HM20 Virtual

Hospitalists balance work, family as pandemic boosts stress



In a Q&A session at HM20 Virtual, hosted by the Society of Hospital Medicine, Heather Nye, MD, PhD, SFHM, professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, and David J. Alfandre, MD, MPH, associate professor of medicine at New York University Langone, discussed strategies to help hospitalists tend to their personal wellness during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Heather Nye, MD, PhD, of the University of California San Francisco

Dr. Heather Nye

The speakers described the complicated logistics and emotional and psychological strain that has come from working during the pandemic, while balancing home responsibilities and parenting. The session was an opportunity to humanize hospitalists’ experience as they straddle work and family.

Dr. Nye said she was still “warming up to personal wellness” because there have been so many other demands over the past several months, but that taking the time to go for walks – to bring on a feeling of health even more than the physical benefits – has been helpful. Even before the pandemic, she said, she brought a guitar to the office to take a few minutes for a hobby for which she can’t seem to find uninterrupted time at home.

“Bringing a little bit of yourself into your work life goes a long way for a lot of people,” she said.

Child care and odd hours always have been a challenge for hospitalists, the presenters said, and for those in academia, any “wiggle room” in the schedule is often taken up by education, administration, and research projects.

Dr. Alfandre said etching out time for yourself must be “a priority, or it won’t happen.” Doing so, he said, “feels indulgent but it’s not. It’s central to being able to do the kind of work you do when you’re at the hospital, at the office, and when you’re back home again.”

Dr. Nye observed that, while working from home on nonclinical work, “recognizing how little I got done was a big surprise,” and she had to “grow comfortable with that” and learn to live with the uncertainty about when that was going to change.

Both physicians described the emotional toll of worrying about their children if they have to continue distance learning.

David J. Alfandre, MD, MPH, associate professor of medicine at New York University Langone

Dr. David J. Alfandre

Dr. Alfandre said that a shared Google calendar for his wife and him – with appointments, work obligations, children’s doctor’s appointments, recitals – has been helpful, removing the strain of having to remind each other. He said that there are skills used at work that hospitalists can use at home – such as not getting upset with a child for crying about a spilled drink – in the same way that a physician wouldn’t get upset with a patient concerned about a test.

“We empathize with our patients, and we empathize with our kids and what their experience is,” he said. Similarly, seeing family members crowd around a smartphone video call to check in with a COVID-19 patient can be a helpful reminder to appreciate going home to family at the end of the day.

When her children get upset that she has to go in to work, Dr. Nye said, it has been helpful to explain that her many patients are suffering and scared and need her help.

“I feel like sharing that part of our job [with] our kids helps them understand that there are very, very big problems out there – that they don’t have to know too much about and be frightened about – but [that knowledge] just gives them a little perspective.”

Dr. Nye and Dr. Alfandre said they had no financial conflicts of interest.

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