There is more to training than individual training for healthcare workers suffering from stress and burnout. Dr. Jonathan Fisher explains why mindfulness is needed at all levels to bring about real change.
Doctors, nurses, and pharmacists around the globe, as well as other health care providers, have never been under more pressure than they are today. Before the COVID epidemic, doctors had to balance the business of medicine with the art of healing patients. They also dealt with countless third parties, such as insurance companies, government agencies, and pharmaceutical companies. In addition to the rapid advances in health technology, healthcare workers are also expected to keep up with the increasing requirements for electronic record documentation, billing, and other non-clinical clerical duties. This is on top of the growing societal expectations of “quick fixes” and on-demand, affordable, high-quality healthcare.
Lack of support to navigate this new environment makes providers unable to keep up. Most estimates indicate that nearly half of the doctors in America are burnt out. Many doctors are ready to retire, and the US is expected to have a shortage of 120,000 doctors by 2030.
The mental health crisis continues to rage, and healers cry out for the joy, connection, and meaning that originally drew them to their profession. Mindfulness is one way to help achieve this goal, but it’s not how you think.
Treatment of Individuals or System Shifting?
The traditional “resilience” training offered to healthcare providers included mindfulness because it is known to have benefits for self-awareness, self-regulation, and a greater sense of well-being. It is a good start in caring for healthcare providers, but focusing on resilience as a solution can be a band-aid.
The global conversation about workplace mental health has changed as the understanding grows nuanced. Now, the leaders of organizations are responsible for creating and maintaining a supportive, psychologically safe environment. We know that mindfulness can help providers to face their daily challenges with greater calmness and clarity. Sustainable change is only possible with a top-down approach to changing the toxic healthcare culture.
It is time that health care reclaims the mantle as a model of optimal care, starting with its caregivers. This will allow them to better care for us by filling their cups.
Leaders can embrace systemic and organizational mindfulness instead of encouraging healthcare workers to become more self-aware. A person’s mindfulness practice brings attention to all aspects of their being (physical body, thoughts, emotions, desires, and experiences), so organizational mindfulness sees the organization as an organic, unified entity. Its policies acknowledge that the health and effectiveness of the “organism” depend on the care taken by every person in the system.
This view takes the voices and needs of all healthcare providers seriously. The institutional shifts will aim to improve healthcare quality at all levels, including for patients and healthcare workers. We can create organizational cultures where team members thrive and perform at their best by elevating mindfulness and compassion.
Change for the Better
What are the benefits we can expect when institutions start to practice mindfulness and self-regulation on a large scale while caregivers, patients, and leaders receive training in mindfulness?
The providers will sleep better, be more engaged in their work and have more confidence in difficult conversations. Burnout rates will fall soon thanks to a renewed purpose and meaning. Patients will have a better experience in the healthcare system. The healthcare team will be able to improve patient outcomes and safety by utilizing their newly acquired capacity for enhanced decision-making and teamwork.
These mindful strategies are also beneficial to healthcare leaders. Many leaders in other industries are embracing mindfulness and meditation. A growing number of Fortune 500 executives have contemplative mind-body practices as part of their strategy for success. Leaders who train and practice mindfulness report improved focus, strategic understanding, decision-making, and mastery of core skills related to emotional intelligence, executive presence, calmness, empathy, and intuition. This is before they bring mindfulness to a systemic level.
Over the last 40 years, the scientific evidence supporting the benefits of mindful practice has exploded. It began in clinical practice. Then it spread to other industries, including sports, technology, the arts, education, law, and the legal profession. It is time that health care reclaims the role of a model of optimal care, starting with its caregivers. This will allow them to better care for us.
What do you think about it? What is your opinion? Does your entire organization demonstrate compassion and mindfulness? What can you do to close the gaps?