and if so, how did you deal with it?

I've definitely had moments like that in my life. I didn't originally work in nursing from the outset, but first completed an apprenticeship as a carpenter. I worked in this profession for four years, which I really enjoyed. Between the ages of 20 and 25, I also became fascinated by the hospital sector. During recruit school, I had the opportunity to do an internship in the emergency department, which really fascinated me. At that time, I decided to start the DN II training programme (diploma level 2), even if it meant giving up something.

Especially at the beginning of my training, I didn't really feel at home in my first internship; the team constellation wasn't a good fit either. But I knew that I could return as a carpenter at any time. Later, when I met the aforementioned ward manager during my nursing training, it was clear to me that I would stay in nursing.

It takes perseverance, because we're talking about personal development here, which often takes place when you're overstretched. You don't change without these challenges. At some point, you meet people who inspire you and then you stay.

What advice would you give to someone who is just starting out in their career?

On the one hand, I would advise them to look for a company, a team or a station where they really feel that they are supported - just as they are and where they can develop. For me personally, this has always been more important than the monetary aspect, and I have always paid a lot of attention to this. You have to build up your career continuously: It should be a mixture of staying in one job to develop there and perhaps also completing further training at the same time. But then also have the courage to tackle something new. For me, the whole thing is a marathon and not a sprint. I think we need to get away a little from the idea that we have a steep career path and will eventually reach a plateau. I think it's more about finding something that you're passionate about and can develop - then success will come naturally. In my opinion, putting yourself under too much pressure is counterproductive.

I often even had the feeling that I got these jobs by chance - which was of course no coincidence. When I realised that I needed something new again, something new came along. But I never had an overarching masterplan.

How do you define success in your role or in your professional field, and do you feel fulfilled in this aspect?

A particular success for me personally has been how we have been able to build up our team in recent years, especially with the switch to acute geriatrics. Despite a few changes, we were able to recruit new people. Together with those responsible for education at the Department of Internal Medicine, we have put our training programme on a solid footing. These are real milestones for me.

However, success is often difficult to measure and there are only a few things that I can attribute to myself alone. We usually initiate something or support processes, but ultimately we always do things as a team. That's why I prefer to see it this way: it makes me happy when something is successfully implemented in our environment. For example, when we manage to establish a culture on our ward in which trainees and students enjoy working. Or when patients say when they are discharged that they felt they were in good hands. It is also a success if we can not only retain employees, but also attract new ones and they are happy to stay with us for longer. Or when we manage to build something new across disciplines.

How do you manage to create a balance between work and private life? Do you have any tips for a healthy work-life balance?

As a manager in particular, it's part of the job that you take things home with you from time to time. It's always a question of degree - how much space you give these things in your own life. A lot of impressions accumulate during the day, and things often pop into your head when you get home in the evening. It is important to learn how to deal with this in your own role development.

Then there are also phases of life in which you are more challenged than usual. You have to be able to accept these phases. As a manager, it is particularly important to learn to "endure" - to leave things unresolved from time to time: Perhaps the duty rota has not yet been finalised, an absence has not yet been compensated for or the necessary staff have not yet been recruited for the next two months. And yet you shouldn't let yourself go crazy. Somehow it has always gone on.

Exercise plays a crucial role in my health. I cycle a lot, which is almost a kind of psychotherapy for me (laughs). Cycling allows me to think about a lot of things.

I also have two small children. On the one hand, they challenge me, but at the same time I want to be present and in the moment, I want to fulfil their needs. Since having children, a lot of things have become more relative. The challenge of juggling everything - family, work and my own needs - has also grown and somehow you have to find your way. That is also a development.

Smiling person with short brown hair and olive green top.

Alina Bolz

Deputy Head of Marketing and Communication, Directorate

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