COVID-19 did not discriminate when it came to the impact it imposed on our hospitalist community. As the nomenclature moves away from the negative connotations of ‘burnout’ to ‘wellbeing,’ the pandemic has taught us something important about being intentional about our personal health: we must secure our own oxygen masks before helping others.
In February 2020, the Society of Hospital Medicine’s Wellbeing Taskforce efforts quickly changed focus from addressing general wellbeing, to wellbeing during COVID-19. Our Taskforce was commissioned by SHM’s Board with a new charge: Address immediate and ongoing needs of well-being and resiliency support for hospitalists during the COVID-19 pandemic. In this essay, I will discuss how our SHM Wellbeing Taskforce approached the overall topic of wellbeing for hospitalists during the COVID-19 pandemic, including some of our Taskforce group experiences.
The Taskforce started with a framework to aide in cultivating open and authentic conversations within hospital medicine groups. Creating spaces for honest sharing around how providers are doing is a crucial first step to reducing stigma, building mutual support within a group, and elevating issues of wellbeing to the level where structural change can take place. The Taskforce established two objectives for normalizing and mitigating stressors we face as hospitalists during the COVID-19 pandemic:
- Provide a framework for hospitalists to take their own emotional pulse
- Provide an approach to reduce stigma of hospitalists who are suffering from pandemic stress
While a more typical approach to fix stress and burnout is using formal institutional interventions, we used the value and insight provided by SHM’s 7 Drivers of Burnout in Hospital Medicine to help guide the creation of SHM resources in addressing the severe emotional strain being felt across the country by hospitalists. The 7 Drivers support the idea that the social role peers and hospital leaders can make a crucial difference in mitigating stress and burnout. Two examples of social support come to mind from the Wellbeing Taskforce experience:
- Participate in your meetings. One example comes from a member of our group who had underestimated the “healing power” that our group meetings had provided to his psyche. The simple act of participating in our Taskforce meeting and being in the presence of our group had provided such a positive impact that he was better able to face the “death and misery” in his unit with a smile on his face.
- Share what is stressful. The second example of social support comes from an hour of Zoom-based facilitation meetings between the SHM’s Wellbeing Taskforce members and Chapter Leaders in late October. During our Taskforce debrief after the meeting, we came to realize the enormous burden of grief our peers were carrying as one hospitalist had lost a group colleague the previous week due to suicide. Our member who led this meeting was moved – as were we – at how this had impacted his small team, and he was reminded he was not alone.