“If health care providers aren’t well, it’s hard for them to heal the people for they are caring for.”
-A statement from former US Surgeon General, Dr V. Murthy, MD. In 2016.
It certainly received a lot of attention and press coverage back then. As a healthcare professional myself, I agree wholeheartedly with it!
However, here we are, four years later. I have yet to see any true or lasting change come from such a revelation. It’s as if the world and its healthcare providers collectively said ‘Yes, that makes sense‘ and then promptly went back to whatever it was they were doing. We are still neglecting provider wellness.
As providers, at any level, we want what is best for our patients. There are countless stories about the extraordinary lengths healthcare professionals go to in the quest to heal, cure, or alleviate patient suffering.
We are advocates and allies for patients when they can’t advocate for themselves. We are the loud (when needed) voice in a crowded room to focus attention and effort. Often we find ourselves as hand-holders and support-givers for those in need. We see hurt and suffering and we rush to help.
So why do we have such a hard time channeling that same effort and focus on ourselves? We are often the last to take our own advice. A harsh but honest truth. Where is the emphasis or focus on provider wellness?
As providers, if we aren’t advocating for ourselves or our wellness then who is? If we don’t speak for ourselves, administrators and policy makers who appoint themselves as our voice may represent personal interests instead of our actual needs.
The need for self-advocacy is clear and the time for action is now.
As providers in any area of healthcare; we share a common responsibility. The unspoken requirement to endure repeated emotional and moral distress. We are asked to face tragedy and despair with such frequency it is hard for others to fully comprehend.
Our days are never the same, yet we endure countless situations involving death, sickness, and unexpected outcomes. These situations are often commonplace and there is usually little time for reflection. The associated physical, mental, and emotional toll is compounded over time.
In the rush of the day, with the endless list of procedures, tests, lab work, and charting (so much charting) we forget that we too are only human. We compartmentalize our trauma and keep moving forward because that is what the job demands. We must do whatever is necessary for our patients regardless of our own situations. Our goal is to cure them, keep them going toward another milestone, and ease their suffering. Even with our best effort, undesired outcomes happen.
Sometimes we find time to process these events hours or even days afterward.
Often, there is no time to process at all.
Eventually, as we continue to relive similar circumstances and endure soul crushing outcomes, we crumble under the exhaustion and emotional turmoil. Usually, this happens at home, privately, and is never discussed.
The statement made by Dr. Murthy in 2016 was necessary. It should have served as a strong wakeup call to providers. Instead of being shouted into a bullhorn, the few conversations it sparked were a hushed whisper in the background. Merely white noise.
Now, is the time for change.
As healthcare providers, we need to start advocating for ourselves. Our health, wellness, and the longevity of our professional careers depend on our ability to take care of ourselves. We need these strategies today and into the future. We also need to set the tone and put support systems in place for those who are next in line to care for patients.
In an ideal world, we would have access to programs and health initiatives focused on provider wellness. Organizations would encourage conversations regarding wellness and work alongside our busy schedules to bolster provider health and well being.
What can we do?
We aren’t living in this ideal world yet. Progress towards caring for ourselves and our fellow professionals has been painfully slow. Provider burnout and exhaustion remain important, prevalent issues.
By unifying our voices and creating a community to focus on provider health we can shine a light on a dark and often ignored area of healthcare.
We need to ask for frameworks and policies that protect our health and wellbeing. By starting the conversation we can set the tone as well as create a blueprint for future providers.
These steps are essential in fulfilling the greater purpose of caring for our patients and to stem the flow of providers leaving healthcare.
Our patients have come to expect a high level of care, trust, and vigilance. We owe it to them and ourselves to ensure we have the tools and strategies to stay healthy.
Only by making ourselves a priority, can we continue to deliver outstanding care to those around us!
It’s time to stand up and be counted. It is imperative we find our voice and ask for what we need, both personally and professionally. Healthcare providers need a strategy to ensure we maintain our own wellness in healthcare!
It’s time to start a community driven conversation about provider wellness in healthcare. Let’s advocate for ourselves, our collective health, and our professions.