There’s a phrase we use in golf when you hit one good shot after many bad ones: “That was whipped cream on sh*t.”
I used this phrase the other day in a collaborative of coaches whom I had just met (maybe not the best idea). I spoke specifically about my hospital’s wellness committee activities during the past two years during COVID. As chair of that committee, I felt like I was admitting defeat. I felt guilty and ashamed for not having more to offer our physicians other than ice cream socials, paint nights, and Zoom book clubs. The idea of offering “wellness” during COVID seemed like a joke, like whipped cream on sh*t.
Yet, physicians do deserve wellness.
What can I, as chair of this volunteer committee of physicians, many of whom are on the front lines, taking care of the sickest patients, with COVID and without, offer to improve the wellness of our physicians? I took on the role of wellness chair when I was just coming out of my lowest point of burnout, partly as a way to help myself and help other physicians who, I assumed, were suffering in silence, as I had been. This was several years before COVID.
Now, I feel like even more of an imposter. I am not a front-line provider. I rarely set foot in my hospital anymore. I am still recovering from my own burnout and have to remind myself daily to do breathing exercises, have gratitude for the good things in my life, and not sweat the small stuff. I hardly feel equipped to tell my fellow physicians who are taking care of patients, hospitalized with COVID, sick in the ICU, unvaccinated because they don’t believe the science, that they should be meditating and breathing in gratitude between dying patients.
Yet, this is exactly what we tell physicians. And actually, many physicians rarely take the time to appreciate the good things in their lives. We focus on the negative, what we did wrong, how we could have done better. We blame the system, the administration, the EMR. We strive for perfection in every aspect of our lives. We think it is our fault that we had a bad outcome. For better or for worse, our kids are a reflection of our parenting skills. We could have done better in handling our finances. We take responsibility for everything that goes wrong in our lives. But the good things, we think that was good luck.
So how do we help physicians in the time of COVID, when they were already burning out?
I asked this very question of my coaching collaborative colleagues.
And here is what I heard:
We must accept what is going on around us without taking on the burden personally.
We must pay attention to what brings us joy in our lives. If we love music, writing poetry, or spending time in nature, we must follow those desires.
We must pay attention to the things that trigger us and recognize that we have the power to react or respond however we want.
We must realize that the way we speak to ourselves is often not how we would speak to a friend or colleague who is troubled. Giving ourselves the compassion we would give to others seems difficult for physicians, but so important.
We must be able to set boundaries. Often when we are asked to step up, we say, “how high?” Recognizing the need for limits and boundaries is a key to staying sane these days. If you have trouble saying no to requests, then just say you need to think about it. If it’s something you feel passionate about, then say yes. Will you feel bad for saying no to this request in 10 years? If not, then say no.
This era of COVID is truly sh*tty. We can accept that as a fact.
But a little whipped cream on top may just be what we need to pull through and carry on.
Beverly Joyce is an obstetrician-gynecologist and physician coach. She can be reached at DrJoyCoaching.
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