Burnout isn't just a doctor issue: Here's how health care providers also help clinicians

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Many medical clinicians like nurses and physician assistants choose their professions out of a desire to help those who are sick and in need. But what happens when they need help?

Addressing the well-being of care providers including clinicians can start by listening to them and giving them the tools they need to succeed, according to Dr. Julie Kiser, who works at the Lombardi campus of Santa Rosa Community Health.

“Toyota learned a long time ago to ask the people putting the wheels on the cars what was tough about doing that and then fixing that,” she said. “The medical industry at a national level is only now figuring out that model.”

Focusing on wellness and the rewards of medicine are only possible when the impediments to a smooth working environment are cleared away, including something as small as a computer glitch, Kiser said.

“We ask people, what is stupid about what you’re doing on your computer?” she added. “We listen to frustration find out what it’s about and fix what’s broken.”

Strategies for reducing stress can also be integrated into care programs, according to Vivian Dickson, a veteran nurse at Sutter Health in Santa Rosa.

Dickson highlighted Sutter’s Integrative Healing Arts Program. Care givers use techniques like guided imagery, therapeutic touch or just a caring presence, all without needing a doctor’s order.

She said the program is designed to cater to a patient’s physical, mental and spiritual well-being, but can also have a positive impact on the care provider during a hectic shift.

“Most of the time patients are really grateful we offer that,” Dickson said of the program. “It gives us a chance to breath and stop and totally sit with a patient.”

She added that self-care outside of work can help nurses like her reenergize and be focused and present to do a hard job.

“For me that’s yoga practice, connecting to nature, being out in my garden,” Dickson said, noting she also mediates. “If I’m taking care of myself on the day to day I can be ready to show up and take care of someone else.”

Some of that opportunity to step away is built into the hospital. At her employer, a reflection room provides a quiet place and the hospital offers guided meditation classes to staff once a week.

At Marin General Hospital, an employee wellness program uses similar tools to encourage provider’s self-care according to Tori Murray, the hospital’s director of integrative health and wellness.

Murray said the hospital encourages employees to stay on top of their own health, including an annual visit with their doctor. “We also have the fun stuff, the classes and educational events,” including lunch-and-learn sessions and offsite yoga and Pilates classes.

Murray said the hospital also encourages employees to start their own groups based on their needs. “Labor and Delivery has a running group,” she said, noting the dieticians also have their own continuing education book club.

“We have a knitting group and the chief nurse is part of the knitting group, if you can believe that,” said Karin Reese, the hospital’s chief nursing officer.

Reese said the hospital also created a series of three day off site workshops focused on self-care called Regaining the Spirit of Caring where the hospital covers a caregivers salary to go as well as paying for their shifts be covered.

“We’ve had over 900 of our employees successfully go through RSC, so we are fully imparting upon our full team that you really need to start taking care of yourself before we can really expect you to take care of our patients at the level we want.” Reese said.

St. Joseph’s Health in Santa Rosa has a caregiver well-being program called Choose Well, according to Vanessa DeGier, executive director of marketing and communications at Providence St. Joseph Health.

“Health care professions are often stressful and caring for our physical, spiritual, and mental health is essential. That’s why St. Joseph Health’s wellness incentive program incorporates all of these aspects of our well-being,” DeGier wrote in an email. “We also offer caregivers ongoing support through activities including chair massages on site, therapy dog sessions on site, and free classes like yoga and meditation.”

She added the hospital also provides caregivers with what are known as Schwartz Round: “These are sessions that offer our caregivers regularly scheduled time during their fast-paced work lives to openly and honestly discuss the social and emotional issues they face in caring for patients and families.”

Still, health care work is difficult. and burnout rates can be high, according to Reese. So, Marin General has a robust survey process to help find the scope of the problem and address it.

“We still have significant burnout, which means we have to continue to work on achieving resilience in our workforce,” Reese said. “We haven’t slayed this beast, by any means. We still have a lot of work to do.”

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