Health of Healthcare Professionals

Gurrit K Sethi

Gurrit K Sethi

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Gurrit K Sethi, Founder, MIINDMYMIIND, contributes to healthcare by bringing to life new concepts which enhance accessibility, helps providers re-engineer businesses, works with Global Challenges Forum (a Swiss Foundation) on sustainable health initiatives. An avid traveller and voracious reader, these attributes provide her with incisive insights about people and systems and what drives them.

Healthcare is one of the oldest, largest, most stressful professions in the world — it is also the most important. However, the health of healthcare professionals is rarely discussed. How do we correct this? We often hear things like ‘it is darkest before dawn’ or ‘there’s darkest underneath the lamp’ (translated version of the Hindi proverb ‘diya tale andhera’). While the job of healthcare workers is to ensure healthy outcomes for everyone, are they healthy themselves?

I have worked in healthcare for over two decades. I started from the shop floor working my way up. In all these years, spent across reputed organisations, never have I come across any programmes where there was a focus on the health of the healthcare workers. While we did deliver wellness talk for awareness to various industries as part of our sales and marketing initiatives, we were blind to the initiatives of these other organisations as they strived to create awareness about health for their employees through us. Despite being the instruments of care, there was no time or the inclination to share this care backwards.

It’s a well-known fact that healthcare organisations are the most stressful workplaces. More so for frontline health workers who support sick people, look after them and manage their requirements. Most working hours are spent on these duties which add to as well as create a lot of psychological distress. This stress is compounded by various other challenges: shortage of manpower, shortage of skilled manpower, shortage of quality protective gear, possibility of exposure to dangerous diseases, lower salaries, no incentives, hardly any work life balance…the list goes on. The pandemic only complicated these issues.

However, what did we do about this? While the world talked about healthy living and healthy eating, has any of this percolated to the masses of healthcare workers? When I tried exploring data on the health of healthcare workers, hardly any findings came up. How many hospitals have deployed ‘employee assistance programmes’? How many organisations have invested in ‘wellness programmes’ other than the health insurance policies for their employees?

This article is meant to be a callout to all healthcare industry professionals — now is the time to fix this. While we cannot fix the environment that most healthcare professionals are exposed to because of the nature of the professions itself, what we can do is fix the surrounding factors to make it a good place.

The focus of ‘patient welfare’ also needs to extend to ‘employee welfare’ beyond the day-to-day courtesies. Drawing a parable from all other industries, this is also bound to result in faster growth, better business outcomes along with better patient outcomes. A happy employee is bound to deliver better work.

When I mention health, there is a need to stress that Good Health = Physical Health + Mental Health.

One drives the other. However, we ignore, especially, mental health most of the time. While the World Health Organization (WHO) has propagated blended care, integrative medicine for a while, mental health is often overlooked — for patients as well as for professionals.

So, what is it that we can do to better the scenarios for the healthcare industry professionals? Some tips which we found useful, being used in other industries as part of Employee Assistance Programs:

Engagement and communication: A well-connected organisation is also the best performing. Keeping employees aware of what is happening across the organisation on a regular basis goes a long way in how connected an employee feels to his team and the workplace. This enhances their pride of work. So communication meetings are definitely not passe, rather we need to figure more effective strategies on conducting these.

Recognition: This is an important aspect of social existence. When efforts are duly recognised, it generally motivates people to perform better. Recognise potential at every step, recognise work done at every step. You will have a better bonded workplace.

Talent: Building talent, and ensuring this across the employee journey helps the organisation thrive. However, effectiveness is the most important ingredient here. Randomly put together training programmes cannot give you the desired results. In fact, divide your talent development into multiple parts — team cohesiveness, specific skills building and overall self-management and leadership development. The last would actually become a defining factor of success of the organisation over a period of time as this builds the internal branding.

Mental health: Recognise mental health as an important factor of performance. Especially for those in the front-line care delivery positions. Burnout rates are highest in healthcare professionals, especially nursing and the physicians. Building mental resilience to ensure performing teams is the most critical but also the least recognised factor in healthcare, especially in India. Having mental health supportive programmes for employees through psychologists can be extremely useful for busting stress as well as building resilience and bettering coping skills.

Culture: Creating a healthy work culture which allows for work life balance, recharge opportunities, time out with families is also essential. Policies need to be supportive of all of these.

Creating health awareness: While we do this for other industries, it is time to spell out these facts for ourselves too.

While almost every senior leader talks of all the aspects mentioned above, when it comes to delivery on site, these quickly become good to have philosophies. A cultural transformation has to start from the top with accountability and responsibility towards oneself first to ensure work life balance, respect others’ time, respect assertive communication and transparency, support quick decision making, accept that those who work will make mistakes sometimes and that we will help correct those.

Now this for sure is a mountain to scale for most leaders. But the buck starts and stops here.

--Issue 60--