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Surgeons' Lounge: Be Good to Yourself
5 Ways to Avoid Caregiver Burnout
Corrie Massey
Publish Date: January 7, 2015   |  Tags:   Staffing
caregiver burnout

be good to yourself
5 Ways to Avoid Caregiver Burnout

No matter our job titles, we are all caregivers. The emotional component we bring to our jobs is what makes us excel — the ability to connect with each other and with our patients to provide excellent care. Even under the best of circumstances, we spend a lot of our energy caring for others before we even get home from work. Here are 5 keys to finding a healthy balance between work and home, avoiding burnout and maintaining our compassion.

1. Pay yourself first. Financial experts tell us to "pay ourselves first" when we want to start saving money. We can apply this mantra to the time that we need to take care of ourselves. If setting aside time for yourself seems impossible, start with a few minutes before bedtime or at the beginning of the day to quiet your mind. Close the book on all of the running to-do lists. Get away from the noise of the day. As you get more comfortable with these few minutes, try to carve out opportunities to extend them. Consider a short walk during your lunch break to find some time to yourself. Try a yoga or meditation class to find new ways of relaxation. You might feel guilty or selfish at first. My first time in a yoga class, I couldn't stop thinking about how much time I was wasting sitting on the floor for 45 minutes when I had so much to do. Now, I can't imagine how I stayed sane before starting my yoga practice. Look at giving yourself that time off as something you need to do for yourself to maintain your own health.

2. Set boundaries. As much as we try to be all things to all people, it's wearing us out. The PTA wants us to bake cupcakes, kids have projects due, spouses want dinner and companionship, and you just got asked to spearhead another QA project at work. On top of that, there is a conference and an off-site professional development course you'd like to attend. You just can't do it all, and it will only expedite your burnout if you try. If you can, ask for some help with the kids, have meals available that your spouse can cook and maybe get a friend to pick up (gasp) store-bought cupcakes on their way to the PTA meeting for you. Saying 'no' to things is not only healthy, it's reinvigorating. It lets us regain control of some components of our schedules that may have gotten out of hand. When asked to take on more work responsibilities, don't be afraid to respectfully approach your superiors and ask for their help in prioritizing your job tasks. They may not know — or may have forgotten — that you sit on the Infection Control committee and are updating preference cards, stocking rooms and performing chart audits, all while still doing cases and working to keep those turnover times down. A gentle reminder may result in them transferring some of those responsibilities to other staff members or, at least, some recognition for doing such a great job in all of those areas.

3. Prioritize. When faced with multiple responsibilities, we have to make some tough choices. Cases are running late and they're asking for volunteers to stay. But, tonight is your daughter's dance recital. You could use the extra money but don't want to let your daughter down. This is a tough choice and only you can make that call. One thing that helps is to have a proactive discussion with your family about how you'll handle these situations. For example, if you and your family will take all of the overtime you can get unless it interferes with a family function, you've established agreed-upon guidelines for handling this dilemma. If you decide that you'll discuss each scenario as it comes up, you know a conversation needs to take place before you agree to those extra hours. Working with your partner or establishing clear parameters in your mind about how to manage scheduling conflicts will help you make the right decisions.

4. Don't sweat the small stuff. "Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference." These words of the Serenity Prayer can really act as our first "filter" when faced with overwhelming issues. As an administrator, I feel absolute responsibility for the well-being of my staff, my physicians and our patients. I stress (obsess?) about the tiniest details to make sure all of their experiences at my center are top-notch. I recently attended a week-long conference and the week leading up to my departure was nerve-wracking for me. Could my assistant handle the patient registration load by herself? Could my nurses and techs manage the surgeons effectively? What if we ran out of something? The Friday before I left, my assistant finally looked at me and said, "You can go now." My incessant worry and double-, triple-, quadruple-checking everything was driving her nuts — and she didn't even know about most of it. And you know what? They did just fine even after they ran out of coffee. I like to think this "worry" aspect of my job description helps make me good at it. But at some point, you have to trust that the processes that are in place for patient care at your center, the staff you work with, and your managers are all working for the greater good as well. Certainly issues that arise are an opportunity for any of us to improve our practice — from clinical staff to administration. Dwelling on things that don't affect the big picture — or that you have no control over — simply creates distracting chatter in our minds.

5. Feed your mind. You've carved out some time for yourself by finding hidden gems here and there and cutting down on obligations. You've set some boundaries and started to prioritize some work and family obligations. You've stopped obsessing about small things over which you have no control. Great job! So, now what? Now that you have the ability to create a peaceful mindset for yourself and have regained some direction over your own schedule and distractions, you have the opportunity to use that time and space to "feed" your mind. Maybe there is a hobby or activity you've always wanted to try. Maybe there is a community college course you've always wanted to take. Maybe there is an old friend you've lost touch with. Connecting to your interests can help alleviate some of the stress that comes from our busy jobs by refocusing our minds on something we are passionate about. It can even help you establish a different network of friends who don't always turn the conversation back to your stressful day at work — reactivating those stressors. You have recovered the gift of time. Take the opportunity to use that time you've found for yourself wisely.

— Corrie Massey, MBA

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