Barb Tofani Is Confident “We’ll Come Out of This Stronger”


Barb Tofani Is Confident “We’ll Come Out of This Stronger”

May is National Nurses Month. It comes as the profession is being tested like never before, thanks to one of the worst pandemics in history.

Tough times call for tough leaders. With a calm, cool demeanor and 40 years of nursing experience, Barb Tofani was built for this moment.

“It’s been the most challenging time of my career, something I thought I’d never see, let alone work through,” she says. “The pandemic has really challenged all healthcare workers, nurses in particular. In the beginning, there was so much we didn’t know. Our caregivers put hands on patients here and then had to go home and put hands on their own babies and children. It was scary. Staffing became unstable. More people were leaving nursing at the same time we were asking them to work long hours, so there was a lot of stress, a lot of burnout. And it wasn’t just the stress at work but, I think, stress at home—people were feeling it on a personal and professional level. I think about myself. I didn’t have COVID, but some of my family members and friends did, which just added a lot more pressure. Staff have been deeply affected.”

Through it all, Tofani has remained steady, adjusting to the changes. Her resoluteness may be attributed to her upbringing in a small town north of Pittsburgh with parents who taught basic life lessons she has held close.

“My parents grew up in the Depression, and they engrained in all of us that you’re lucky to have a job to make money, that you should respect your employer and work hard, and I did,” she says. “They taught us to be resilient, because no matter what barrier you face, somebody else has always got it rougher than you—keep that in mind and keep plugging away.”

Minding What Matters

As she watches her nursing staff navigate these tough times, Tofani makes it her job to do as much as she can to inspire them and keep their minds focused on the mission.

“Families come to us in crisis, and they hand over their most precious asset—their babies and children—so we can care for them and get them through a difficult time. Helping our nurses to recognize how important they are to these families and these sick children can inspire them, and that’s what I try to do,” she says.

When asked what inspires her, Tofani softens, and with a special smile, mentions her son, Joe, whom she raised alone. “His dad passed away. I was a single parent, so we kind of grew up together,” she says.

This year, Joe graduates from college, and Tofani says she couldn’t be prouder of him.

Professionally, she draws inspiration from the mission of compassionate care.

“I started out as a candy striper hospital volunteer,” she recalls. “I’ve been a nurse now for four decades. In all those years, there has never been a day when I didn’t want to come to work. I love what I do, and I believe in the mission of the hospitals where I’ve been employed. For me, there’s nothing like giving children and families comfort and hope that they’ll recover, despite their circumstances.”

In fact, Tofani says nothing fills her up quite like providing bedside care.

“Before I retire, I would like to do that again. I’ve worked in many specialty areas during my career,” she says, “but returning to a specialty care area would be difficult because everything is so technologically advanced. Still, there’s no other job that’s more fulfilling.”

Nurturing the Next Wave

Now at the top of her profession and with 15 years at Cincinnati Children’s under her belt, Tofani enjoys mentoring others. She believes it is an important way to have a lasting impact on future generations.

“We have an opportunity to work with students while they’re finishing college or other professional programs. They have so much excitement. It energizes me to support them, answer their questions, help them transition from a program to the bedside, and acclimate them to be the best nurses they can be. I learn more from them, I think, than they learn from me,” she says.

Tofani believes that compassion is the most important trait for a nurse to have.

“Letting patients and families see how much you care, putting that warmth around them, and helping them to a better place is something you can’t teach. It’s in your heart,” she explains.

What’s Next?

Tofani feels optimistic about the future of nursing, despite the upheaval of the past two years.

“We’re going to be fine,” she declares. “We’re going to emerge stronger than ever because of what we’ve been through. It’s going to be difficult to bring people back to the bedside. Many of them left to go to ambulatory roles and outpatient clinics, which offer better schedules. Coming back to 24/7 shift work is not a preferred lifestyle for a lot of people, so we have to come up with more creative ways to attract, retain and reward staff. It’s about recognizing employees, showing them that we’re interested in their professional development and helping them to be the best they can be.”

Tofani is proud of her son, Joe, who graduates from college this year.

Her Secret Passion

When our Chief Nursing Officer isn’t working at the hospital, you can often find her in the kitchen.

“I love to cook—baking in particular,” Tofani says. “I like to make dishes that my parents made when they were growing up, traditional dishes with roots in Croatia. I also love to host parties and bring people together—my nieces and nephews. I have them over for holidays and special occasions, and that kind of takes me away from it all. I’m not the greatest cook. So when I retire, I’m going to take lessons.”

Share this page

Go to the next article

Hematology/Oncology Team Pitches in to Help Air Force Unit