By: Anna Goshua

From the day the journey to becoming a certified healthcare professional begins, so does a growing awareness of the unspoken rule: there’s no room for error. It’s an inevitable development in a field brimming with individuals that declare their foremost passion to be helping others.

So you push. You push yourself to be working constantly and to high standards, acquiring the diversity of extracurricular experiences and polished academic record necessary to be competitive for graduate school and jobs. You push yourself to be as knowledgeable and skillful as you can be, and to accomplish as much as you can, because patients deserve no less from their physicians and nurses and social workers and occupational therapists and all other members of their medical team.

“We are physically and mentally burning out trying to provide care at a level acceptable to ourselves and that our patients deserve,” says a nurse that chose to remain anonymous in a CBC News survey.

HealthForceOntario reports that one in three hospital workers are at risk of burnout, a state of chronic stress that leads to fatigue, cynicism and personal detachment. The effects of burnout are malignant, as they contribute to feelings of inadequacy and can lead to depression, anxiety and even suicide. Moreover, there is a consensus among healthcare professionals that burnout compromises the ability to provide quality patient care. A study published by the Canadian Medical Association cites that 46 percent of Canadian physicians are in the advanced stages of burnout.

The high intensity, fast-paced nature of a job in healthcare can adversely affect the well being of providers. Accumulated exhaustion and issues such as understaffing in hospitals not only beget feelings of futility, but also predispose healthcare providers to making medical errors. These errors compromise patient care and, in the recent decade, emphasis has been placed on the practice of full disclosure. While this is certainly an important step toward improving patient-provider relationships and has been shown to decrease the prevalence of malpractice litigation, there is another, often overlooked issue that should be considered: the second victim.

In 2011, a Seattle nurse named Kim Hiatt made the sole serious medical error of her career: she gave an infant an overdose of medication. The medical record states that this mistake worsened the child’s cardiac dysfunction and led to her eventual death, though the patient’s already poor prognosis would have made it difficult to prove. Nevertheless, Hiatt was fired and an investigation was launched by the state. Seven months later, she committed suicide.

To recognize the importance of fostering patient-provider discussion, but to neglect giving providers the opportunity for open dialogue is amiss. Healthcare professions are both immeasurably rewarding and challenging. To honour the field’s primary focus of quality patient care, it is important to promote the mental and emotional well being of our providers. Gradually, we are starting to see the evolution of support services tailored to the needs of the healthcare professional, from readily available counseling, to wellness retreats.

The era of rigid traditionalist practice is fading away, in favour of far more caring and holistic approaches to healthcare that keep the well being of patient and provider in mind. In time, I hope that no individual at any stage of their academic career and training will feel as though they have to constantly internalize their thoughts and emotions.

Cheers to all that lies ahead. Let’s celebrate high points and find ways to make it out of ruts together.

Photo Credit: Rick Cordeiro

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