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Emergency staff are on a mission: Know My Name

By Abby Alten Schwartz

Something as simple as a name can make a big impact.

Just ask M. Kit Delgado, MD, MS. “Instead of saying, ‘Hey, you—can you do this?’ it’s nice to say, ‘Hey, Sarah, can you help with this this?’ and foster good personal relationships,” he said.

As director of Penn Medicine’s Nudge Unit, a team that helps people implement best practices, he sees firsthand how small behavioral changes can reduce barriers to better care and communication. Delgado is also an Emergency Medicine physician at Penn Presbyterian Medical Center (PPMC), where getting to know his coworkers can be a challenge.

“Sometimes I’m still a little bit more of an outsider because I’m only there once a week. I’m also, just by nature, not great with names,” he said. 

Thanks to Know My Name, a project recently launched in the Emergency Department (ED) at PPMC, Delgado now has more confidence addressing his colleagues by their preferred names—which aren’t always what’s printed on their ID badges. 

Know My Name is a website and digital screen, for staff use only, that shows the preferred name of every participating ED employee working each shift, categorized by job function. Staff members can also have their photo taken and displayed with their name to make identification easier. Employees must log in at each shift in order for their photo and name to populate the screen.  

The virtual directory was developed to help staff members get to know one another and improve their interactions. Know My Name may be a simple concept, but it has a substantial mission: to promote equity and inclusion in the workplace.

A tool for antiracism

A wall-mounted monitor displays two nurses’ names and images.
When staff log in at PPMC’s ED, the Know My Name screen displays the faces and preferred names of their colleagues for that shift.

Hana Choy, MD, an Emergency Medicine physician at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania (HUP) and PPMC, said the idea for Know My Name grew from discussions among members of Penn Medicine’s ED antiracism task force

One topic that came up was the feeling of going nameless within the department. This was primarily expressed by those in the ED who were not physicians, such as our nurses, techs, and security staff,” Choy said. “And given the breakdown of the groups within the ED, it also struck everyone as an issue that creates a kind of racial divide as well.”

Choy pointed out that in the ED, there’s a higher ratio of white physicians to Black or brown, with the inverse true among nurses, technicians, unit clerks, registration staff, security team, environmental services workers, and other positions. 

The problem of people not knowing each other’s names doesn’t just fall along racial lines. It further reinforces the hierarchy that commonly exists within a hospital system, Choy added. 

Delgado agreed, saying that people tend to socialize in clusters with others in a similar job, or who look most like themselves. He was among those on the task force who helped identify the need for Know My Name. 

On the surface, identifying staff members may not seem like a complex job, but it was a team effort that took several years. Choy led the project, reporting to Eugenia South, MD, MSHP, assistant professor who was then vice chair for Inclusion, Diversity, and Equity in Emergency Medicine, and leader of the task force. 

South, who prefers to be called “Gina” and is now the health system’s associate vice president for Health Justice, knows the value of a name in a feeling understood and seen. “Gina felt it was very important for us to try to find a way to learn each other’s names so that we could feel more like a team,” Choy said.   

Welcoming new staff

Nurse Chareeta W. holds up a piece of paper displaying her name and job title.
The PPMC Know My Name project, which allows colleagues to know each other by their preferred names, has led to stronger staff relationships and communication in the ED.

Because there are always new faces in the ED, the task force needed an electronic solution that could be easily updated. They brainstormed and shared examples of similar efforts—such as inpatient floors that put photos of hospital staff, labeled with their names, in patient rooms to identify the care team for that day. 

In a busy ED, with a total workforce of roughly 200 to 300 people, it can be hard to learn the names of employees. Nurse Chareeta Wilson, RN, BSN, said the project has helped her get to know the newest group of nurses who were hired around the same time. 

“We have three young ladies who all look similar. Know My Name really embeds their names with their faces so I can make sure I’m talking to the right person,” Wilson said.

Wilson has also appreciated the opportunity to get to know the ancillary staff better, including the security workers. “These are people who are supposed to protect us, so it’s nice to have a better rapport with them and to actually get to know them,” she said, adding that now that she’s learning names, she’s trying to make a habit of using them when saying hello. “It makes people feel more welcome and known and seen,” she said.

Jay Gonzalez, a unit clerk in the ED, provided feedback during the beta phase of development. Since Know My Name went live, he’s noticed it helps break the ice with workers who may feel apprehensive about introducing themselves in a new environment.

“I get to know who people are—their actual names—as opposed to seeing people with unfamiliar faces go by and saying, ‘Hey, you,’” he said. “It does catch some people off-guard when I address them by their name if they haven’t been introduced formally yet, which I don’t think is a bad thing.”

A better team dynamic

Unit Clerk Nana and ED Tech Ryan hold up pieces of paper displaying their names and job titles.

The project is promoting better communication in the ED, Delgado said. “To best be able to function as an emergency department and take care of patients, we have to all work in tandem,” he said. “If you’re in a room with 10 people trying to resuscitate a patient and you don’t know the names of the people you’re working with, you’re not going to do a great job.” 

ED Nurse Manager LeighAnn Mazzone, MSN, RN, agrees that the Know My Name project has led to a stronger team. “With all the various groups working in the ED and the team members changing,” Mazzone said, “it’s a great way for everyone to put a face to a name, get to know everyone, and help build that team dynamic and camaraderie.”

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