Caregiver resiliency: How to support healthcare's front lines in today's challenging environment

Physicians and nurses work long hours in trying conditions. Despite being caregivers, these critical workers are expected to sacrifice sleep, meal and bathroom breaks, comforts like ergonomic desks and chairs and basic self-care when the job demands — and that was before the pandemic. That has led to burnout, people leaving the profession, ensuing caregiver shortages and, tragically, even suicide. 

In a July Becker's Hospital Review webinar sponsored by Ergotron, moderator Nikki Hill, senior digital marketing specialist at Ergotron, led a discussion on the working environment's impact on caregiver health, and tools and techniques to make improvements. Speakers included writer and speaker Laura Vater, MD, a hematology oncology fellow at the Indiana University School of Medicine, and Maya Ram, RN, clinical specialist at Ergotron.

Four key takeaways were: 

  1. The pandemic worsened working conditions for physicians and nurses. "Sometimes the expectation is that we will continue to work without caring about our basic physiology and our health needs," Dr. Vater said. "We're highly resilient, but especially during the pandemic, we've been put in situations where we no longer have the ability to cope." Ms. Hill agreed: "They [caregivers] need to take care of their own health, and often it's an impossible choice."
  2. This crisis has forced healthcare leaders to look for solutions. Dr. Vater and Ms. Ram suggested tools like enhanced employee assistance programs, access to better therapy benefits, adjusted pay scales and solutions to mandatory overtime and on-call room design. "Don't just use band-aid measures like gift cards and food," Ms. Ram said. "For one, the night shift never really sees these things. And oftentimes these measures are perceived as insensitive."
  3. Make the physical environment work for you. Physicians and nurses spend a huge part of their day in front of computers, documenting. Having comfortable, adjustable, ergonomic workstations is critical to physical comfort and overall health. "A standing desk or having the ability to be a little bit less sedentary, those things are very important to your perception of how the shift goes," Dr. Vater said. "If you're uncomfortable it's going to lead to less fulfillment in your work and overall discomfort."
  4. Use the "SMILE" scale to check in on personal wellness. Dr. Vater's "SMILE" scale stands for Sleep enough, Move my body, Inhale and exhale, Love and connect and Eat to nourish. 

Each part of SMILE has a key question, and a "yes" answer merits one point:

  • Sleep: Am I getting 7 to 9 hours of sleep a night?
  • Move: Have I been physically active for 30 minutes or more?
  • Inhale: Am I setting aside time to reduce stress for at least 10 minutes per day with a calming activity (such as meditation, deep breathing or journaling)?
  • Love: Have I had at least one meaningful social interaction with a family member or friend?
  • Eat: Am I eating foods that nourish my body, including at least five servings of fruit and vegetables a day?

"When I consistently have four or a five points on this scale, I consistently feel better," Dr. Vater said.

Clinicians and nurses are resilient people. But caregivers need to prioritize taking care of their own health and well-being in order to most effectively serve others. And caregivers need help and support from their employer. Solutions like those from Ergotron provide important support that caregivers need. 


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