The medical and lay press is replete with articles about the overbearing burden that healthcare workers are experiencing during the pandemic.
Colleagues are working in settings which are over capacity, understaffed and caring for patients with the same condition which in far too many cases results in a poor outcome.
Appropriately, the authors of these pieces articulate that these stresses are leading to physical and emotional exhaustion, mental strain, and burnout.
Companion articles discuss the “great resignation” in healthcare as an outcome of these demands and predict further shortages due to difficulty in attracting workers to our field – largely because the public has been witness to the excess pressure put on healthcare professionals during the pandemic.
One could easily conclude that we are in for significant doom and gloom in healthcare in the coming years.
I certainly did as I read these pieces.
With this pessimistic mindset in mind,
I had the occasion to have an entire class of second-year Family Medicine residents at my home for their annual outdoor well-being day (a required part of our curriculum) at the peak of Delta and just prior to the Omicron waves.
To put their lives in perspective up to that point:
1) they graduated from medical school in May, 2020- meaning there probably was no real ceremony to mark that accomplishment,
2) they entered residency just as the pandemic was picking up steam in our region. During their internship, many were called on to do the unspeakable (e.g. holding phones so that loved ones could say goodbye, experience the piercing dilemma of not allowing visitors but knowing that a family’s loved one was dying, deal with daily onslaughts from family members stating that they were withholding drugs that could help their loved ones, etc.),
3) in the hospital setting, they only know one another and everyone else by their eyes because they have been wearing masks and PPE their entire training period,
4) they have largely been cut off from their support persons since July of 2020 – a time period when this is the most important and
5) they have experienced a deeper layer of exhaustion, moral injury and questioning than first-year residents have, as a group, ever experienced.
And, with all that, I concluded the day inspired by each of them.
We spent the time hiking, reflecting, meditating and focusing on what brings meaning to our work.
We shared laughter, relationship building, and meaningful and authentic conversation. As opposed to experiencing them as downtrodden and exhausted, they were energetic, connected, resilient and able to see the absurdities and realities of our work while not taking it personally or as a red flag that they chose the wrong profession.
It was a refreshing day and, to me, an experiential antidote to the articles referenced above.
As opposed to experiencing them as downtrodden and exhausted, they were energetic, connected, resilient and able to see the absurdities and realities of our work while not taking it personally or as a red flag that they chose the wrong… Click To Tweet
Not to be pollyannish – those pieces present some acute realities.
Professionals really are burnt out and really are leaving.
Perhaps, for these residents, their resilience and hardiness exhibited that day is due to their newness to the profession.
Or, perhaps the day afforded an opportunity to pause and be in community with others going through the same challenges – something others working in a hospital cannot afford to do.
Whatever the reason for their positive energy, if these residents – who were less professionally prepared, who dealt with the stresses of being a new doctor and the sudden jump in responsibilities it entails, and who performed creditably while maintaining humanity can laugh and sing and support and be committed to the welfare of their patients and each other, well, I have a good amount of hope for our profession.