Viewpoint: Hospital staff cannot operate in 'combat conditions' forever

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For many physicians and nurses, the pandemic won't end as it does for others. The psychological toll can persist for years to come, with many clinicians traumatized — some even developing post-traumatic stress disorder. Hospital staff will need to be given time to rest and recuperate, according to a May 24 article published by Harvard Buisness Review.

Hospital leaders should consider taking an approach that the Army uses for deployed soldiers, said Rachel Woods, health system strategist and author of the report. Soldiers are offered additional paid time off to use when they return from their deployment. During her time in the Army, she said she and her peers looked toward this off time to get them through the stress of being deployed overseas. 

A similar approach can be used in healthcare "to sustain engagement and health among service members over the long term." 

"We can't expect them to operate under combat conditions indefinitely," she said.

Three ways to give clinicians the time off they need:

  1. Hospital leaders can work to prioritize who needs recovery time and how to create it when hospitals are short-staffed. Leaders should develop criteria to determine which staff roles need to be prioritized.

  2. Leaders should use flexible staff arrangements developed during the pandemic to allow workers to take breaks. Increasing flexibility also gives clinicians more autonomy over their career paths.

  3. Utilize tech-enabled care to mitigate the effect of being short-staffed. For example, hospitals can transfer tedious tasks, such as patient record-keeping, from clinicians to a software program.

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