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This is a featured self-care coaching tip by Stefanie Simmons, MD.

In order to be able to save someone’s life or impact them positively, sometimes we can’t allow ourselves to reflect on, consider or fully feel the emotional impact of what our patient is going through in the moment. 

Anyone who’s done a postmortem C-section, worked on a teenager who’s been in a car accident, or had to tell a mother she’s lost a pregnancy, knows the impact and has had to live with it. 

Sometimes, if we’re lucky, these events transform into motivation that enables us to advocate for our patients to prevent events like that happening in the future. Other times, they transform into anger, sadness, and cynicism. 

Seek Support In Your Team

So how can we process devastating events? The team around you is a valuable resource to help process these events because they’ve gone through the same things that you have.

It can be immensely impactful to get together with colleagues, share a cup of coffee or a meal and in a private setting where no one’s going to overhear you. Talk with your team about the cases that have impacted you the most. 

If having that conversation with a colleague feels too raw or vulnerable to you, instead set aside five or ten minutes after your shift to write down your thoughts and reflections about a patient you’ve witnessed in suffering or a family in loss.

You can share this journal with someone you love, who wants to support you or a colleague, or you can keep it to yourself as a reminder that these events have an emotional impact on you. 

The Path To Recovery & Growth

Just as a therapist needs their own therapist to process the work they’re doing, clinicians who are witnessing some of the most profound suffering and tragedies of the human condition benefit from having someone they can talk to and deconstruct what has happened. 

Shared suffering is actually one of the strongest relationship builders there is. 

Think of the difference between aerobic and anaerobic processing. Discussing your experiences and reactions with light and air by sharing them with others can reinforce wellness and recovery. If our painful experiences and reactions are kept in the dark alone—an anaerobic process—you do not have the opportunity to transform that pain into recovery and growth. 

Try This Challenge

Choose a process that fits you. Find one of your friends, someone you can trust and invite them to have a cup of coffee, and discuss a case that has impacted you. Journal or write about it, or discuss it with a therapist.

Don’t let the difficult things you have to witness as a clinician change into something that corrupts your commitment to help others or your ability to care for yourself. We can all learn from each other how to process the things we’ve seen and done. Let us know in the comments: What’s your approach to manage the things we experience?

Self-care is critical during this immensely challenging time in healthcare. Could your care team benefit from more learning to support its resilience and recovery? If you’d like to dive deeper, head over to Getting Started.