COVID. Monkeypox. Flu season. Opioid epidemic. Back-to-school germs. Simply following the news on the latest health concern is exhausting; it feels like we constantly and rapidly move from one health care crisis to the next without respite. It’s even more exhausting for health care workers, who deal with these crises all day every day. We need systemized resilience efforts for these workers to prevent the next great resignation as we continue to face an onslaught of public health concerns.
Before we can create systemized resilience, we need to have a better concept of what resilience means and looks like in practice in health care environments, as well as understand where it comes from. The ability to plan for and deal with unexpected events and crises and rebound and grow from them is absolutely critical for health care workers.
Burnout in health practitioners and the health professions workforce shortage was problematic even before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. When the pandemic hit, the issue of burnout and untenable strain and stress for health care workers – as with many issues like racism and health inequity – came to the fore in a powerful way. Health care workers started leaving in droves. Coupled with the pre-pandemic workforce shortage in health professions, this mass resignation has left the health care industry with a workforce crisis.
According to a 2021 Journal of Interprofessional Care article, moving beyond building resilience in individuals is essential in creating a sustainable health care workforce. The current levels of distress and despair cannot be tackled individual by individual but must be addressed proactively through systems, beginning with destigmatizing help-seeking and developing infrastructure to support health workers.
Within the broader health care community, we need to move beyond the idea that resilience is individualized. This approach puts all the pressure on the individual workers rather than dealing with the broader circumstances. Wellness becomes an additional burden for health care workers. What we need instead is a systemic approach for these workers whom we already know are going to be under a great deal of stress.
A number of institutions have started surveying their providers to assess what they’re looking for in a support system rather than implementing something from a more C-suite, administrative model. The World Health Organization has issued policy recommendations for institutions to consider as well as they build out systemic support.
As we’re reflecting on how best to design and deploy systems of resiliency, we also need to broaden support beyond physicians to extend across the entire health care work force. The drive towards collaborative practice and teamwork necessitates that workers in all roles have a voice in creating wellness systems and are given equitable access to their benefits. While addressing such changes in increasingly complex systems of care is undeniably difficult, the costs of remaining static would be devastating.
A major culture shift is needed to move health care from corporate models to health care models with emphasis on the care, including for providers and workers. This shift would embody things such as accessible, affordable entities within institutions for providing help when workers need it without being seen as a sign of weakness.
It’s challenging to offer excellent patient care while struggling with personal health and mental health problems. It’s time to implement what is known as health care’s quadruple aim, adding the wellness and satisfaction of health workers as a priority along with improving individual care, improving the health of populations and reducing cost. Advancing health equity as an additional priority would solidify progress.
If institutions effect programs, policies and protocols that support these aims, the health workforce could rely on consistent institutional support that would provide a safety net for all workers and providers, across professions and levels. A systemic effort to support wellness would be transformative, moving us closer to establishing a resilient culture and a workforce of caregivers who know they matter and will be cared for.