Throughout my decades-long experience within the pharmaceutical industry, I have worked closely with medical professionals in a myriad of niches within medicine. Through these closely-knit relationships, I have developed an understanding of the delicate ecosystem, perfect balance, and driving motivators that propel the industry forward, and allow medical professionals to thrive in high-stress environments. Responsible for successfully launching various potentially life-saving medical procedures, treatments, and interventions, I witnessed the initial interactions between patients and providers, the emotional aspects of treating life-threatening conditions, and the importance of the brilliant minds of medical professionals in the lives of countless humans. Undoubtedly, the role of all medical professionals is profound under even the most stable of circumstances.
However, in these unprecedented times, their role is more integral than ever, with frontline responders responsible for saving the lives of critical patients in never before seen circumstances. Risking their health, and working in perpetually highly stressful environments, the medical professionals working to “flatten the curve” during the COVID-19 pandemic are certainly integral members of our global society. They deserve to be championed, celebrated and encouraged to take whatever steps needed to thrive within this unprecedented time. While each medical professional is a unique individual, responds differently to stressors, and requires different self-care to feel their best, there are various tools for medical professionals to implement to thrive amidst the pandemic.
Remember The Calling
With such prolific education required before entering most medical fields, most professionals do not “accidentally” end up within a medical profession. Instead, they dedicate their time, effort, and energy to their future professions, often giving up the freedoms shared by peers in less strenuous studies. Many medical professionals experience a meaningful push toward their chosen profession, an innate desire to help others, and motivation toward propelling the field of medicine.
Through this ongoing dedication to medicine, and helping others, medical professionals retain their commitment to their respective niche fields and remain grounded throughout times of stress. Thus, in this unprecedented time, recalling those oaths of service, commitments to the medical field, and higher calling can provide medical professionals with a deeper understanding of the importance of their role within the pandemic. By recognizing the proverbial “bigger picture”, medical professionals can draw meaning behind the purpose of their profession, inspiring them to forge ahead through the toughest of times.
In the field of medicine, science, and math, uncertainties have the propensity to shake up confidence, unravel progress, or even stall results. Being prepared for all outcomes helps medical professionals to avoid, or minimize particular uncertainties, allowing for a collective sigh of relief. However, throughout the swiftly changing pandemic, uncertainties run high, as medical professionals deal with unique concerns, practical challenges, and uncertain outcomes on an ongoing basis. To avoid becoming perpetually overwhelmed by these uncertainties, medical professionals can set intentions, rational goals, or other unwavering markers to remain focused on the facets of care they can control.
By having concise goals to work toward and the ability to track progress toward achieving a controllable aspect of their day, medical professionals can use these intentions to remain focused and avoid becoming overwhelmed by factors outside of their immediate control. Within my own experiences, I have found that remaining pragmatic throughout highly emotional times has been integral to maintaining operations. This feat was made more feasible through the creation of tangible goals that could be achieved during chaos.
Maintain Human Connection With Peers
Bonding over shared experiences is a primal human activity that allows us to feel closer to others, draw support from peers, and foster a sense of community. By discussing unique feelings, reactions, and experiences related to particular events experienced by peers, medical professionals can harvest the spirit of a communal experience, and gain the confidence to navigate uncharted territories with trusted peers. Through sharing these meaningful experiences with peers, medical professionals can alleviate some of the stress, anxiety, and solitude that sometimes accompanies difficult experiences within the profession.
Sometimes, in times of great stress, working overtime through constant medical interventions, medical professionals can proverbially go into “autopilot mode”. Seemingly without emotion or effect, medical professionals can navigate these high-stress situations by essentially turning off the emotional components that could inhibit the success of their work, and focusing solely on the potentially life-threatening matters at hand. However, this doesn’t negate the notion that their experiences leave medical professionals with vast emotional responses, often examined at a later time. With potential PTSD symptoms prevalent for some medical professionals, and other difficult feelings, medical professionals may sometimes have difficulty speaking candidly with individuals outside of the medical field, as their experiences are vastly unique to their niche community, and likely never experienced by the general population in the same capacity. Thus, drawing strength from peers can provide an excellent opportunity for the medical community to come together, and heal each other.
Navigating the COVID-19 pandemic is undoubtedly highly stressful for all medical personnel. Not only is the global reach of the pandemic an unprecedented event, but the unknowns related to disease progression, spread, length of pandemic, interventions, and supplies, and other factors play a large role in creating chaos in even the most well-developed hospitals. Undoubtedly, then, it is expected that the personnel on the front lines of this medical pandemic would have emotional reactions to various components of “the new normal”, including increased work hours, limited supplies, a growing rate of casualties, and the everyday stressors of infection.
In the medical field, rigidity is sometimes the default setting for scientifically driven individuals. In my own experiences, I have found that the concept of flexibility is often a difficult feat to handle. Merely days before launching a new cancer treatment product, my team discovered the presence of a genetic marker that would essentially predict the efficacy of the proposed treatment. With this new knowledge, we had to remain flexible to the notion that we would now have to recreate the entire rollout strategy for the product, to account for the genetic testing that would now have to be offered as a prerequisite for the treatment. However stressful the notion of overturning an entire plan was, it was the right thing to do ethically, as this new requirement would save countless patients who will not benefit from the treatment from the heartache, and financial burden, of undergoing an ineffective treatment. Thus, our team remained flexible and worked out a new plan that would effectively accommodate the evolving needs associated with this treatment.
Similarly, in the sphere of the COVID-19 pandemic, remaining flexible to changing working conditions, new developments, and other unforeseen circumstances can allow medical professionals to successfully navigate changing conditions with ease. While the idea of totally “rolling with the punches”, or operating without a system in place may not be the best methodology for long-term success, remaining somewhat flexible to changes will undoubtedly help navigate unprecedented situations that require constant adaptation.
Engage In Self-Care
With burnout rates dangerously high as a result of the previously mentioned stressors associated with the Coronavirus pandemic, medical professionals must take proactive self-care measures to avoid potentially negative ramifications. Through burnout, illness, and other negative effects, medical professionals cannot complete their jobs, creating trickling effects for their closest community. As they are integral frontline members in the fight against the current pandemic, their wellness, satisfaction, and ability to successfully navigate their profession is integral.
While self-care comes in many different forms and may entail wildly different activities for various individuals, the acts of taking care of oneself are universal. From ensuring that medical professionals maintain a healthy diet throughout their long days working, to allotting designated time for rituals, like relaxing baths, self-care activities are important facets of maintaining wellness. With limited time, even short periods of dedicated self-care can make a big difference in the overall wellness of medical personnel. For example, utilizing a five-minute break to open a meditation app can immediately center an otherwise frazzled ER doctor. Similarly, creating a bespoke nighttime skincare routine to offset the potential dermatological effects of perpetually wearing protective masks can provide various calming benefits, in addition to positive skin changes.
Benefit From Communities Who Care
While the majority of the population remains somewhat safely in the confines of their homes, medical professionals find themselves on the frontlines of the fight against the global pandemic that continues to claim numerous lives across the country. Grateful for the dedication, commitment, and perseverance of the medical community, various individuals, groups, and organizations are showing their appreciation for medical professionals in various ways. From creating thoughtful videos and inspiring messages to sending healthy lunches to overworked hospital staff, many community groups are championing the first responders tasked with saving the lives of countless individuals. These acts of kindness not only provide medical professionals with the items they may sorely need to successfully get through their shifts but also raise the spirits of overworked personnel, reviving them through an understanding that the collective population cheers their efforts. By welcoming the acts of good samaritans, medical professionals can reap the benefits of a community that cares, and recognize their positive impact within their local communities.