I like to believe that anyone who assumes a role in healthcare has benevolent intentions. When you survey those who work in our industry, they will most often respond that they choose their profession because they “wanted to help others.” People choose to work in healthcare because they care. They care so much that they spend years developing their skills and consider themselves to be life-long learners. They put their entire heart and soul into who they become as professionals. And they care so much, that often times they will put you, the patient, before themselves.
Unfortunately, the act of caring is not just our greatest strength, it is also our greatest weakness. So I need to share an extremely important little secret with you: my colleagues are suffering from something called burnout. Burnout means that they are exhausted and their performance is not peak. Burnout can be attributed to a variety of things such as workload, leadership, and work environment. To be clear, a significant amount of physicians and nurses suffer from burnout.
What is important to know, is that the effects of burnout have the potential to unintentionally cascade down to you, the patient. Additionally, burnout paves the desire for healthcare providers to leave the profession for good. And with a looming shortage of nurses and physicians on the horizon, the last thing we need is to have qualified professionals quitting.
Research has demonstrated that key variables affecting professional burnout among healthcare providers include: resources, the workplace environment itself, and the relationships we have with our colleagues. However, I think there is something missing. I would also like to argue that it includes the patient-provider relationship. I believe that a positive patient-provider relationship is key to reducing healthcare provider burnout.
Every once in a while we care for patients who are a little more challenging to work with, but as a whole, we get to serve people who are incredibly gracious and kind. You are the ones who make our job so easy despite any complexity of your condition. You are the ones we close our eyes at the end of the day and smile about. You are the ones who make it easy to get up the next day and go to work when our hearts are heavy from a traumatic incident or loss of another patient.
So, as a patient, there is so much that you can do to help keep your healthcare team happy and healthy! I promise that you have so much more power than you realize! You can cultivate a mutually rewarding relationship with your medical providers just by following the steps below:
- Communicate with us. Please help us foster safe, honest, and respectful conversations that keep you at the center. Write your thoughts and questions down. If we are not answering your questions, tell us. It’s okay to ask us to explain things better. If we can’t, we can find someone who can.
- Be open and honest. Its okay to be vulnerable. If you have noticed changes in your body, tell us! It helps us assess you so much quicker! Also, be honest about your habits. They are important for us to know. If you are scared, don’t carry the burden alone- tell us.
- Be involved in your care. We put a lot of effort into ensuring your well-being, and there is nothing more motivating to us when we see you taking an active role in your wellness. All you have to do is put in the effort and try!
- Be understanding. As I said above, things do not always go as planned in healthcare, but your team does it’s best to navigate around the hurdles. We are on your side, but there are things beyond our control. The healthcare team is a huge network of services, providers and payers, and we all have to work together. We don’t like the hurdles either, but we will jump over them with you.
- Smile and say thank you. Do you know that those who are recognized by others report lower levels of burnout? This means that you don’t have to go out of your way at all to make a difference for us. A genuine “thank you” and a smile can mean the world. If you have developed a comfortable relationship, go in for a hug. Hugs release oxytocin which is known as the “bonding hormone” and can help reduce the effects of stress on the body for both of the huggers. In my experience, genuine gratitude has the ability to wash away any negativity and allow us to start with a clean slate. So skip the cookies and cakes, and if you really appreciate our work, just tell us.
Photo Credit: Tim Marshall from Unsplash