The pendulum in the physician wellness space continues to move, and for good reason. When mindfulness started becoming more mainstream in medicine, it was often touted as the solution to burnout and, subsequently, led to a lot of mandatory workplace mindfulness programs. (For me, personally, my meditation practice is what ended my burnout, but I am fully aware that isn’t the case for everyone.)
Building resilience became a wellness box-to-check that allowed hospitals and systems to feel that they had done enough to fight clinician burnout, without taking responsibility for the system and the workplace environment. Clinician frustration grew; here was yet another thing they were required to do, on their own time.
I completely understand the resulting backlash against meditation and mindfulness programs. It’s important that hospital systems do their own internal review and improve workplace conditions that also lead to burnout. Programs like Mayo and Stanford have done incredible work in this area. Plus, no one wants to be forced to do something they don’t want to do.
And then COVID happened. Clinicians were asked (or forced) to work in life-threatening situations, often with minimal protective equipment and testing (particularly at the beginning). They faced patient care difficulties and limited family communication due to COVID isolation precautions, scores of patients dying, and frustration at the lack of leadership from the government and the lack of accountability from people who refused to take COVID seriously. And they often faced cuts to their salaries, benefits and resources to help them make it through, as well as difficulty managing virtual school while they were required to be working outside of the home.
The past 13 months of the pandemic have been traumatizing in many ways, in every part of our society. And that trauma doesn’t spare the doctors and other clinicians who have cared for patients day in and day out during the pandemic, in a system that was broken to begin with.
How can clinicians emerge from COVID and begin to thrive again, to heal, to find joy and meaning in their work? Can there ever be enough workplace policies and systemic safeguards in place to help clinicians heal from COVID trauma?
In an emergent situation like COVID, especially one that has lasted this long, I believe that in order to heal, we have to go back to the individual. We have to give them tools to heal, just as they’ve worked so hard to heal their patients. Not as a requirement, but as a thank-you.
As a former hospitalist who transitioned out of clinical practice in 2015, I’ve been deep in the physician wellness space for years. Far and away, the most effective way I’ve supported health care professionals during this time (often in my role as a founding board member of the mindful health care collective) is with a tool called tapping, otherwise known as the emotional freedom technique or EFT. Tapping is a powerful, evidence-based stress-reduction and healing technique that uses the same meridians as acupuncture (without the needles). By tapping on these meridians, you can induce profound changes in the brain and nervous system, which send calming signals to the stress center of the brain (the amygdala and hippocampus) in the face of stress. The results are astonishing.
Here’s why I love it for health care professionals, particularly during COVID:
- It’s evidence-based.
- It can be done via Zoom.
- It can be done in a group setting, and everyone can benefit from it.
- It works really quickly, with few side effects, and the results can be quite long-lasting.
- No experience is needed to benefit from tapping.
- People don’t need to start a whole new tapping practice to get the benefits; it works whether you tap once a day, once a week, or once a month.
- It works in as short as 10 to 15 minutes.
- It helps people heal from trauma.
No one expected COVID. We weren’t prepared, at the system level, or at the personal level. And health care professionals are among those paying the steepest price. We must start to heal from the trauma of COVID, and there’s an easy, evidence-based way to do so that doesn’t require huge amounts of time. Let’s honor the personal sacrifices made by health care professionals during COVID by starting to remove the stigma of personal healing and resilience-building in the physician wellness space.
Jill Wener is an internal medicine physician and can be reached at her self-titled site, Jill Wener, MD.
Image credit: Shutterstock.com