How Healthcare Workers Can Neutralize Burnout and Low Morale

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For the last two years, the ongoing battle against COVID-19 has left many healthcare workers defeated and overwhelmed. According to a Washington Post/Kaiser Family Foundation survey of 1,327 front-line healthcare workers, roughly 55% have reported having experienced substantial burnout since the onset of COVID-19. Even further, 62% of staff cited mental health struggles as a direct result of the pandemic. In comparison, 75% of younger staff (ages 18-29) admitted that COVID-19 had had a negative effect on their overall welfare. To make matters even worse, another study found that more than 70% of healthcare workers have struggled with symptoms of anxiety and depression during this time, with 15% having experienced recent thoughts of suicide or self-harm.1 2

With the ongoing global public health crisis that is COVID-19, the "problem" of burnout and low morale among healthcare workers - which, prior to 2020, was already seen as a significant issue - has morphed into something more severe: a silent epidemic, one that has the potential, if left unchecked, to pose substantial threats to the safety and well-being of any who find themselves stricken with it.

Now more than ever, it's crucial that you, as a healthcare worker, feel properly equipped with the necessary tools to combat burnout and low morale. The good news? Many of these tools -several of which are listed below - are waiting and ready for you to pick up and use to construct an all-new, high-morale, burnout-free foundation for yourself and your career.

So let's start building.

Be proactive about seeking out ways to refuel your passion for ultrasound:

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  • Idea #1: Join an medical organization. Get plugged into an association relevant to your practice and work on growing your knowledge while keeping abreast of exciting developments in the field. While you're at it, network and connect with new colleagues - forging relationships with people who are equally as passionate about healthcare is a great way to battle burnout and keep your passion for what you do aflame.
  • Idea #2: Mentor a new coworker who's fresh out of school and new to ultrasound. Pass on to them the things that you've learned, and don't hesitate to share with them your personal tips/tricks for the job. At the same time, also be open to learning something new from them - they may possess an interesting perspective on an old approach that will help you too. Always pursue and embrace fresh ideas, and don't be afraid to experiment with new ways of performing familiar duties.
  • Idea #3: Strive daily to focus on the difference that you are making in your patients' lives. Take pride in what you do and remember the impact that your work has on the lives of your patients and their families. You are automatically making a difference by getting up and going to work every day. Make a daily, conscious effort to internalize that.

Be diligent about finding new ways to love your job even more than you already do.

  • Idea #1: Be creative in your problem solving. Follow through with any approved ideas you have brought to your manager, and actively seek to implement them into your workflow. Don't hesitate to update old processes - instead, fully embrace new ideas. Even if every single one doesn't work out like you'd hoped, trying out a new idea or way of doing something can still present a great learning opportunity for you and your team.
  • Idea #2: Pursue a healthy work-life balance, and be grateful when things change for the better. Remember to thank management for the work they're doing to make you feel happy and secure in your job. Maintaining a healthy work-life balance can be a challenge, and it often requires managers' intervention, especially when it comes to implementing and maintaining firm guardrails. Thank them for the work they're doing to help ensure that your job doesn't cross the line into becoming all-consuming.
  • Idea #3: Focus on doing the best work that you can do, and don't compare your work to that of your coworkers. Instead, strive to do the very best that YOU can as a healthcare provider. Seek to find satisfaction in the good work that you know that you're doing, and let that be the fuel that powers you through your day.

Be the best team player possible, while also focusing on helping to prop up your coworkers

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  • Idea #1: Clean up after one another, and don't hesitate to restock supplies after procedures. Cleaning up - either after your work, or after someone else has completed a task - can be a great way of demonstrating to your coworkers that you both care about them AND respect their time. Plus, it takes only a few minutes out of your day.
  • Idea #2: Make sure that everything is tidied up for the next shift. There's nothing better than showing up for your shift and finding everything organized and ready to go. By doing this for your coworkers, you set them up for success, allowing them to enter the next shift already ahead of the ball.
  • Idea #3: Organize a fun event outside of work. Lunch with coworkers, happy hours, participating in a group activity together...these are all great ways to build camaraderie and strengthen your team's bond OFF the clock.

Take care of yourself physically, mentally, and emotionally:

  • Idea #1: Smile. It's the easiest thing to give away and doesn't cost you anything. Even if you happen to be feeling exhausted or sad about something, try to smile - not only can it make YOU feel better, but it also helps to provide an inviting atmosphere for your coworkers and the people you are caring for.
  • Idea #2: Self-care is crucial. Make sure that you are getting enough sleep at night, and strive to eat well and stay hydrated. Also, remember to exercise frequently, and squeeze in time to stretch to protect yourself from repetitive injuries.
  • Idea #3: Meditate. Take 5 minutes out of your day - even if it's on your lunch break or while driving to work in the car - and sit in peace. Meditation can be an invaluable tool, especially when centering yourself before entering chaotic situations. Even just a few minutes a day can greatly impact your overall mental wellbeing.
  • Idea #4: Focus on doing the absolute best scan for each patient. Recognize both how important you are in the medical industry, as well as how many of your patients' lives (and their family's lives) you are impacted by the work that you do. Take pride in your role, and deliver the same quality of your important expertise to each patient you care for.

