SEVEN WAYS TO FALL IN LOVE AGAIN WITH YOUR HEALTHCARE JOB
When most of us think of Valentine’s Day, we think about wine, roses, chocolates, and candlelit dinners in fancy restaurants. We think about love. What we don’t think about is work—especially when that work takes place in America’s healthcare system. (We’re likely to associate that with overloaded schedules, endless pressures to perform, EMR frustrations, bad patient outcomes, tragedies…and burnout.)
But Gary R. Simonds, MD, MHCDS, and Wayne M. Sotile, PhD, want to shift our mindset. They want us to fall in love with our job—and, I know this is a stretch, but maybe Valentine’s Day is a good time as any to start.
“Despite all the doomsaying around dire working conditions and high burnout rates, we don’t have to be disengaged and ambivalent,” insists Dr. Simonds, coauthor along with Dr. Sotile of “Thriving in Healthcare: A Positive Approach to Reclaim Balance and Avoid Burnout in Your Busy Life” (Huron|Studer Group Publishing, 2019, ISBN: 978-1-62218-108-7, $32.00). “We can make a choice to love our work. It all depends on where we choose to place our attention.”
The doctors admit healthcare needs sweeping reforms. But they also say we have more control than we realize over how we experience our jobs. Much of this comes down to building resilience, which allows us to thrive in the stress cauldron of work. But another big part has to do with focusing on what we want more of (instead of obsessing over what we don’t want).
“We get to create miracles,” Dr. Sotile says. “We get to participate in healing and saving lives and changing lives. But we forget these amazing truths in the middle of all the pain and suffering and endless hassles. When we get in the habit of looking at our work through new eyes, we can actually fall in love again with the work we do. We can re-engage and fill our lives with joy and wonderment.”
A few tips to help you shift your perceptions and fall in love with your job:
Start each day by reminding yourself of the meaning of your work
Drs. Sotile and Simonds hammer home that meaning is an antidote to burnout and despair. Whether you’re a physician, a nurse, or any other worker at any level, you’re part of an honorable enterprise. And you get to be part of it in the most miraculous era—where we actually cure many diseases, deliver babies safely, put back together horribly injured beings, and so much more.
“Before you go into work, sit in your car for a few minutes reflecting on how fortunate you are to get to do this for a living,” says Dr. Simonds. “Yes, your job is incredibly hard. But you also get to make an incredible contribution to the world. The five minutes you spend thinking about that can shift your mindset from despair to gratitude. It can change the tone of your entire day.”
Seek out, collect, and reflect on all there is to love (Harvest uplifts)
Multiple studies support the concept that “collecting” uplifts can significantly boost well-being and counter psychological distress.
Harvesting uplifts requires mindfulness and intention, two functions that often are eroded by the fast-moving world of healthcare. But if you actively look for the positive episodes and occurrences of your day, you will notice brilliant flashes of splendor, growth, sharing, camaraderie, human interaction, and personal and communal success.
Actively seek a 3-to-1 ratio of uplifts to hassles. The uplifts are there, but it takes effort to recognize them. Remind yourself to routinely seek out, catalogue, and share with your colleagues and/or loved ones the positive events of your workweek or day.
When bad things happen, train yourself to look for the positive angle
Working in healthcare can be tough, and it’s easy to sink into a sea of nihilism, pessimism, and negativity. But positivity may still be gleaned out of dark circumstances. Even when patients die or sustain bad outcomes, their care experience has a massive impact on their loved ones. They will remember simple gestures of caring and kindness forever. They may be inspired by your competence and professionalism—even if you played no role in the actual care of their loved one.
“In the midst of a bad situation, look for ways to affect the situation for the better, even if you cannot completely rectify it,” says Dr. Sotile. “Doing some good will help dispel feelings of helplessness for all involved.”
Give yourself the gift of self-compassion and self-care
This is the first of two critical factors in building and sustaining resilience. You will need to normalize the concept of self-compassion and self-care, because many people in healthcare wear their self-neglect as a badge of honor. Notice what makes you feel good or bad; what angers and excites you; and what brings you joy, peace, wonder, or meaning. Give yourself permission to do these things.
“Also, if your workplace offers stress release services like fitness classes, meditation groups, or massage therapy, take advantage of it,” urges Dr. Simonds. “And it should go without saying, but if you’re struggling with anxiety or depression, make an appointment with a professional. Too many people try to tough it out, but we all need help from time to time.”
Nourish and cherish your relationships
This is the second critical factor for healthcare workers. We are social creatures, but the intense work of healthcare can be isolating, and our fatigue after work hours isolates us further. Because we are tired and drained, we may stop going out and developing new friendships. It’s critical to stop this cycle and fully commit to nourishing your relationships—with coworkers as well as loved ones.
