Those who have a good understanding of healthcare know that it is a stressful industry for doctors, nurses, and allied staff.

From the rigors of education and loan repayment to the challenges of the 21st-century workplace, those who choose healthcare careers are at risk of losing their sense of balance and happiness. Must healthcare careers and personal happiness be mutually exclusive?

Falling Down on the Job

Nursing and medical schools are generally woefully unprepared to discuss self-care with students. Taking into consideration the stress of creating a healthcare career, it’s a sad statement that schools do such a poor job preparing their graduates for reality.

Many healthcare organizations are equally notorious for avoiding conversations about the wellness of workers. While some facilities may provide some support for staff well-being, the consensus is that nurses, doctors, and others seem to be on their own when it comes to striking a balance between lifestyle, the demands of work, and responsibilities at home.

Finding Self-Care and Balance

In light of this reality, those choosing healthcare sector careers must take ownership of their wellness and employ a sense of personal responsibility when it comes to remaining mentally and physically healthy while fulfilling the demands of their field.

A busy nurse, doctor, or physical therapist will often have a demanding and rigorous schedule. Long hours, difficult situations, high stress levels, and student loan debt are par for the course, and gracefully navigating such challenges can be difficult.

When caring for sick, suffering, and dying patients, stress can rise to unhealthy levels — where does the earnest doctor or nurse turn to stay mentally and emotionally fit, not to mention spiritually balanced?

Getting enough sleep, exercise, hydration, and nutrition are areas that can be given short shrift, and time off for leisure can end up being less frequent than desirable.

Striking a healthy balance between work and home can pose a difficult task, yet, as purveyors of health, we recognize that walking our talk and being healthy ourselves can have a positive impact on the patients we serve. Otherwise, we simply aren’t practicing what we preach, and our ability to demonstrate our own health and happiness is compromised.

Finding balance can be a strain, but many medical professionals have succeeded in this regard, and others can follow in their footsteps.

The Building Blocks of Personal Wellness

For the healthcare professional in search of the secrets of personal wellness, it comes down to what’s most important. Just as we teach our patients, medical professionals can make a point of prioritizing exercise, nutrition, hydration, and sleep as the four pillars of our physical wellness. This can be where the wellness journey begins.

Mental, emotional, and spiritual wellness also figure largely for stressed-out healthcare workers, especially in light of the illness, suffering, and death many of us are witness to on a daily basis.

If we indeed prioritize our physical health, the mental, emotional, and spiritual aspects will sometimes fall into place, but not always. In the face of pre-existing mental health issues, ongoing mental health care is essential; however, even without pre-existing conditions, mental, spiritual, and emotional support is crucial.

Counseling, psychotherapy, coaching, and employee assistance programs (EAP) can all be useful in this regard. Those individuals with a proclivity towards spiritual or religious practice may seek guidance from a trusted faith leader.

Getting back to the basics is strongly recommended for any healthcare professionals seeking support around their own personal wellness. From these building blocks of wellness, greater health can be achieved.

Employers: Step Up and Walk Your Talk

If healthcare personnel can take personal responsibility for their wellness, employers can and should also provide support for such.

It’s widely accepted that having a happy and healthy workforce will decrease attrition, foster workplace/employer loyalty, and deliver higher-quality outcomes. In healthcare, this translates to optimal patient care, less employee turnover, and increased profits.

Employee health and happiness should be a top priority for healthcare employers. Some aspects of the workplace that can lend themselves to such include, but are not limited to:

  • Reasonable shift lengths
  • A lack of mandatory overtime
  • Employee fitness and wellness programs
  • Robust employee assistance programs (EAPs)
  • Compassionate leadership attuned to workers’ needs
  • A focus on positive employee feedback and rewards for excellent service
  • Appropriate spiritual and emotional support for staff members
  • Paid family and emergency leave
  • Generous benefits
  • Empowerment and incentivizing of staff to engage in regular self-care activities
  • Appropriate and generous time off, sick days, and mental health days
  • Employer interest in employees’ professional development
  • Zero tolerance for bullying, harassment, intimidation, violence, and other aberrant workplace behavior
  • The support of a highly positive workplace culture

Helping to support the health, well-being, and happiness of healthcare workers is not rocket science, nor is it a concept unfamiliar to those who are paying attention to societal and medical trends. The impact of stress on the body, mind, and soul is real, and there are no arguments contradicting the fact that healthcare staff face undue levels of workplace stress.

Employment in the healthcare sector and personal wellness and happiness should not be mutually exclusive.

Both workers and employers can each play a significant role in this regard. This necessitates personal empowerment, organizational will, staff incentives, and a culture of wellness mutually fostered by both employers and employees.