Improve how you communicate - with your team AND yourself.

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  • Idea #1: Be honest about your needs. Don't worry about being a "pain" to your managers and don't feel intimidated about asking for help. Tell your manager exactly what you need to do your job efficiently, and bring possible solutions for problems that you're experiencing to the conversation. Your managers want to know how they can help you do the best job possible - so help them help you.
  • Idea #2: Express gratitude for improvements that your leaders make to your job. Recognize that your managers are working hard too, and make sure that they know just how grateful you are for their contributions. You know the impact that even a single compliment or verbal affirmation can have, especially during stressful or busy times - so extend that same gift to your managers.
  • Idea #3: Share ideas and suggestions that you believe can help better your workplace. Recognize that everyone on your team is working towards the same goal of providing the best healthcare possible to your patients. Share your tips and tricks with your coworkers, so that EVERYONE can improve and help make your department's workflow as efficient as possible.

Treat your teammates as unique individuals with a common goal:

  • Idea #1: Recognize the unique strengths that your coworkers possess. Understand that everyone on your team possesses innate individual gifts, many of which can frequently serve to complement your weaknesses. Then find ways to actively embrace those gifts and integrate them into the team's workflow. (The same holds true for you, too - don't hesitate to share your gifts, even those you doubt could be beneficial. You never know what kind of impact they could end up having).
  • Idea #2: Never be afraid to ask questions. Remember - there is ALWAYS more to learn and uncover. Embrace that fact, and continually seek to grow. You - and your team - will only be stronger for it.

Give guidance when needed:

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  • Idea #1: Broaden your horizons. For example, if your focus is usually centered on a particular medical focus, try to learn more about another, and then see if you can even participate in a procedure or two. Learn as much as possible about as many different healthcare processes as possible, then seek opportunities to apply what you have learned actively.
  • Idea #2: Think outside the box. Always remember that there's more than one way to do your job - you can ALWAYS learn a new, better way of doing something. Reject thinking that says, "This is how we've always done it," and instead embrace thinking that says, "How haven't we done it?"
  • Idea #3: Never feel like you can't ask for help. There will always be things that you may not know how to do or questions that you might not have the answer to. Don't hesitate to reach out to those who DO know, and feel empowered to lean on their expertise. You don't need to know everything. Because remember - no one else does, either.

Recognize when you are at risk of an overbearing workload, and take steps to prevent it:

  • Idea #1: Be proactive with stretching to avoid injury. Take responsibility for your physical health by stretching and strengthening your muscles. Repetitive injuries can be crippling, but they're also avoidable - so do what you need in order to keep them in the rearview mirror.
  • Idea #2: Learn good ergonomics. Be cognizant of potential injuries that could occur when performing medical procedures, and learn how to position yourself properly during exams.
  • Idea #3: Acknowledge when you are experiencing concerning physical symptoms, and share them with your managers. If necessary, visit a physical therapist. Don't ignore symptoms in the hope that they'll get better - take initiative for yourself and actively address anything that feels "off."
  • Idea #4: Help your teammates when possible. If you see someone struggling to keep up with their workload, find ways to help them. Remember: burnout is not only dangerous on an individual level, but it also has the potential to impact the team as a whole negatively. Identify the things that seem to be causing stress for you or your teammates, then work together to address them.

What to do next?

Check out our upcoming webinar, "How to Light a Spark in Healthcare Workers with Low Morale."

Emily Smith (BS, RDMS, RVT) will examine common presentations of moral injury and burnout in sonographers and healthcare workers, as well as present ideas on how you can ameliorate and prevent low morale from spreading throughout your department.

References:

  1. 1. Clement S. Pascual C. & Ulmanu M. (n.d.) Stress on the front lines of covid-19. The Washington Post (apr 7 2021) A.8. A.8-A-8
  2. 2. Hendrickson R.C. Slevin R.A. Hoerster K.D. Chang B.P. Sano E. McCall C.A. Monty G.R. Thomas R.G. & Raskind M.A. (2022) The impact of the covid-19 pandemic on mental health occupational functioning and professional retention among health care workers and first responders. Journal of General Internal Medicine 397-408. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11606-021-07252-z.
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