How we care for ourselves in our practice
reflects upon how we care for our patients.
In the field of healthcare I have always been transfixed with our process of learning in clinical patient care settings. Fresh out of school, hands on, here you go! You are on your own! A fresh caregiver thrown to the wolves and we know there will be two possible outcomes. They will quickly learn how to use their resources, reflect on mistakes, debrief with co-workers to adapt and succeed just enough to propel them forward. Or, they will make mistakes that are incredibly stressful and discouraging, flounder in their ability to redirect critical thinking concepts, feel incredible responsibility for their actions and shut-down emotionally due to shame and fear. Fly or fall. Trial by fire. The attempted creation of one who must care often performed by those who do not have enough experience to support them or have lost connection with our current system.
Stress can create the opportunity for an incredible mirror, but here’s the key part…we cannot learn about that which we have accommodated to. There is no perspective for reflection. There is no outside opinion to create dialogue. There is no vision for improvement, only a drive to continue on as we are, surviving. We do the work and walk away at the end of the day. Defend ourselves with a wall between our patients and us in order to cover our fears. When we are in the thick of the work of daily life, we do not allow time to review each moment in our practice to learn about ourselves, how we relate and how we can grow.
Current caring culture often potentiates failure, exhaustion and attrition. We are slammed from the moment we show up. Pulled into documentation and process and policy, we strain to ensure our patients feel cared for. Attempts to make healthcare safe and consistent while reducing liability must be balanced with the art of caring both physically and emotionally for our patients. All the while we must be looking ahead in time, critically examining the possible outcomes of our actions. A healthcare system in which care is provided reactively finds parallel in the way its workforce is trained. Prevention needs to override as the dominant message in our field. Prevention of disease and prevention of mental illness for those we care for but also prevention of trauma, despair and loss of our workforce among those who are doing the caring.
If you are lucky, as a new clinical practitioner you may be given a mentor, with whom you may strike a relationship that feels safe to discuss your work. This allows decompression, emotional release and growth in practice. However, few are are afforded this luxury. If you have excellent leadership, you have frequent opportunity to practice and reflect, continuously debriefing, evolving your practice and establishing new professional goals. We have excellent evidence in health care now to support debriefing after intense or stressful patient care events. The benefits of learning and improvements in care practices are irrefutable. Now, we just have to figure out how to incorporate debriefing discussions into our daily care, consistently and with priority as the practice requires global commitment throughout an organization.
As we care for ourselves as ‘grown’ or established practitioners, we will model behaviours of holistic healthcare throughout public healthcare systems for practitioners in training, for fresh graduates and for our patients. We must walk the walk: performing, examining, discussing, relating, planning and repeating. Healthy cycles of health care that are connected and creative in order to provide solutions to ever changing human populations, their needs and their goals. Fly or fall is no longer sustainable when the majority are falling. Our success will rely on those who bravely come forward to support, empower and continuously reflect on their own progress as leaders and teachers; Those that understand that how we care for our caring workforce is paramount to the future of caring.