Mental health

‘A Very Tough Job': Health Care Workers Seeing Hardest Moments of Their Careers

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No one would ever say a job in health care is easy. But the pandemic has added to the stress that many doctors and nurses feel.

“It’s been a very tough year,” said Agatha Lis, a health care provider.

Those in health care have seen some of the toughest moments of their career in 2020. As the pandemic exhausts them physically and mentally, self-care is more important than ever.

“Staying busy, going outside, and just doing things with your family,” said Lis, when asked how she finds joy in her life during such a difficult time.

Across the country there are reports of doctors and nurses leaving jobs due to stress or changes at home. Trinity Health of New England Senior Vice President Regional Chief Nursing Officer Lisa Zapatka says while they continue to have enough staffing to manage the surge, they have seen it too.

“I've spoken with other colleagues across the country, and we are seeing this. I really believe that this pandemic has really made a lot of people really reflect on what their priorities are and what they've been through. And maybe it's not that they're opting out of the profession altogether but maybe they're just taking a pause. We are seeing it. We're seeing it within Trinity Health of New England, Trinity Health, and across the country people making difficult decisions. But I also think it's because of some of the other stress within their personal lives and the community that they have to deal with, and at some point, something has to give,” said Zapatka.

Zapatka says it’s so important to support staff at work and at home, to create an environment of self-care, to give as much flexibility as possible, and to figure out ways to lighten the load. At the beginning of the pandemic, they started a caring colleague initiative in order to touch base.

“It might be the ICU staff who wants to meet just to really debrief and talk about what their experiences were or how they feel right now. And now with this surge we're seeing now, we know that we have to ramp that back up because we know that our staff is starting to feel a little anxious now that you are seeing the influx of COVID-positive patients,” said Zapatka.

Simple things can make a big difference. After hearing feedback that staff didn’t want to go grocery shopping after a long shift, they created a mini market for them with basic staples. And they made sure nurses had what they needed while taking care of patients.

“We put comfort care carts together and leaders and nursing supervisors on off shift would roll these carts out just to kind of get on these units to say, what do you need? Do you need a snack? Do you need a new headband to tie your mask on?” said Zapatka.

In addition, they’ve offered resources for yoga and meditation sessions and encourage taking moments to decompress, whether that’s going for a walk or listening to music. Zapatka says they want their staff to feel like they have the reserves and tools to do what they do best every day.

“It is a very tough job. And when you look at the work that's been done in resiliency in nursing and other health care professions, that work has been ongoing for several, several years. So it's not a new concept, but when you add a pandemic on it, we have to be really, really careful on how we actually create our environments and offer services to our nurses and other healthcare professionals to help build the tools needed for resiliency,” said Zapatka. “Making sure that we can help create an environment that supports self-care, that gives opportunities for our colleagues, our staff nurses to reach out to be able to talk to people, recognize their feelings and actually have an opportunity to speak with other professionals or within their own groups to say, ‘Hey this is what I'm feeling. Are you feeling that way too?’”

And for those thankful for health care workers, Zapatka says there’s an easy way to show that gratitude.

“I would say for this holiday season the best gift that anyone could give, there's three gifts. It's like the gifts of the Magi, right? It is wear your mask, socially distance, and please wash your hands,” said Zapatka.

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