Two ways to be there during hard times

Providing care to hospitalized patients is hard. I don’t say that as a platitude or to sound condescending; it’s our reality, and I live that reality every day. As hospitalists, we go through each shift at an incredible pace, with tons of decision-making and often overwhelming tasks. This reality was the case before COVID-19. Now, the pandemic has only exacerbated and magnified most of the issues that most clinicians have been experiencing. To be honest, saying that it is “hard” does not come close to covering the extent of our troubles, but what word does? 

Still, I admit that being a hospitalist is hard, and it feels good to admit it. So often we hospitalists swallow our pain and hide our struggles, but now we see that this method is entirely unsustainable and emotionally devastating. Just about every type of clinician is leaving health care these days. Nursing alone has reached turnover rates of 20% nationally, with a 400% increase in nurses looking for a new job in states hit hard by the pandemic. We can no longer expect ourselves and others to go through this alone. It’s time we open up and rely on each other.

While not a cure-all, peer support has been used extensively in medicine to help physicians going through malpractice events and is a powerful intervention in assisting them to cope. In our case, we have the chance to use peer groups to help ourselves and our struggling teammates shoulder the burden of the pandemic. To get you started, here are two things I want you to focus on during your rounds:

  1. Be mindful of your teammates. Choosing to “suffer in silence” rather than speak up is the most dangerous part of our work. A recent study by Medscape on physicians found that 13% of physicians suffered from suicidal ideation, with the majority of those physicians not sharing their struggle with others. Many more are so burnt out they consider quitting and moving to a different field entirely. Don’t wait until it’s too late: look out for folks who are quiet or whose behavior has changed from normal. Frame your outreach as understanding and caring by saying, ”I know we are getting crushed, so I wanted to check in to see how you are holding up?” If you are struggling, let them know you’re struggling too. Strike up a conversation so they know they’re not alone and that you care for them. Take the time to find resources for mental health in your area if such concerns arise.


  2. Express gratitude out loud. Much like earlier when I admitted to hardship, admitting gratitude provides a similar relief for both the giver and the receiver. Keep your eyes open to the good that is happening around you by recognizing the outstanding members of your team. Don’t wait for a perceived “perfect” circumstance because that time is right now. When people are noticed for their hard work, it will have a far-reaching and lasting impact.

Of course, looking out for each other won’t solve all of our issues, but it is a decisive step in the right direction. In times like these, it’s just too hard to tackle the challenges before us alone. We would love to hear how you and your team have come together during these difficult times so we can learn from you.

Share your story in the comments below or on Linkedin or Twitter. 

About the Author

Mark Shapiro, MD is a hospitalist for Providence Medical Group in Sonoma County. He is also the host and producer of Explore The Space, a critically acclaimed national podcast that examines the interface of healthcare and society. You can find him on LinkedIn and Twitter.


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