Better Patient Care Starts With Self-Care

“Take care of yourself” was the message Angie Mitchell, RN, HealthTrust’s director of nursing services, gave to members attending a March meeting of the nursing advisory board. Leading a session on facilitating happiness in the workplace, her goal was to provide clinicians with more tools to prevent burnout and spread the message that better self-care leads to better patient care.

For additional tips on staying emotionally and physically healthy, try these resources: 

*The American Medical Association hosts a special site featuring a wealth of resources on preventing physician burnout.

*The National Academy of Medicine created an online Knowledge Hub with articles, research studies and other resources to aid clinician well-being.

*TED Talks offers numerous videos dedicated to better self-care. View them here.

Clinicians are at higher risk of burnout than employees in other industries due to factors ranging from the job’s emotional intensity to long shifts. An emergency room nurse may work a 12-hour shift with multiple critical patients, subsisting on cups of coffee and few, if any, breaks. Viewing patients as objects or conditions, especially in high-acuity settings, is common—and a sure sign of fatigue.

“Sometimes it’s tempting to refer to patients as their medical diagnosis, but you have to remember that, attached to the technology and diagnosis, is a patient and his or her family,” Mitchell says.

Despite the high rates of burnout faced by clinicians, she sees a silver lining. Finding happiness in the workplace is possible, and it begins with self-care. Mitchell recommends the following suggestions to promote happiness and avoid burnout:

1. Practice mindfulness. Mindfulness means paying attention to the present moment. Mitchell suggests concentrating on breathing and other physical sensations for several minutes before the workday starts, blocking out thoughts about spreadsheets, new admissions or supply inventory. Inhaling deeply, noticing smells and taking in sounds are all great 
grounding practices. “We’ve found that when people are able to do this, their stress level goes down,” Mitchell says. “It’s just a few minutes of meditation and rejuvenation, and it actually allows them to handle a stressful environment more effectively.”

2. Self-reflect. “Nurses ask ‘Why?’ about everything, but sometimes we don’t ask ourselves why,” Mitchell observes. When clinicians remind themselves of the motivation behind their work, they are more likely to be guided by purpose. Self-reflection encourages positivity, and positivity makes for better teammates and better managers. “Reflecting on the good we do can lead to very positive things for both the patient and the caregiver,” she says.

3. Listen actively. A majority of nurses’ time is spent listening—60 to 70 percent, by Mitchell’s estimate. According to a February 2016 “Perspectives on Safety” article from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, burnout is characterized by depersonalization. To combat it, active listening—that is, listening in order to understand—promotes human connection and empathy. This applies to both employees and patients; when managers listen closely to employee concerns, they can help prevent turnover. And when clinicians commit to being present with patients and hearing their hopes and fears, they resist seeing patients as a diagnosis.

In high-stress hospital environments, exhaustion and burnout are common dangers. By caring for themselves first, clinicians cultivate their ability to provide mindful, empathetic care to patients.

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