What’s up Doc?

What’s up Doc?

This is a slightly different post to my usual.

I want to talk about well-being amongst healthcare professionals.

The people that look after you when you are sick are humans too but it can be hard to view them as anything more than the doctor/ nurse/ psychologist in front of you. They have a life outside of the workplace, they have their own families, insecurities and problems.

Doctors, nurses, first responders & all members of the healthcare profession make huge sacrifices for their patients and do so willingly.

But who looks after them?

Mental health problems amongst medical personnel is at an all time high. If we don’t look after our healers they can’t look after you.

Yet, we are a profession that is notoriously bad at seeking help for ourselves. It’s a common theme of jokes “doctors/ nurses make the worst patients”. We provide diligence to our patients but it’s a hard pill for us to swallow when we need help ourselves.

What are some of the reasons behind the resistance for a healthcare worker to seek the same help they provide without a second thought?

A study published by the lancet offered several reasons for this.

An old fashioned and harmful rhetoric that still bleeds into the healthcare industry: “we don’t get sick, we treat the sick”. It’s hard for healthcare workers to accept they are not infallible and often this narrative alone prevents them from seeking help, often meaning problems are advanced by the time the do access care.

The well-being of doctors is becoming increasing challenged.

The medical field is an unusual one.

For most of us, we give up our twenties to dedicate ourselves to studying or long hours working as junior doctors. We are often forced to make difficult balances, missing out on important life events and socializing because of the restraints of the profession. It’s not uncommon to battle to get leave for major events such as weddings or funerals.

Often, we can’t just go home when our work day is supposed to finish because we are looking after someone in their moment of need. We stay late because we care.

But this can come at a cost.

Our contracts can mean constant changes, junior doctors move around every 4 months, sometimes this means transferring miles away from your loved ones. This can make things like registering with a general practitioner difficult.

Long shifts, antisocial hours, plugging gaps in rosters, studying for endless exams and extracurricular activities can take their toll both mentally and physically.

Often these are accompanied with limited access to healthy food or basic self care including rest, relaxation or exercise.

There is an undertone within the healthcare profession that being anything less than perfect 24/7 is failure. Fear of disclosure and the implications it may have on our license to practice I’m sure is a common barrier to seeking help.

Doctors have an increased rate of suicide compared with any other profession, high rates of mental illness, including depression, anxiety, burnout, imposter syndrome and substance abuse. But it doesn’t get talked about. It remains “taboo”.

The resources for help aren’t made readily accessible, the encouragement to seek help is virtually non existent. This needs to change as early as medical school training. This needs to be openly discussed and normalized. Otherwise the stigma stays and nothing changes.

Doctors are making life or death emotionally demanding decisions. This is what being a doctor is. But sometimes the weight of these decisions is enormous without resources to help.

The threat of litigation is real, the trauma of some of the decisions they face, with often no debrief or acknowledgement of the enormity of these decisions.

Burnout rates are increasing.

Dealing with uncertainty is something doctors become adept at, changes in rosters, no two days being the same.

Teamwork can be challenging when there is conflict between management and the frontline workers or finite resources.

It’s not uncommon to come across bullying and not enough is done to mitigate or reduce this.

If you are a healthcare professional what were the barriers you faced to seeking help? I’d love to hear your experiences

What do you think needs to happen to protect our community’s wellbeing? How can we do this?

There are some charities that exist but again they’re not widely known about. I’ll share some links below. If you know of other’s please share.

References:

Arrested State of Development

Last week I was setting my intentions for the New moon. Whilst beginning to manifest and set in place the foundations of those intentions, I had a realisation.

When we are experiencing an eating disorder we are living in a state of “arrested development”. Loosely this is defined as a cessation of growth, this can be both psychological and physical. Initially ALL of our focus and energy is used in sustaining our eating disorder, then it becomes recovery orientated, both requiring substantial energy and attention.

I’m in the process of some major life changes and upheavals over the coming months with a ton of uncertainty. I’d been ruminating over the fact I wasn’t where I wanted to be, in terms of the standards I’d set myself for my career, my life. I was feeling resentful to the time lost to my eating disorder and to some extent recovery.

It dawned on me, for the last two years I have been fighting for my recovery, fighting to have a life not dominated by and eating disorder and before that I was expending all of my energy on the disorder itself, leaving room for very little else. I was feeling frustrated that I was now “no longer considered the best doctor of my cohort”. This is an egocentric attitude I need to work on anyways, but I have always been a perfectionist and through uni I had never settled for second place. Now, academically I am viewed as “capable”, but not excelling. There is nothing wrong with this, it’s how my brain processes this that is the problem. Now, I’m the doctor who has the good rapport but hasn’t necessarily recalled every hazard ratio from every journal ever written, but this was me, a long time ago. Before my life priorities had to change.

I realised some of the standards I’d set myself had become external expectations and now I don’t match those either. Again, this is not a problem, it’s how you react to this. The thing is I have been trying to be “that standard”, but I’m not, I can’t be right now. I essentially took two years out. If I was a professional athlete I couldn’t expect to compete at the same level after two years out, it’s the same here. The difference is, the people with those expectations don’t necessarily know I have been trying to survive and recover again, this was because I kept my eating disorder hidden through fear of stigma and so why would they? It was only recently I felt able to be open about my journey.

It’s only now that I was beginning to feel “bored of having to be recovery orientated” and have so much more mental capacity I could see unmasked I had been living this state of arrest. It’s releasing, I’m ok with who I am. I’m proud of what I have overcome and where I am. Letting go of unrealistic standards and expectations is what’s helping me in my health legacy and provide my patients with care. I think it would be unhealthy and unrealistic to want to be the same person we were before recovery.

How can we develop and grow when our worlds are so minute and focused on such specific details such as weight or that grade. I didn’t have the energy or time to be reading the journals I now am, when I was merely trying to survive.

I worry about my colleagues, the pandemic will fuel burnout, but unless the healers have a place to heal themselves this won’t go away. I wish for the unforgiving environment that is the healthcare profession to become a more open and compassionate one. One that does not depict personal struggle as failure. I shared my struggle not so long ago, because this unrealistic image of what a doctor should be is harming those that look after you, the more we normalise the narrative the healthier the healers.

I do think recovery burnout is a thing, it’s emotionally, physically draining, it becomes tedious but for the days where recovery is not boring it’s important to keep recovery orientated.