I have a very interesting job: I travel around the country providing neuromonitoring to surgeons in the operating room. I’m also an anesthesiologist assistant, certified and licensed to provide anesthesia. Throughout my ten-year career in the OR, I’ve been the guest of nearly a hundred hospitals in the U.S. and the UK. No two hospitals are the same. My career has allowed me to meet hundreds of incredibly caring doctors, nurses and staff who are all doing amazing things.
However, without a doubt, I always encounter staff members who just want to do their job. No more, no less — they care for their patients by the book and do what they need to do. They measure vital signs, make notes in the chart, have clinic time, all the normal things that we do in caring for those who are in need.
But they are missing one extremely vital thing in patient care. They are missing the “care.” They are missing the passion.
I get it. We all have busy lives. Some days, we’re just not feeling the love at 7 a.m. with four hours of sleep and bills to pay. Doctors have an increasing rate of burnout, as do nurses. This rate of burnout makes a HUGE impact on the care of patients.
In the peak of most provider’s careers, they have never been a patient. A TRUE patient where your life — your future — hangs in the balance to be determined by those providing your care. As you read this, I’m guessing this has never happened to you.
But it has happened to me. I was diagnosed with stage IIIC melanoma when I was 31. I know what it’s like to have your life in the hands of a select few. This changed my life — and my career — in ways I had never imagined.
And you know what I learned? Your attitude affects your patients.
Every. Single. One.
People are incredibly good at picking up non-verbal cues. After I was diagnosed, I became incredibly aware of what people were telling me and what they weren’t. My husband and I would discuss what my oncologist said — word for word, tone for tone — and dissect the inner meaning after appointments. “Do you think he means this or that? When he made that point, do you think he was referencing the data or his experience?”
Life lies between the lines. It’s not just what you say, but how you say it.
It’s so easy to build a wall to separate your life from your patients. We do this as a coping mechanism. We put up the façade and don’t let the patient (or your coworkers) see your emotions. I used to do it before my diagnosis.
After being fully in the patient’s shoes, I see that patients need positivity. We need that sympathy and empathy. We need every bit of compassion that we can get to lift our spirits. Mindset and positivity have proven to help in the healing process.
You are the health professional. Every patient is relying on you to help them through the scariest and toughest moments of their lives, both physically and mentally.
It is time for health care professionals to step up to the plate and realize our attitudes and our tones have consequences. Every patient in our presence sees the non-verbal cues we give, whether it’s meant to be towards them or the annoying nurse manager. Don’t bring your problems into the patient’s world.
Feeling burned out? Stressed and not focusing? Speak to someone. Just going through the motions of our daily routine is not good enough in health care.
Patients and their families deserve our compassion. Every single day.
Lauren Feltz is a patient advocate who blogs at Within My Skin.
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