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Dr. Sandra Gomberg on Nursing Leadership and Competent Empathy

Sandra Gomberg '85 BSN, '90 MSN, DNP, RN, shares the unique leadership of nurses, most recently seen in the COVID-19 pandemic. 

She served as chief executive representing the City of Philadelphia at the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Community Vaccine Center (CVC) established at the Philadelphia Convention Center (PCC) in spring 2021.

Dr. Gomberg had been tapped again for this role by the Health Commissioner of Philadelphia’s Department of Public Health – she formerly served in 2020 as CEO at Philadelphia’s COVID-19 Surge Initiative. 

She is adjunct faculty in the Post-master’s Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) track and a member of the College’s Board of Consultors, as well as president of SLG-REG, LLC, a health care consulting firm focusing on disruptive innovation in health care delivery, business models and improving quality care.

Dr. Sandra Gomberg

The power of nurses is their ability to infuse higher level decision making with an abundance of empathy.  This means that, when faced with never-before-events like a global pandemic or the resulting vaccine response, nursing leaders can track the clinical, business and human parallels and make sound decisions best informed by competent empathy.

The nurse leader is at the mass vaccine site where only those people with defined conditions are eligible.  The nurse leader senses the hesitancy of the undocumented citizen approaching the registration check point and hovers quietly providing unspoken support. 

The nurse leader notices a woman wearing traditional Muslim garb and discretely mentions that female vaccinators and a privacy area are available. 

The nurse leader encounters individuals so desperate to get a vaccine that they have falsified appointments and do not live in the city or the state.  The nurse leader explains the guidelines under which the clinic must run, provides a referral phone number and, in spite of their persistence and arguments, she firmly turns them away.

A man is in line and the nurse leader notes his struggle to control verbal outbursts and is clearly anxious - security notices as well.  The nurse leader approaches the man and offers to show him a different line to walk into the clinic and he reluctantly accepts.  Moving away from the crowd reduces the profanity outbursts.  The nurse leader casually leads the man to the front of the line and helps translate his confused mumbling for the registrar.  A brief introduction to the clinical nurse creates the path for his successful vaccine and exit without his losing control. 

A woman is crying in the line - sobbing at times.  She tells the nurse that her son was an Army Ranger recently killed in active duty and being vaccinated by members of the active military makes her feel like her son is here with her.  The military officer has tears in his eyes that are hidden by his mask as they roll down his cheeks - the nurse creates an unnoticed pause to allow the officer a moment to gather his thoughts and feelings.

Events like these happen over and over.

The nurse leader exercises situational awareness and executive decision making but what makes the difference is the nurse leader's competent empathy. 

Without competent empathy, moments of silent support, direct no's that stick and engaged intervention are missed - and patients' bravery, resilience, fear and ill-formed decision go unnoticed and without responses. 

That is the nursing difference - competent empathy.