Seize every opportunity to be kind
One of the beauties of working in healthcare is that you are often given the opportunity to extend kindness to others. Every interaction with a patient opens up the possibility of selfless acts of kindness.
For those not directly involved in providing care, the opportunities still very much exist. If you work in housekeeping, you can engage with the patient in the waiting room or treatment room you are attending to.
It is okay, and indeed encouraged, for you to converse with patients and solicit any needs or anxieties. It is okay to help the patient reach things or to get something for the patient. (When in doubt, check with the patient’s nurse.)
Be generous with compliments
Most healthcare workers are “raised” professionally in an environment of near-constant critique and correction because there is so little room for error. Thus, your job likely has entailed hearing fairly constantly what you don’t know or what you are doing poorly.
But a positive work atmosphere diminishes job stress, even in the face of intense work demands and extended hours.1 Recognize and acknowledge good work that is done by coworkers and colleagues (and your own good work as well!). Offer genuine praise and compliments when earned, particularly by those at or below your level. Such behavior is infectious, and others will eventually join in.
Love, at least in the context of work, isn’t a lightning bolt that strikes out of the blue, say Drs. Simonds and Sotile. Rather, it’s something we choose and cultivate, every day.
“Instead of living for the end of your shift or your days off, go all in,” advises Dr. Sotile. “Focus on satisfaction, engagement, camaraderie, gratitude, joy. These things generate energy and help you stay in a state of wonderment and love. When you face each day fully engaged in your work, you will see your career with new eyes.” VTN
1 Barsade, Sigal G., and Olivia A. O’Neill. “What’s Love Got to Do with It? A Longitudinal Study of the Culture of Companionate Love and Employee and Client Outcomes in a Long-Term Care Setting.” Administrative Science Quarterly 59, no. 4 (2014): 551-98. doi: 10.1177/0001839214538636.
ABOUT THE AUTHORS:
Gary R. Simonds, MD, MHCDS, and Wayne M. Sotile, PhD, are coauthors of “Thriving in Healthcare: A Positive Approach to Reclaim Balance and Avoid Burnout in Your Busy Life” (Huron|Studer Group Publishing, 2019, ISBN: 978-1-62218-108-7, $32.00), “The Thriving Physician: How to Avoid Burnout by Choosing Resilience Throughout Your Medical Career” (Huron|Studer Group Publishing, 2018, ISBN: 978-1-62218-101-8, $32.00), and “Building Resilience in Neurosurgical Residents” (B Wright Publishing, 2015, ISBN: 978-0-69244-951-6, $24.95).
Dr. Simonds is a highly experienced clinical and academic neurosurgeon. He trained at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center and completed a medical research fellowship at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research. He also holds a master’s degree in health care delivery science from Dartmouth College. He is a professor at the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine, the Virginia Tech School of Neuroscience, and the Edward Via College of Osteopathic Medicine.
Known for his compassion and broad neurosurgical expertise, Dr. Simonds has personally performed more than 13,500 operations, adult and pediatric. His interests have included socioeconomic issues affecting patient care, medical ethics, education of all levels of learners, and the promotion of wellness in medical practitioners and trainees. He recently retired from his position as chief of neurosurgery and residency program director at Carilion Clinic-Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine.
Dr. Sotile is the founder of the Sotile Center for Resilience and the Center for Physician Resilience, in Davidson, North Carolina. Of the 45,000 people they have coached or counseled, more than 70 percent have worked in healthcare, including 12,000 physicians. Dr. Sotile is an international thought leader on resilience and work/life balance for busy professionals. He has published widely in the peer-reviewed medical literature and has authored nine books. His work is featured frequently in the national print and television media, and he has appeared on Good Morning America, CBS This Morning, Dateline NBC, and other broadcast programs.
As one of the most sought-after keynote speakers today, Dr. Sotile has delivered more than 9,000 invited addresses and workshops to audiences of high-performing professionals across disciplines. He consults nationally with organizations interested in deepening workforce resilience and leadership passion and effectiveness.
Dr. Sotile earned a BS degree in psychology from Louisiana State University and a PhD in clinical psychology from the University of South Carolina. He completed his clinical training in medical psychology in the Department of Psychiatry at Duke University Medical Center.
ABOUT THE BOOK:
Thriving in Healthcare: A Positive Approach to Reclaim Balance and Avoid Burnout in Your Busy Life (Huron|Studer Group Publishing, 2019, ISBN: 978-1-62218-108-7, $32.00) is available from major online booksellers and the Huron|Studer Group website.