Addressing Healthcare Burnout
So you want to save the world? You run full force into your career of choice, ready to make that impact, protect lives, spread that positivity. You work tirelessly and...you burn out.
Burnout among those working in the healthcare field is enormous. According to the AMA, in a survey conducted online, the overall burnout rate across specialties for physicians is 42%. A study done in 2019 showed 14.4% of nurses were “unengaged” in their work and 41% reported being burned out. And now, in light of a global pandemic, there is more discussion of the burden put on public health workers and the increased reports of frustration within the field. Considering these are the people on the front lines of our healthcare system - the people in charge of keeping our communities healthy, these numbers are outrageous.
These numbers will have a significant effect on the workforce, the patients, and community health overall. And that is why it must be addressed. The concept of wellness is much more prevalent now in the health workforce and in medical education, buthe difficulty with wellness is that it means something different to everyone and cannot be a one size fits all therapy session. And we've probably all been required to sit through a forced wellness exercise... eyeroll.
Towards the end of my own intern year of residency I was feeling bogged down. I no longer had the vigor and excitement that made me look forward to going to work. I felt more disengaged from my patients. And then I knew I had to focus on the reason I was feeling that way and find a way to fix it. Now what worked for me may not be right for you, but here are some of the things that helped me turn my job back into something I look forward to doing:
-- It's ok to do nothing
I often feel that I should always be working on something to further my career. Being idle was never an option for me. But I have come to realize how important this time is. When I do not give myself that time, I feel pushed to my limit and lose the joy in what I'm trying to accomplish. Now I know I can still have achievements, even if I'm not working at it every day. So my advice would be to binge the tv show, do an art project, or just stare at the clouds. The sky's the limit on what you can not accomplish in one day.
--It's the little things
Both good and bad. Sometimes the highlight of my day is sneaking down to the cafeteria to get another cup of coffee. It seems so insignificant, but if I feel that I had that small time
to myself, I'm able to go back into patient care with full energy. On the flipside, if something bad happens I can easily let it affect my mood, but it is usually a little thing in the grand scheme of it all. I have come across challenges in residency and get very upset, but someone once asked me "will this matter in one year? five years?". So ya, remembering that everything is not going to derail this train ride keeps me in a better headspace.
--Schedule fun time
Now I know many of our calendars dominate our life, so this may sound unappealing, but it has actually been very helpful for me. If I block my calendar with time to work out, catch up with a friend, etc. it prevents me from adding a meeting during that time or finishing up charting. Having the reminder in my calendar does not let me push it to the side. Plus, they facilitate the addition of fun stickers in my planner.
-- It's ok to not be ok
We've all heard it: "suck it up", "you signed up for this", "this is no time to be emotional", or... my personal favorite "you're being dramatic". Well a wise friend once told me "you feel what you feel". Sounds silly, but nothing could be more true. So if something is causing you stress, it is perfectly reasonable to be upset. Venting can be healthy. And if those around you are not supportive, sayonara to them, and surround yourself with those who are.
--Others do not define you (or your career)
Most everyone in the healthcare field has to answer to someone. And, let's be real, that's no fun sometimes. You may often feel that these people are trying to change who you are or dictate what your priorities should be. Well guess what? This person is your boss, not your life coach. Yes, you should be respectful and do the tasks that need to be done, but no one can define what kind of worker/colleague/friend/human you want to be. So nod politely, get the job done, but don't let anyone turn you into a mindless robot pumping things out on the conveyor belt. Because (the ironic part) - no one wants to work with that type of person anyway.
--Go back to the start
Picture yourself as a child. And then picture yourself now. Weird right? But also, don't you think that kid would think you're pretty cool? Running around with a pager or tracking disease during a pandemic or researching the unknown? It may seem that you've come a long way, because you have. Be proud of that.
--Take things personally
With your career that is. When dealing with patients I try to ask one thing personal about them to humanize what I am doing. And added bonus, you often get some very interesting stories out of it... This can be applied to all aspects of healthcare, even if not directly doing patient care. Find humanism in what you are doing. Because, after all, isn't the heart of what we're doing to better humankind? And what can be more invigorating than that?
--Mute out the noise
If you are in "relax mode", silence/mute all notifications that will not be urgent. Because the email asking if you can help with a task three weeks from now... can wait. Along these lines, I have stopped doing work while eating. This helps keep me from overeating, lets me focus/ enjoy my food, and builds in 20 min (let's be real maybe more like 10min) of quiet time.
--Hard work deserves reward
If you are feeling that you are in a thankless job, others around you probably feel the same. I have tried my best to check in on my colleagues and encourage them. Many have returned the favor. And make sure to thank yourself. There are plenty of great spa packages on Groupon.
--Your health matters too
Everyone knows that you can't take care of someone else if you are not well yourself. I know many colleagues who cannot go to a doctors appointment or therapy sessions due to their schedules. Someone may need to take time off or make changes to their schedule for these things and as a healthcare community we should support this. I personally have utilized healthy meal kits and gym memberships, which have been good motivators to keep my own health at the forefront of priorities. And I make sure not to skip any healthcare needs I may have myself. Because at the end of the day, we should be treating our colleagues and ourselves with the care we give our patients.