“We often feel the most stress, or the most emotionally hijacked, when we stare into the void of our jam-packed to-do list, in-box, or desk top. One look at the towering pile of papers looming on our desk, or the 300 unread e-mails, and our feelings of control fly right out the window.” ~ Shawn Achor, The Happiness Advantage: The Seven Principles of Positive Psychology that Fuel Success and Performance at Work
Listen to today’s post on the go or continue reading below …
“If you really knew me, you would know that __________ (fill in the blank)”. You may have heard of this exercise, sometimes used to enhance authenticity. Well, if you really knew me, you would know that I am genuinely passionate about the well-being of my physician colleagues. As I have mentioned in prior posts, this passion was not something I actively sought out – it fortuitously found me.
I often tell the story of how my husband, also a physician, played a huge role in this process. A few years ago, he was experiencing mounting signs and symptoms of burnout, that in retrospect, I should have recognized much sooner than I did. As it turns out, the consequences of stress are insidious and sometimes wear a different name – anxiety, depression, headaches, heart disease, insomnia, irritable bowel syndrome – and the list goes on.
When a healthcare professional is under overwhelming stress, and their mood and behavior starts to change, you may think it is their problem. However, it can often be a symptom of something else impacting their ability to cope – their practice environment, relationships at home and/or work, system pressures such as computerization, patient care, etc.
The bottom line – the #1 factor impacting physician’s health is stress. As if it is not enough that the complexity of medicine continues to evolve and the Internet continues to change the landscape of patient information, I see three other evolving stressors to physician’s emotional wellness today (particularly in Canada, but likely applies globally as well):
1. Refugee health care: As we know, other parts of the world are in crisis, such as Syria, and as a result, refugees are fleeing to other parts of the world such as Canada. In turn, physicians will have to care for these refugees and immigrants. In doing so, physicians need to be aware of certain health care considerations in these populations such as infectious diseases and mental health concerns.
2. Physician-assisted death (PAD): This past week, the first physician assisted death outside of Quebec was announced. A Calgary woman sought the help of two Vancouver physicians to end her life. Although certain legal parameters still exist around access to PAD, it is suspected that by June these parameters will be lifted and it will become part of healthcare delivery in Canada. This expectation brings with it ethical, emotional, professional and social considerations for practicing physicians.
3. The economy: Our colleagues in Ontario have already been impacted by fee cuts in a significant way resulting in closure of clinics and campaigns to save the healthcare system. Here in Alberta, our economy is gravely affected by the price of oil and the ripple effect is starting to be felt by healthcare providers. When physicians start to lose the collaborative support from other important cogs in the healthcare delivery wheel, the stressors continue to mount.
I certainly don’t share my thoughts in an attempt to spread a negative outlook, but rather to increase awareness of the current climate and mounting stressors physicians are facing. I once had my own family practice and would have been much more directly affected by what is happening than I am in my current work. Regardless, it is in times like these that I believe we need to support our colleagues even more than ever.
Community building is one of the keys to buffering stress. Through communication, understanding, acceptance, and advocating, we can help one another no matter what the circumstances. Whether through one-on-one, groups, social media, publications, etc., it is valuable to support one another in both the good times and not so good times.
You might even say, “If you really, really knew me, you would know that I am feeling really stressed out.” And I would answer, “I understand and I am here for you.”