To form meaningful relationships that foster support, there needs to be a space where people can safely come together at times that initially might feel awkward. After taking steps toward your peers, these conversations can become normalized and contribute to meaningful relationships, providing the opportunity for healthy exchanges on vulnerable topics like emotional and psychological wellbeing. A printable guide for this specific purpose (“HM COVID-19 Check-In Guide for Self and Peers”) was designed to help hospitalists move into safe and supportive conversations with each other. While it is difficult to place a value on the importance these types of conversations have on individual wellbeing, it is known that the quality of a positive work environment where people feel supported can moderate stress, morale, and depression. In other words, hospitalist groups can positively contribute to their social environment during stressful times by sharing meaningful and difficult experiences with one another.
Second, the Taskforce created a social media campaign to provide a public social space for sharing hospitalists’ COVID-19 experiences. We believed that sharing collective experiences with the theme of #YouAreNotAlone and a complementary social media campaign, SHM Cares, on SHM’s social media channels, would further connect the national hospitalist community and provide a different communication pathway to decrease a sense of isolation. This idea came from the second social support idea mentioned earlier to share what is stressful with others in a safe space. We understood that some hospitalists would be more comfortable sharing publicly their comments, photos, and videos in achieving a sense of hospitalist unity.
Using our shared experiences, we identified three pillars for the final structure of the HM COVID-19 Check-In Guide for Self and Peers:
- Pillar 1. Recognize your issues. Recall our oxygen mask metaphor and this is what we mean by recognizing symptoms of new stressors (e.g., sleeplessness, irritability, forgetfulness).
- Pillar 2. Know what to say. A simple open-ended question about how the other person is working through the pandemic is an easy way to start a connection. We learned from a mental health perspective that it is unlikely that you could say anything to make a situation worse by offering a listening ear.
- Pillar 3. Check in with others. Listen to others without trying to fix the person or the situation. When appropriate, offer humorous reflections without diminishing the problem. Be a partner and commit to check in regularly with the other person.
Cultivating human connections outside of your immediate peer group can be valuable and offer additional perspective to stressful situations. For instance, one of my roles as a hospitalist administrator has been offering support by regularly listening as my physicians ‘talk out’ their day confidentially for as long as they needed. Offering open conversation in a safe and confidential way can have a healing effect. As one of my former hospitalists used to say, if issues are not addressed, they will “ooze out somewhere else.”
The HM COVID-19 Check-In Guide for Self and Peers and the SHM Cares social media campaign was the result of the Taskforce’s collective observations to help others normalize the feeling that ‘it’s OK not to be OK.’ Using the pandemic as context, the 7 Drivers of Hospitalist Burnout reminded us that the increased burnout issues we face will require continued attention past the pandemic. The value in cultivating human connections has never been more important. The SHM Wellbeing Taskforce is committed to provide continued resources. Checking in with others and listening to peers are all part of a personal wellbeing and resilience strategy. On behalf of the SHM Wellbeing Taskforce, we hope the information in this article will highlight the importance of continued attention to personal wellbeing during and after the pandemic.
Dr. Robinson received her PhD in organizational learning, performance and change from Colorado State University in 2019. Her dissertation topic was exploring hospitalist burnout, engagement, and social support. She is administrative director of inpatient medicine at St. Mary’s Medical Center in Grand Junction, Colo., a part of SCL Health. She has volunteered in numerous SHM committees, and currently serves on the SHM Wellbeing Taskforce.