With an emphasis on reducing costs while improving quality and access, the transformation of the U.S. healthcare delivery system is creating additional pressure at the point of care — the encounters between clinicians and their patients. While change is due, it also requires balance and support for those who are caught at the crux as new models of care are being rolled out and payment models are still being developed and implemented.

"Research shows that healthcare workers as a whole are in poorer physical and mental health than other occupations," said Simon Fox, CEO of Adventures in Caring Foundation. "In fact, palliative care nurses' stress scores are higher than patients newly diagnosed with breast cancer."

Situations like this, along with reports that healthcare workers sometimes feel inadequately prepared to manage the stress and demands of their jobs, led to the creation of "Oxygen for Caregivers: Guarding Against Burnout, Sustaining Compassion" a method for self-reflection and caregivers starting the discussion to find balance between work and life.

Healthcare, by its nature, is full of stressors in the daily environment. However, some faced by professional caregivers can lead directly to compassion fatigue and burnout. These include:

  • Being asked to do more with less and less and less
  • Making decisions under pressure and fearing harm to patients
  • Recovering from making a medical mistake
  • Taking a misstep on legal or ethical issues
  • Being caught between advocating for patients and avoiding conflict with the system
  • Turnover or breakdowns in the team caused by fallout from any of the above

Existing and anticipated clinician shortages means healthcare organizations will soon recognize the need to invest more to support their employees as they protect themselves from stress and safeguard their quality of life. The costs of unfilled positions, excessive turnover and the early departure of clinicians from their profession are just too high for healthcare professionals to ignore.

Effective healthcare leaders can support these valuable members of the care team as they are pulled between advocates of patient-centered care and those monitoring the metrics financial or otherwise. Tactics include:

  • Providing opportunities for staff to be heard — and listening
  • Building strong teams and communications
  • Using situational awareness to recognize when others need help and providing mutual support
  • Identifying resources to ease transitions, start conversations and help staff learn coping skills
  • Making debriefing more useful and productive
  • Building resilience by supporting clinicians to learn the art of making better and better self-care choices

At the end of the day, helping professional caregivers ride the waves of change and avoid the riptides that can drag them under is really about enhancing patient safety, improving satisfaction and realizing better health outcomes. This is good for patients, healthcare organizations and the clinicians at the point of care.