Editor’s note: Adrienne Boissy is chief medical officer for Qualtrics and a practicing neurologist at the Cleveland Clinic.
Violence against caregivers is widespread and an increasing concern for us in the healthcare community. The deadly shooting in Tulsa, Oklahoma, is just the latest attack to make national headlines. Earlier that same day, June 1, a security officer was fatally shot by a patient at a hospital in Dayton in my home state of Ohio.
Revered spaces are being attacked and many of us feel overwhelmed with grief and anger. Our caregivers can’t take much more — and they shouldn’t have to.
Alarmingly, workplace violence is several times more prevalent in healthcare than in other professions, and the pandemic has made patients even more frustrated in care settings. In April 2022, one study found that nine out of 10 healthcare workers experienced or were in close proximity to workplace violence. This, coupled with a mental health crisis and exhaustion from multiple COVID-19 surges, is fueling a burnout crisis.
Months of intense stress, trauma and personal risk have taken their toll and led to a record number of resignations among healthcare workers. Roughly one in five have quit since the pandemic began.
Recent Qualtrics research on U.S. healthcare workers identified pandemic-related burnout as the top stressor at work, followed by a shortage of labor. Nearly one in three healthcare employees intend to quit their job within the next year.
Our healthcare system can’t take much more employee turnover without compromising care. Overwhelmed and overworked, many healthcare workers don’t feel safe and supported. With just over half of nurses reporting that their manager cares about their well-being, something is getting lost in translation.
We must protect our caregivers who dedicate their lives to caring for us. I’ve spoken to some amazing leaders who make sure to walk the floors for all shifts in order to listen and learn, model self care and be transparent about what they can change and what they can’t. They know that supporting healthcare workers means listening to what they’re experiencing, understanding their challenges, baking gratitude into everything and taking actions based on employee feedback to support their well-being and create a safe working environment.
Better understanding of the emotions workers are feeling and intervening thoughtfully will allow healthcare workers more time, energy and space to focus on what matters most — caring for themselves and each other so they can best care for the patient.
Much of the past few years has been about grief: our collective loss of normalcy, of major events and celebrations, of time spent with family and friends, and social constructs that hold us together.
Empathy for patients must start with empathy for ourselves as caregivers. Many healthcare leaders are demonstrating empathy by acknowledging their own vulnerabilities and emotions. They’re intentionally creating safe spaces for others to share and listen, checking in regularly to show care and concern, and telling stories of us at our best. We’ve also seen healthcare organizations show empathy by providing open access to mental health services, implementing peer support programs, lifting collective voices to call for action and integrating trauma-informed practices to build trust and safety between patients and staff.
The Institute for Healthcare Improvement has created a compelling set of healthcare workforce well-being practices and resources, and IHI senior fellow Stephen J Swensen et al reinforce many of these concepts about caring for depleted colleagues. When we act with intention to care for each other, our patients, ourselves and our communities, healing becomes possible.
I find myself avoiding the news for fear of what will happen next. I’m focusing on what I can control instead. Some days that looks like finding time for a walk or taking two minutes to reach out to a friend. Every day I make it a point to verbally ask how my colleagues are doing. I write notes to encourage leaders to keep going. I write letters to my representatives.
I talk to my children about what’s happening so they know that talking about our feelings is okay. Each of us has the choice to use our voices and platforms to advocate for changes that protect our caregivers. All of our lives depend on it.