By Tracy Churchill
When I first heard of this new group called WRaP EM, I was super excited. I have long been an advocate of health in health practitioners – it has always amazed me that the people promoting health (US!!!) have the most physically and psychologically draining work conditions. Long hours, random shifts and non-verbal agreements with our peers that we will work at 100% every minute of every day – our teams are important to us. But that is why we need to re-examine our mindset.
Working through lunch, not going to the toilet and forgetting to drink anything have been common behaviours that I have demonstrated in the past and have seen my peers engage in. We thought we were getting things done faster (using our tea breaks as catch up time), and we thought ‘taking one for the team’ meant getting things done for the patients and the team- regardless of the impact it would have on ourselves. Realistically now (in hindsight) I see that taking one for the team would actually be more accurate if it meant going to have a ten minute break despite being so busy. This would ensure our minds had a break, we stayed well hydrated and we weren’t distracted by our 1.5L bladders.
‘Taking one for the team’ should mean that we encourage each other to have a well needed and well deserved short break from our work. Recent science suggests that this would benefit the team more. Research has demonstrated that a dehydrated brain is a dumb brain (my paraphrasing because it is easier to remember). Even mild dehydration significantly impairs cognition and executive functioning (1). Is it fair to our patients and colleagues that we are not working at our best because we stubbornly refuse to have a drink of water? No, and it is not fair to ourselves either.
Steven Covey encouraged this behaviour in his book ‘The seven habits of highly effective people’. The seventh habit was titled ‘sharpen the saw’. (2) In his analogy, someone cutting down a tree with a blunt saw refused to stop cutting down the tree to sharpen the saw (as this would be a waste of time). Interestingly, if the time was taken to sharpen that saw, the tree would be felled much faster and with less effort. Our minds are our saws. They become blunt when we are overwhelmed and move from emergency to emergency without taking an adequate break. This story reminds me that to perform at our best, we do need to make time to look after ourselves and each other.
Telling other people it is good for them to take a break, when I never have one, also doesn’t work. I might think it is more important for them to have breaks than me – as I have already developed resilience and can get through this… But how can other people go for breaks if they don’t see this behaviour being role modelled? If I don’t go, they won’t go either. If even mild dehydration impairs our cognitive function than how can we support our teams to the best of our ability if we don’t take adequate breaks? Wouldn’t it make more sense to take ten minutes to refresh our bodies and minds and bring our A game back to the floor? When people see that other staff at all levels make time to go, refuel and sit down for ten minutes, that is when they know they can go too. Being told won’t truly encourage them; leading by example will.
WRaP EM excites me because I believe our performance is directly related to our wellbeing and our resilience. All of these deserve our attention because, as healthcare workers, what we do is so important to so many others. Improving all of these things not only helps our teams and our patients but it helps us too – and too often we forget to attend to ourselves. Emergency staff are some of my favourite people to be around. They are hardworking, inspired, intelligent, kind and they dedicate their working lives to making other people’s worst days better. Why I WRaP EM is because all of our teams deserve to have inspired work – and this is what it means to me: supporting ED staff to have work that enriches their lives, as well as the lives of others.
I have a request for you all – next time you hear someone described as ‘taking one for the team’, please make sure they are taking a well deserved break – not giving it up.
- Stachenfield, N.S; Leone, C. A; Mitchell, E.S; Freese, E & Harkness, L. (2018). Water intake reverses dehydration associated impaired executive function in healthy young women. Physiology and Behaviour https://doi.org/10.1016/j.physbeh.2017.12.028
- Covey, S. (1989). The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People