“What was so remarkable about Lorna’s story was how fast it happened to an individual that I thought was almost impermeable to stress and burnout. If this can happen to her, it can happen to anybody.” – Corey Feist talking about Dr. Lorna Breen’s death
It’s a well-known fact that clinicians do not talk about their well-being as much as they should. Whether it be due to medical programming of “show no weakness” or institutionalized stigma, most front-line health care workers aren’t likely to pay attention to the telltale signs of stress, burnout, or even PTSD.
What can we do to help?
In its bid to help every clinician, nurse, and leader thrive during these difficult times, Practicing Excellence hosted a virtual roundtable last September 28, 2021, to shine a light on the current national health care crisis of burnout and PTSD among our front-line clinicians. The webinar, “A Cry for Help: Front-Line Clinicians in Crisis & What Leaders Can Do to Help,” featured Corey Feist, CEO of the University of Virginia Physicians Group and Co-founder of the Dr. Lorna Breen Heroes’ Foundation, and Stephen Beeson, MD, Founder of Practicing Excellence.
“As someone who has been in the health care industry my entire career, first as an attorney and then as a medical group CEO, the vast majority of my professional life has been dedicated to health care providers, physicians, and nurse practitioners. About five years ago, we started hearing an increasing drumbeat from our physician leaders as well as those closest to the patients that were experiencing an overwhelming increase in burnout. What I never saw was this concept of not being able to expose any weakness – let alone get any mental health treatment,” says Feist.
Feist co-founded the Dr. Lorna Breen Heroes’ Foundation after his sister-in-law, Dr. Lorna Breen – an emergency room director in Manhattan – died by suicide on April 26th, 2020 after experiencing an overwhelming trauma of patient care during the height of the pandemic in New York City.
During the virtual roundtable, calls for instrumental change and questions about what leaders can do were also brought to the foreground. How will we get things moving in order to alleviate the burden felt by our health care professionals? What can we do, as leaders, to make it okay for our colleagues to ask for help?
Feist says that leaders committing to the workforce’s well-being is a welcome first step to encourage clinicians and nurses to speak up and for leaders to listen and respond to the voice of their care teams. “[It’s important to] Tell the workforce that you see them, you hear them, and that you are committed to their well-being. There’s nothing more important right now than taking care of the [health care] providers so that they can take care of the patients.”
While it’s true that we must take actionable steps to destigmatize asking for help, the policies surrounding licensing and credentialing must also be changed from the ground up. Feist adds, “Lorna thought she was going to lose her license to practice medicine after being admitted to the UVA psych unit. However, she didn’t know that that’s not possible in New York State. There needs to be a massive amount of education as to what the baseline [licensing] rules are in your state as well as within your organization.”
In addition, Beeson says organizations can also leverage skill-building tools to enhance the much-needed well-being competencies in both the leaders and the front-line. “Our fundamental mission is to help every clinician become their best for patients, their teammates, as a team leader and for themselves to enrich their clinical life and transform wellness. As part of our new well-being series, we have developed skill-building tips from industry leaders in the field of wellness to be able to support our health care professionals.”
At the end of the day, it’s important to understand that stress and burnout can manifest anytime and without warning. By committing to helping those at the front line, deliberately listening and responding to our teams, and working to break the stigma surrounding seeking help for mental health, we can make real progress on the well-being of our health care workforce.
To sample eight of our well-being tips, please click here.
About Practicing Excellence
Practicing Excellence builds skills to drive positive outcomes in well-being, patient experience, and leadership effectiveness. We work with 35+ health systems and medical groups to provide on-demand coaching in five-minute intervals to clinicians, nurses, leaders, and teams.