It may not take a U.S. Surgeon General’s report to drive home the severity of the stress-induced burnout that health-care workers have experienced during the COVID-19 pandemic. Still, in his introduction to the recently released “Addressing Health Worker Burnout: The U.S. Surgeon General’s Advisory on Building a Thriving Health Workforce,” Vivek Murthy observed:
“The initial reaction to the unprecedented public health impact of COVID-19, from Italy to New York City, was to recognize and honor the courage of health workers who stepped up in our collective moment of need. But after more than two years, multiple waves of infection, and more than one million precious lives lost in the United States alone, this sense of acknowledgment and gratitude has faded — one more victim of the fatigue and frustration wrought by a prolonged pandemic.”
Further, Murthy added, “As we transition towards recovery, we have a moral obligation to address the long-standing crisis of burnout, exhaustion, and moral distress across the health community. We owe health workers far more than our gratitude. We owe them an urgent debt of action.”
It is an obligation that AdventHealth has taken to heart in a variety of impactful ways to ensure team members feel whole, including enhanced career advancement opportunities and mental health support. All of that — and much more — is included in the Team Member Pledge that AdventHealth unveiled earlier this year.
The Healing Power of Music
“AdventHealth believes so strongly in supporting the health and well-being of our physicians and advanced practitioners that we’ve developed a website full of resources designed specifically for clinicians’ unique needs,” Omayra Mansfield, emergency medicine physician and chief medical officer for AdventHealth Apopka, said. Mansfield teamed up with Vincent Hsu, infectious disease specialist and AdventHealth’s infection control officer, in a shared Physician’s View opinion piece on the role music can play in de-stressing. “If you think about it, an orchestra is similar to how we collaborate in health care,” Mansfield said.
Hsu plays in the AdventHealth Orchestra, which had its start in July 2020 at the height of the Delta-variant surge. “We share a common bond as health-care workers, managing the same internal struggles of stress and burnout,” Hsu said in the article, “The Sound of Healing: How Assembling an Orchestra Can Improve Physician Well-being.” “But now we have a stronger bond and friendship through our music together. It’s a double dose of healing therapy for me and a great source of joy.”
Hsu calls burnout “the silent epidemic among physicians.”
Fortunately for others who may be dealing with stress and trauma, AdventHealth clinicians have not been silent on the subject. In addition to Mansfield and Hsu, others have shared their experiences and advice in the Physician’s View space.
Steps to Establishing a ‘New Normal’
“The pandemic has taken a toll on all of us in health care, especially those of us on the frontline,” David Buxton, executive director of palliative medicine for AdventHealth Central Florida Division — South Region, said. Echoing the sentiment expressed in the surgeon general’s report, Buxton said, “After an initial burst of support from the public, the appreciation dwindled, but we had to keep working.”
While health-care workers may not be able to “get back to normal,” Buxton suggests in his piece “Who’s Helping You? Coping with Trauma as a Health Care Worker”: “We can take steps to help ourselves establish a ‘new normal’ that’s healthier than where we are now.”
Buxton’s recipe for healing from “this unavoidable trauma” centers on going back to the basics of diet, sleep, and making sure your priorities are in order — that is, finding meaning in life. Journaling is one of the exercises he mentions as a route to improved well-being.
Journaling Is Transformative
Ademola Adewale, an emergency medicine physician at AdventHealth East Orlando, can attest to the power of journaling. “The constantly changing COVID-19 environment and day-to-day pressures of the ER weighed heavily on my body, mind, and spirit,” Adewale said. “I suffered from near mental exhaustion and almost burnout.”
As he shares in his opinion piece, “I Was Ready to Walk Away: One Physician’s Journey to Rediscovering His Passion for Emergency Medicine”: “After feeling emotionally drained and dissuaded, I started journaling. After a year, a pattern emerged that gave me a beacon of light.” That beacon of light became a book, Fully Alive: Experiencing the Five Pillars of Wholeness.
“Though whole-person medicine is integral to AdventHealth’s care philosophy, I realized that physicians, myself included, have to be whole ourselves,” Adewale said. “We can’t give what we don’t have.” As he applied the five pillars of wholeness he identified — physical, emotional, mental, social, and spiritual — to his own life, he said, “I was transformed.”
Give Yourself Some Grace
Perhaps Buxton best sums up what is at the heart of these collective words of wisdom to others in the health-care field:
“Ultimately, you have to give yourself some grace. The last few years have been incredibly difficult for health-care providers. You probably are not the same person you were before the pandemic began. You may need to pay extra attention to your emotional and spiritual health going forward. And that’s OK.”