Physician and healthcare worker burnout is the epidemic that was occurring nationally and globally, before the pandemic. 

 I suspect that many of us in healthcare are fearing that the COVID pandemic will be the final blow to the burned-out physicians’, nurses’ and healthcare worker psyche.  

But what I love about the human experience is that there are always at least 2 ways to process anything in life. 

In Taoist philosophy, all of life can be full of yin and yang.  Our own brains are capable of holding complementary and opposing forces of thoughts that can exist simultaneously …

The Yin of COVID-19 pandemic…

 This crisis is confirming a lot of the burned-out physician beliefs: 

That the system is exploiting our overzealous work ethic. 

The system is exploiting our endless ability to bend and workaround obstacles that get in the way of caring for patients.

The system is exploiting our habit of caring for patients before we look out for ourselves.

The system is exploiting the assumption that being overwhelmed with patient volumes is part of the deal.

The system is exploiting that once again we have to choose between our jobs and being an attentive parent.

 

The Yang of COVID-19 pandemic

COVID could be the antidote to burnout…

Many of us went into medicine seeking to embrace the identity of the helper or the hero, and suddenly, the world is telling us that we are now the ultimate helpers and heroes. (granted,  It’s not healthy to always be seeking validation but it feels nice every once in a while. )

Instead of HCWs being victims of a dysfunctional healthcare system, there are opportunities to change things.  The front line seems to be getting a bigger voice and heard.  

Science is getting a bigger voice and heard.

The community is jumping together to do their part to care for each other, both in the hospital and in our larger communities. 

Suddenly people’s lives matter more than billing documentation and putting all 8 points in the review of systems.

Suddenly EMRs are not as important as taking care of the patient.  

My life coach mentor brilliantly points out that burnout is not due to the amount of work we do.  It is not due to working 12 hours or 24 hours in a row, but burnout is caused by the energy that fuels our work.  This is so true!   Part of the reason the doctor community is waking up jumping in is that before the pandemic, the burned-out doctor’s energy was fueled by just the need to pay the bills, and out of the hamster wheel, we just found ourselves on, vs now, during the pandemic, our energy being fueled by some communal calling to be a part of the global solution and some sense of purpose.  

 

The biggest impact that I think we can take away from the pandemic however is a huge opportunity to re-evaluate everything.   

 What are the barebone essentials of our lives?   What is important to us right now? .. is it our community, our people, our relationships, our valuable brains, our knowledge, our technical and diagnostic skills,  our family, our health, our continued learning, just having clean running water, soap, oxygen. How down to the bare essentials can we get? 

 

I heard someone say that the year of this pandemic will be looked at as the ‘lost year” but what if the year of COVID-19 was the year where we questioned everything, what if the year of COVID forced us to change the fuel of the work.   Fueled Instead of victimhood, scarcity, obligation, and hunger for validation and replaced that fuel with bravery, intelligence, and care. What if COVID helped us re-set some of the balance in the world, where our lives mattered as much as our patient’s lives, and it is safe to say that. 

 

What if the year of COVID was a human experience where we mixed fear and confidence, a purpose to take care of people who are suffering, and to embrace the clean water we use to wash our hands, Can we embrace the full circle that we can appreciate as our lives?  Death and regrowth….it is possible for the pandemic to be both a tragic and a beautiful thing?