An American study covering 196 healthcare workers and professionals over 4 hospitals found that 38% reported diagnostic levels of psychological distress, including depression, anxiety, and impaired functioning at a rate comparable to their patients.
This finding is far from being the only example of healthcare workers and professionals suffering from what’s known as ‘Secondary Traumatic Stress’ – the pronounced effects of having to deal intimately with other people’s trauma. And these findings don’t even begin to address the high level of physical fatigue, stress, and ‘compassion fatigue’ so common in the healthcare industry that they barely even rate a mention.
Healthcare is a demanding industry in which the stakes can literally be life or death, and when carers forget to care for themselves, everyone suffers.
The following two self-care tips are a little out of the ordinary. They go beyond eating well and getting enough sleep and venture more into key psychological areas of self-care.
They are gleaned from years of experience, research, and collective wisdom. We hope you find them useful – either as new information or as an important reminder.
- Set and maintain boundaries
This one is a two-fold principle as you need to be able to set and maintain boundaries both while at work and maintain your boundaries between work and home.
At work, be clear on what your position is, and the limits of your responsibility, qualifications, and experience.
Ideally these should be laid out for you at recruitment, and the rest of the team be aware of and respect these boundaries. If you find the boundaries of your position being slowly eaten away, talk to your upline – your supervisor, or HR- to make sure you’re not being expected to do more than can safely be accomplished.
If the boundaries of your position do change and expand, and you’re happy with the extra workload and/or responsibility, make sure this change is formalised and your remuneration and working agreement reflect this expansion. Feeling appropriately valued in remuneration and title is important in maintaining self-worth, and therefore self-care.
The second aspect of boundary setting relates to the line between your work life and your personal life. While for many people being in healthcare is more a vocation rather than ‘just a job’, not even the most passionate carer can function well if they’re never ‘off the job’. We are creatures that thrive when engaged in a variety of activities and relationships, and no matter how much we love our work, it can never tick all the boxes.
Be clear with yourself and your team about when you are and aren’t available. If you’re not officially on call, don’t make yourself constantly contactable – you’re important, but you’re not the only one in a team. Also look at your closest personal relationships and get clear on how much, and when, it’s reasonable for you to talk about work, and when it’s healthiest for you to let it go.
Boundaries are a fluid and ever changing thing – be willing to change them, but keep forefront the understanding that it’s strong boundaries that reduce unneeded stress and stretch, and give you time and space to recharge!
To stay working sustainably long-term, you need clear boundaries.
- Learn to trust your inner guidance
When studying anything medical and health related, a lot of emphasis is put on the learning of facts and figures, but barely any is devoted to learning to trust yourself. Learn to trust those little moments of intuition, or those internal red flags that say ‘Something’s not right here!’. After all, every single patient is a unique human being in their own right, and we need more than objective facts and figures to navigate this uniqueness.
Every single person within the chain of healthcare is fallible. Even the best doctor in the world has bad days. Days where they may misread a chart, or have their judgement clouded by a big personal drama, or just fall victim to that age old problem of looking only for what they expect to find rather than truly seeing what’s there.
No matter where you are in the line of providers, from personal carer to specialist surgeon, you may be the one who’s aware and observant enough in a particular moment to catch something everyone else missed. Sometimes these little hints of ‘Something’s missing.’ or ‘Something’s wrong.’ show up as a feeling in your stomach, a little niggle of doubt in the back of your mind. Sometimes it’s reading a report that just doesn’t seem right. You’re a competent professional, learn to trust these feelings and follow them up.
Ask more questions if you need to. Talk to someone else and get a second opinion. Of course it’s always important to respect professional seniority and varying levels of responsibility. However, in the right way, through the right channels, your feedback is also important.
Learning to trust and follow through on these little nudges is a surefire way to develop your self-confidence. Ignoring yourself repeatedly in these situations and constantly telling yourself that ‘Everyone else knows best.’ will corrode your personal and professional confidence and your uncertainty will be reflected in the level of care you are able to provide your patients. In the worst case scenario, you not paying attention to your intuition and speaking up when you feel the genuine need to, may mean the needless loss of life or prolonged sickness.
It’s important for you, and it’s important for your patients – learn to take notice of those intuitive nudges that say ‘Something isn’t right here.’ or ‘We missed something.’ An intelligent team will value you even more for being willing to ask, for being committed to a high level of awareness about what’s going on in a patient’s care.
Here at MAC Healthcare Services, we’re invested in supporting staff to work sustainably, and an integral element to this is good self-care. Afterall, without physically and emotionally healthy staff, we would literally be out of business!
If you’re a healthcare professional interested in working for a company that genuinely values you as an individual, we’re currently recruiting for Registered Nurses, Midwives, Assistant Nurses, Home Carers, Community Health Carers, Domestic Home Care Assistants, and Disability workers across Canberra – click here to connect.