Why Taking Better Care of Yourself Allows You to Take Better Care of Others
For healthcare professionals, taking care of others is second nature. It’s why most physicians go into their line of work in the first place. However, when we spend so much time putting the health and care of others first, we often neglect caring for ourselves. Putting ourselves on the back burner might be sustainable for some time. But it is a medical culture flaw that is leading to increasingly alarming rates of burnout across the board for physicians, nurses, and medical students alike.
What leads to burnout?
It is no secret that going through medical school is a stressful and challenging time. But the patterns of medical education culture - long hours, increased pressure, time constraints - don’t stop upon graduation. They’re habits that medical professionals often carry with them in their practice and career until they’ve completely burned out. If we allow ourselves to continue down this road without stepping in and making our personal well-being a priority, the healthcare industry can’t and won’t improve. Industry leaders need to develop and implement self-care strategies to help mitigate loss in both the professional and educational sectors.
The importance of implementing a self-care practice for healthcare providers has a direct correlation with an improved quality of life and therefore a better handle at improving the quality of life for their patients. When we succumb to the pressures of the industry, we risk facing diminished personal well-being, moral distress, compassion fatigue, emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, inefficacy, anxiety and depression, and ultimately burnout. The work factors that have been shown to contribute to these negative effects include:
- Work overload
- Lack of control over one’s work environment
- Increased demands with little to no additional support
- Spending too much time on work that’s inconsistent with one’s career goals
- High levels of work-home interference
- And more
So how do we overcome these challenges to improve physician wellness?
It was Thich Nhat Hanh who said, “In order to heal others, we first need to heal ourselves. And to heal ourselves, we need to know how to deal with ourselves.”
The first step is self-awareness. Self-awareness is an essential factor in one’s ability to function well in the face of personal and professional stressors. These stressors can vary with the type of care, but they exist for everyone. Possessing higher self-awareness increases work engagement, improves compassion satisfaction, enhances self-care, and improves resilience, thus improving patient care and satisfaction. When we become aware of our stressors and their effect on our quality of life and the quality of our work, we can use self-care as a means to turn things around and improve physician wellness overall.
Improving physician wellness is a multifactorial process that includes both personal and professional self-care. A proper work-life balance is key for achieving optimal results. These factors are fantastically laid out within the Wellness Wheel. According to the Wheel, if we balance physical, intellectual, emotional, spiritual, social, occupational, and environmental factors, we can mitigate burnout and minimize the harmfulness of the effects that lead to it.
Creating balance requires a series of changes across a span of factors. Self-care is a wide spectrum of knowledge, skills, and attitudes. These include self-reflection and self-awareness, identification and prevention of burnout, appropriate professional boundaries, and grief and bereavement. When acknowledged and strengthened, self-care practices can minimize harm from burnout, compassion fatigue, & moral distress as well as promote personal and professional well-being.
Studies show that a couple of particular self-care and self-awareness practices can vastly improve physician-patient connection. One method that enhances self-awareness is mindfulness meditation. Being mindful develops purposeful attention in the present moment, cultivating a kind, non-judgemental attitude toward self and others, an enhanced sense of well-being, increased empathy and decreased anxiety. Another method is reflective writing. This method promotes reflection and empathic engagement.
By implementing personal self-care strategies such as maintaining a healthy lifestyle, getting adequate sleep, using vacation time, participating in recreational activities, and practicing mindfulness and meditation, we are giving to ourselves. Through team self-care strategies we develop a strong network of peers and mentors and improve communication & management skills. By increasing self-awareness and setting boundaries, aiding in improving skills to empathize with others, and encouraging sharing personal and professional sources of meaning with one another to connect to our shared cause, we are giving to our practice. By consciously working to combine all the above factors, we are giving to our patients and ourselves.
When supported and strengthened, caring for patients can bring gratification and a sense of personal and professional purpose rather than burnout. Providing care for patients at a vulnerable time gives physicians a sense of self-efficacy and strengthens the sense of connectedness and idealism. Physicians remember the preciousness and fragility of life. These experiences, when recognized, can underscore the importance of self-care & can be conveyed to the next generation of physicians. Instead of looking outward and asking, “How can I improve the industry to better care for my patients,?” perhaps it’s time to begin looking inward and ask “How can I improve myself?”
While implementing self-care may seem daunting in itself, the return is way worth the effort. From an individual, team, and organizational level, DCC has created Caring For Ourselves So That We Can Care For Others to support in embracing and implementing self-care to improve the personal experience and the company’s bottom line.
Nicole Pellegrini is a blogger, designer and content marketer originally from New York and currently based in Los Angeles, CA. She is the creator of the professional lifestyle blog, Candy Revolver. Her favorite topics to write about are personal development, self-care and making a career out of your passion.