Let’s admit it - working in healthcare can be physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausting. The system that we currently work in has decreased our ability to connect with each other by both work overload and systemic changes that limit personal interaction. People are scattered in different offices throughout a campus or at community locations. Many of our meetings are now virtual and we have less time before and after the meeting to catch up with each other. Time to eat lunch gets squeezed more and more with patients being added to already full clinic schedules.
So, are healthcare workers finding support elsewhere?
Unfortunately, they aren't. According to OhioPHP’s survey on well-being for healthcare professionals, only 1 in 4 healthcare professionals sought emotional support during the pandemic. The main barriers to seeking support were time commitment, not knowing where to turn, and confidentiality concerns. (1) Sadly, this is not surprising, given the climate of the healthcare delivery system.
We know that loneliness and isolation can have devastating effects. The U.S. Surgeon General recently released an advisory on loneliness and isolation stating that loneliness is associated with (2):
29% increased risk of heart disease and 32% increased risk of stroke
50% increased risk of dementia
However, social connection is protective and associated with:
50% increased odds of survival
15% decreased risk of developing depression in those who already have risk factors
The data above refers to the general population. When it comes to healthcare workers, social connection is also associated with decreased burnout and increased resiliency. So how do we increase support and social connection?
In 2012, Hu et al. noted that 88% of physicians would prefer support from other physicians (3).
It’s not surprising that colleagues wanted to talk to their peers about distressing situations.
Colleagues have similar training backgrounds and can relate to specifics in the workplace. This lessens time spent explaining and increases time empathizing and validating. This study was focused on the purposes of a peer support program, which is a formal/organizational intervention.
With all this knowledge that connection and decreasing isolation can help with so many physical and mental health conditions and also can help decrease burnout and increase resiliency, we should be doing everything in our power to support and uplift each other, even informally. We all have the power to make a difference. Let’s start changing the culture of medicine.
Let’s make it easier for our colleagues to feel supported and take some of that burden to seek help off their shoulders. There is power in reaching out. Let’s reach out to a colleague in need!
Visit www.ohiophp.org/thepowerinreachingout to learn more about how to get involved! Together, we can make a difference.
Our Epidemic of Loneliness and Isolation: The U.S. Surgeon General’s Advisory on the Healing Effects of Social Connection and Community 2023
Hu Y, Fix ML, Hevelone ND, et al. Physicians' Needs in Coping With Emotional Stressors: The Case for Peer Support. Arch Surg. 2012;147(3):212–217. doi:10.1001/archsurg.2011.312