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COVID-19 underscores the gravity of our stress and burnout crisis within healthcare – and the time to implement solutions can’t wait

As we enter a new year, light at the end of the tunnel is beginning to shine brighter as vaccinations for COVID-19 begin to escalate and additional vaccines become approved following what was a relatively slower than expected roll-out. Make no mistake, there are numerous challenges ahead as regions continue to report high infection rates […]

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As we enter a new year, light at the end of the tunnel is beginning to shine brighter as vaccinations for COVID-19 begin to escalate and additional vaccines become approved following what was a relatively slower than expected roll-out. Make no mistake, there are numerous challenges ahead as regions continue to report high infection rates upon entering what will likely be an extremely difficult few months before reaching herd immunity.

With that in mind, the incredible scientific achievements in less than a year to provide protection from the virus is nearly incomprehensible, and frankly, should be commended more often than it is. Many healthcare workers are now receiving their second, final dose – and that second dose is representative of so much more than simply protection from the virus itself. The fact of the matter is, health care workers everywhere – although highlighted by the pandemic – were already suffering long before COVID-19. Only now, everyone can see it.

In 2021 and beyond, the conversation must shift to a more forward-thinking approach and solution to ensure medical professionals are in a position to provide adequate – and better – health care. Ultimately, that begins with ensuring doctors, nurses and EMT workers alike are able to care for themselves. In order to achieve this, it requires convincing hospital systems to embrace a new way of thinking, listening and training of health care workers by moving away from the current outdated system that does not perceive healthcare workers as members of the community they serve, and most importantly, more vulnerable than those they treat. And, I’m confident COVID-19 revealed this extremely narrow perspective and tunnel view to those who needed to see it most in order to move toward a more evidence-based model of care. 

We have the opportunity to revolutionize care– first, we need a culture shift

Early on in my radiology career, already experiencing burnout from what I thought was inevitable and inescapable from the business of healthcare, I was diagnosed with Hypertrophic Obstructive Cardiomyopathy, a disease that can cause sudden cardiac death in seemingly healthy young people. There I was, facing open heart surgery in the prime of my life. That experience, combined with my career as a physician and division chief, allowed me to become acutely aware of the overabundance of limitations our current model of care poses.

Ultimately, propelled by those circumstances, I traveled to India where I studied an Eastern holistic approach to healing that encompasses mind, body and spirit – and most importantly, the role energy has as it relates to consciousness, the science of the mind, and overall health. What I learned would have helped me both when my mind and body went into survival mode during surgery, and most critically, in my everyday medical work. What I quickly realized was that our current healthcare model is not constructed in a way that embraces spiritual healing or simply the consideration of how the intersection of science and spirituality can help every day medical professionals function – especially medical students – and I was inspired not only to spread what I learned so hospital administrators and professionals make changes, but also make it my life’s work – in addition to Radiology. It’s important to note, my specialty area of Radiology provides me with a unique perspective surrounding energy from a Western scientific view — in fact, in India, the spiritual sciences is also a field that discusses and uses the same energy, only from a consciousness, inner-realm standpoint.

The truth is, burnout in health care begins from day one. A recent study by Barretos School of Health Sciences outlined the fact that there is a substantially high prevalence of burnout among medical students – and it is often detrimental to success. What’s more, the study proved that there is a need to establish preventative measures “focused on the personal attributes of first-year students, provide better performance, motivation, optimism, and empathy.” And, to no surprise, according to the National Institutes of Health, stress and burnout has skyrocketed during the pandemic as healthcare professionals worked tirelessly to determine how to care for COVID-19 patients, fell ill themselves, and continue to determine best strategies for vaccinating the public.

The status quo isn’t sustainable – this is what needs to change and why it matters

The fact is, doctors face some of the highest depression and suicide rates among professions and taking steps that lessen those alarming statistics through stress resilience and burnout prevention won’t just help health care workers, it will cause a ripple effect on the overall efficiency of health care. Bottom line, healthier practitioners will result in healthier communities.

In order to achieve a world where medical workers are equipped with the coping tools necessary to provide care and cope with the stresses it causes with regard to work/life balance, health care training needs to shift, consistently and effectively, toward a preventative and holistic approach to both medical and personal care beginning in medical school. Hospital systems, in general, need to proactively discuss and consult experts that understand the body, mind, spirit and emotional connection that work hand-in-hand to create happy and well individuals (who happen to work in medicine). And, in order to achieve this, it is critical that we incorporate regular, specific protocols and best practices, such as:

  • Implement and execute ongoing self-care strategies for healthcare practitioners
  • Establish deep patient/practitioner connections that is pivotal for successful outcomes, prognosis and trust
  • Communication to encourage self-care strategies to patients, also embraced by practitioners, that will create a ripple effect to incorporate these same live practices across the board

Even a few years ago, this idea wouldn’t have received the time of day. Yet today, more and more people in healthcare, among other industries, recognize that thoughts and emotions affect your bio-physiology, biochemistry and brain structure – and it has an impact on everyone around you, including patients. Following my surgery and travels to India, I began speaking more and more about this trend at medical grand rounds and observed an 80/20 split toward either disbelief or indifference. That was roughly 8 years ago. Today, there is overwhelming interest and appreciation in this area of conversation.

What’s encouraging is that an increasing number of medical professionals are embracing the NexGen Health solution, centered around energy. As physicians, we have tools and technology that measure energy – in fact, we use them every day in my field of Radiology to diagnose and treat patients. Within the broader healthcare conversation, we must reshape the narrative to reflect that we are all energetic beings. By doing so, we can begin to appreciate and identify how to best manage personal energy, balance it with work, and most importantly, reinvigorate passion that allows us to tap into our greatest potential. By doing so, we can truly create a more holistic, proactive and preventive model of care. 

Learning from the pandemic to improve our future post-pandemic world of care

There’s no question our public health system needs more adequate funding to continue healthy operations when it comes to problems like capacity limits, nursing shortages, vaccine storage, and more. An even larger sense of urgency needs to center around ways to shift from a reactive model of care to a preventative one that can prevent the problems listed above.

What we cannot do is simply view the stress that healthcare workers had to endure during the pandemic as a one-off experience that couldn’t have been prevented. Because the hard truth is, it could have been.

Hospital administrators need to take seriously the need for stress and burnout prevention and control so that the backbone of our communities, health care workers, remain in the industry as healthy individuals and professionals that are capable of handling our next inevitable crisis. Hospitals everywhere need to lead by example and implement their own stress and burnout policies. And once hospitals provide stress and burnout resilience training, it’s ultimately up to health care workers to embrace it and learn from it.  

This isn’t simply a call for more training, education and awareness about stress. It’s about altering humanity’s evolutionary shift and approach to care – and if anything proved that’s crucial, it’s the pandemic we are currently suffering from.

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