We don’t often think about the extreme stress that medical practitioners endure while shouldering the tremendous responsibility for the lives of their patients. Burnout and early career termination are frequent occurrences among these professionals, whether they are doctors, nurses, mental health professionals, trauma first responders, EMS professionals or emergency room staff.
Some of these medical professionals work with a population of clients whose needs are dramatic and immediate—victims of catastrophic injuries and/or those who are in overwhelming pain. As any family whose life has been turned upside down by a catastrophic injury will attest, navigating the healthcare system and coordinating the multiple aspects of care is a monumental and overwhelming undertaking. In the split second that it takes for the accident to take place, the family’s lives change dramatically and often permanently.
Dealing with catastrophic injuries and complex pain conditions necessitate a complex approach that supports not only the victim but everyone connected to the victim, every step of the way. Successful outcomes require an extremely dedicated and professional case management team, with a laser focus on optimal medical recovery.
I am honored to be invited to keynote the 2016 Summit for a company that has taken on these challenges and has done so with an amazing track record of success. This company, filled with unsung heroes, is Paradigm Outcomes. Like all companies charged with taking on dramatic and often life-threatening cases, Paradigm’s teams are extremely vulnerable to burnout. Attaining optimal outcomes can have burnout side effects. Of course, burnout is no stranger to any occupation, so the tips below apply to any industry where stress occurs simultaneously with job performance.
Healthcare professionals, especially those working with urgent, catastrophic cases, rarely afford themselves the time to develop stress resiliency skills. They are so focused on the task at hand that they concentrate on providing their skills to others, neglecting themselves in the process. Such activities as taking a brisk walk during breaks and after meals can go a long way toward calming and rebuilding mental strength.
The new rage in mental health is “mindfulness.” You can obtain free mindfulness apps on your phone, and these relaxing exercises can attain powerful results in literally minutes.
Having a break room with relaxing chairs, calming music and pictures/posters of island paradises, pristine mountain scenes, etc., can help to melt away stress. Being able to discuss the difficult cases with colleagues in such places can eliminate feelings of helplessness that often undermine burnout.
Many healthcare professionals are hard-wired with Type A personality traits. Among those traits is the need to be perfect in everything one sets out to do. You can imagine how such a need is self-destructive.
Healthcare professionals often go into this career field with the admirable desire to help people recover and save lives, but they will never be able to solve every issue and save every life. You need to recognize that you can diligently diagnose, design treatment plans, consult with colleagues and treat your patients, but you will not always save them…no one can. Moreover, a large part of “saving” patients depends on the patient being compliant with the treatment plan. Sadly, that important ingredient is often missing.
Change your expectations to doing the best you can with the available technology and medicine, rather than feeling like a failure when patients do not recover. Self-acceptance without judgment is an important trait for everyone to embrace.
Self-acceptance involves self-compassion. Healthcare professionals are hard-wired with empathy and compassion for their patients, but all too often self-acceptance and self-compassion are missing. Simply put, if your best friend was suffering from the stress in which you find yourself, what advice would you give to her/him? I’m certain you would be empathic and make a myriad of healthy suggestions, but, do you ever follow the same stress-reducing prescriptions for yourself?
Treat yourself like you would advise your best friend or close relative. Understand that it’s natural to be stressed under these circumstances. Give yourself a break!
Another powerful suggestion is to recover your balance through the balance of others. During the devastating bombing of Britain in WWII, the population was able to maintain their balance by identifying with the calm, not-to-worry demeanor of their leader, Winston Churchill.
Make sure there is at least one person in your life who faces and reacts to stressors very calmly. Reach out to that person to discuss the stressors you face, and resonate with her/his calmness. This is the essence of giving yourself permission to have self-compassion. Our bodies have evolved to mobilize to stressors, which can be exhausting. Absorbing the calmness of others enduring the same stressors can serve to de-activate your stress.
These are the important keys to resilience that I will share with the catastrophic event teams attending the Paradigm Outcomes Summit in October. They are some of the key ways that healthcare professionals – and indeed anyone in a stressful career – can use to prevent burnout.
Author and professional speaker Dr. Jack Singer is a licensed Clinical, Sports and Industrial/Organizational Psychologist, author, trainer and consultant. His expertise includes a Doctorate in Industrial / Organizational Psychology and a Post-Doctorate in Clinical / Sports Psychology.