“Caring for the caregivers” (Podium, April 29) poignantly portrayed the challenges to the mental health of medical professionals. Health care providers endure increased stress in all settings, from specialty group practices to the highly unusual emergency triage environment required during the tragedy at the Boston Marathon. The big question is what can help alleviate this widespread crisis in clinicians?
I have researched the issue through interviews with award-winning humanitarian physicians. My results showed that the doctors’ methods for avoiding burnout were based on time-honored approaches, including being appropriately assertive, spending time with family and friends, getting exercise, seeing the humor in tough situations, and deliberately seeking downtime. In essence, they consistently practice the type of sensible advice that their doting grandmothers might have given them.
My discussions with the physicians indicate that they have given a lot of thought to the need for taking care of themselves so that they can remain available to both patients and colleagues. These busy doctors exploded the myth that only the idle rich get some relaxation and recreation. All of the doctors lived by a code of doing good while doing well — and they recognized that there was a spiritual undercurrent to their work that continuously boosted their morale.
If today’s leaders in health care make room for and support this type of old-fashioned wisdom, it could make a real difference to today’s overburdened practitioners and the next generation preparing to join the profession.
The writer is associate professor of psychology in the health sciences and industry program at Bentley University.