Caring for the Caregiver: How To Stay Healthy While Working In a Healthcare Career
Most people work in healthcare because they want to help others, which is a noble pursuit. But when your job is to help other people, it can be very easy to neglect yourself and your health. And the reality is that working as a healthcare professional is challenging, time-consuming, and stressful, and this is why many healthcare workers regularly report symptoms of burnout and stress-related disorders, as well as physical aches and pains.
These factors and a whole generation’s impending retirement and aging are prominently driving the healthcare workforce shortage, especially in rural areas. In fact, the Association of American Medical Colleges forecasts that by 2034, the US could see a physician shortage of up to 124,000 as demand surpasses supply. Data from the Health Resources & Services Administration supports this projection, stating that the US requires over 17,000 extra primary care practitioners, 12,000 more dental health practitioners, and an additional 8,200 mental health practitioners.
As a healthcare practitioner, these numbers serve as a reminder that your physical and mental health at work is essential. It’s easy to feel like your job is the most important thing in your life, but that doesn’t mean it needs to be the only thing. Here are some ways you can take care of yourself while also maintaining a healthcare career:
1. Get Enough Sleep
Sleep deprivation can lead to increased fatigue, reduced attention span, delayed reactions, and impeded problem-solving abilities. These factors can collectively raise the risk of medical errors, putting patients’ safety at stake when you work without having enough sleep.
Additionally, inadequate sleep can induce feelings of burnout, depression, or anxiety, negatively influencing yourmental health. In contrast, enough sleep helps metabolize excess stress hormones, particularly vital when routinely exposed to high-stress environments.
Proper sleep also bolsters cognitive functions such as decision-making and memory – two skills that you needwhen recalling extensive medical knowledge to make critical, sometimes last-minute, life-saving decisions. Steady, good-quality sleep fortifies the immune system as well, helping you remain healthier and minimize the risk of contracting or spreading infectious diseases.
2. Take Breaks From Work
Healthcare workers like you commonly endure high-stress situations and lengthy shifts, and some even deal with physically challenging tasks daily, such as those involved in nursing and other clinical roles. Having rest periods between these demanding tasks allows your body to recuperate faster, thus enabling you to naturally provide better care for your patients.
Breaks are also essential to maintain work performance and concentration, helping preserve high-performance levels and reducing potential errors. In contrast, extended work periods can impair alertness and focus, contributing to increased accident risks, such as needle-stick injuries, falls, and medication mishaps.
Most significantly, regular break times help prevent burnout – a state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion, usually accompanied by cynicism, detachment from the job, and a sense of lowered achievement. Breaks ensure that you maintain a healthy work-life balance, averting burnout, and a brief meditation or deep breathing, even just five minutes every hour, can do wonders.
3. Get The Support You Need
Self-awareness and self-management skills are essential in a field like healthcare where emotional intelligence is vital. As such, you need to voice your concerns and communicate with your superiors when feeling overwhelmed so you can get the support you need at the right time.
You could also do some things to prevent yourself from feeling overwhelmed, like allocating some time to regain energy and cognitive focus. In situations where you encounter problems that you cannot solve directly, immediately seek the help of a professional so you can take the burden off your shoulders and focus on the things you do best.
For example, if you or your medical practice faces allegations of healthcare fraud, it’s crucial to enlist the assistance of experienced healthcare fraud lawyers to start formulating your defense strategy promptly. This is because healthcare fraud investigations tend to progress rapidly, and should you fail to take timely action, there’s a risk you won’t have the opportunity to stay up-to-date with the case.
4. Create A Healthy Office Environment
When you are already surrounded by sick people all day, ensuring your office is as healthy as possible becomes more critical. Keep in mind that a workspace littered with excess clutter can also be a visual distraction and may even inflict stress and pressure, adversely affecting productivity, morale, and employee health. On the other hand, a comforting workspace can enhance productivity and help you feel more relaxed and appreciated, leading to better focus and improved output.
The first step to creating a healthy office environment is to ensure you have adequate exposure to natural sunlight in your work area because this has been proven to enhance mood and general well-being. Ideally, your office should have abundant windows, but if this is not feasible, consider implementing full-spectrum lighting or introducing a lamp with adjustable color settings to compensate for the lack of sunlight.
Next is to manage cleanliness and organization since areas with clutter often become breeding grounds for allergens and microscopic organisms like dust mites or molds, which could aggravate allergies and respiratory issues. To address this, provide appropriate cleaning supplies for your staff and pursue a routine such asperiodic workspace decluttering, regular trash disposal, and systematic surface cleaning.
5. Maintain A Healthy Lifestyle
It can be difficult to maintain a healthy lifestyle due to the demanding nature of your work and the constantly changing shifts, but it can be done. According to the World Health Organization, there are four guidelines to a healthy lifestyle: maintaining proper nutrition, abstaining from tobacco, engaging in consistent physical exercise, and fostering a supportive social and emotional environment.
A balanced diet is the most crucial aspect among these elements as it not only fulfills your nutritional requirements but also reduces the likelihood of developing nutrition-related chronic non-communicable diseases. You can start doing this by making the right choices during breaks focusing on healthier alternatives such as fruits, nuts, or unsweetened beverages instead of sugary snacks or drinks.
Finally, it is advisable to be mindful of your caffeine consumption, and not rely on it for the energy it provides. Too much caffeine can lead to high blood pressure and contribute to heart issues, so it is best to avoid it along with energy drinks that come with high sugar levels, as this can lead to extra calories and eventual energy crashes.
6. Take Care Of Your Mental Health
The demanding nature of the healthcare industry often exposes you to significant mental health impacts, such as distress and burnout, which is why solid mental health support structures should always be in place. But sometimes, you can be so focused on improving your medical practice that you fail to notice the signs of neglect for your well-being.
If left unattended, these negative emotions can lead to severe mental health issues such as insomnia and post-traumatic stress disorder. Thus, safeguarding your mental well-being is not just a matter of day-to-day functionality but also about preventing long-term psychological harm and enhancing your personal quality of life and professional efficacy.
Protecting your mental well-being directly impacts the quality of healthcare provision as well. Elevated stress levels and deteriorating mental health outcomes can severely impede patient care and decision-making capacity, potentially compromising patient safety and the overall quality of service.