In the beginning – I had little interest in healthcare worker wellness. I had heard the occasional tragic story about a doctor dying by suicide. This saddened me, but doing anything to prevent this felt entirely out of my control. I had heard the shocking figures on the number of physicians getting “burnt out”. However, being incredibly fortunate not to have experienced it myself in my career so far – I found it hard to relate to. I am someone who usually does not to get too troubled by things that are outside of my circle of influence, and something as ambitious as improving global healthcare worker wellness felt so far out of my circle of influence, it felt like it was in a different galaxy.
But all that changed with WRaP EM…
WRaP EM gave me the opportunity to make a difference. Whilst I feel I may not have the stage presence, verbal eloquence, literary genius or social capital of some of the other WRaP EM members, the WRaP EM team needed my skills to create and maintain the WRaP EM website and co-ordinate the WRaP EM social media presence. It gives me a huge sense of purpose to play this important role in giving the amazing team at WRaP EM a platform and a voice to speak to the world! Having no previous experience with website design, it was a large undertaking, but with more than 40,000 website hits since launching in February 2018 – and no doubt some impact on healthcare worker wellness – all the effort seems worthwhile!
WRaP stands for Wellness, Resilience and Performance. Whilst everyone wants to perform
better, and most people want to feel “well” – the term “Resilience” can trigger a degree of defensiveness amongst many individuals. “It’s not the individual’s fault; it’s the fault of the system” is a comment I commonly hear in person and see on social media. Now I acknowledge that there is often room for improvement in the “system”, but perhaps controversially I’d like to suggest that there is potentially often room for improvement in individual resilience as well.
At Brisbane airport a few days ago, I heard a lady complain to the security clearance officer: “The absolute worst thing about coming to the airport is having to take my shoes off for security – its gross!”. A different roll of the dice, and she could have been in rural Africa – walking five kilometres barefoot, just to get water to drink – and then the worst thing would be the section where the sand is so burning hot it would cause blisters in her feet…
Another day I was working a shift in my flashy new ED, and there were a couple of ambulance stretchers ramped due to overcrowding (an issue unique to my hospital – no doubt!). I overheard a patient’s relative with a concerned voice, complaining to someone over the phone – “It’s like a third world country in here!” I chuckled to myself – this person didn’t have the faintest clue what it would be like to be in a hospital in a developing country.
Some people may perceive that the reason they are burning out is purely because of external factors – i.e. “the system” they work in. However, if you look outside the bubble, there are plenty of examples of people not just surviving, but thriving in systems that are orders of magnitude more challenging. Like the billionaire in his private yacht who is dissatisfied because his champagne isn’t chilled enough, my fear is that with that mindset – the system will never be good enough.
While there is absolutely a need for systems improvement – and we should constantly advocate for this – I believe we should strive to improve our individual resilience as well.
How then do we build resilience? I believe this is complex and will be different for each person. Overall themes would include a combination of strong personal relationships, finding meaning and purpose at work, strong work relationships, a sense of belonging to a group, looking out for each other, positivity, and a degree of acceptance.
There are certain things that I believe can help us in this quest. Every individual will be different, but I think it’s important to have a sceptical but open and curious mindset. When I worked with Dr Shahina Braganza at the Gold Coast Health, I was first introduced to the concept of mindfulness. Actually, that’s a lie, as I was introduced to it at a much younger age, growing up in Sri Lanka, where my parents practiced it every morning! They encouraged me to practice it too, but I ignored them at my peril. I was a stubborn teenager and I had a closed mind. Now that I am more mature, and it was promoted to me in a more palatable and applicable form, I see mindfulness as an exercise to help me become more focussed, productive and creative, to practice acceptance, and to be more in control of my thoughts and emotions. Probably, most importantly I learn the value of having a sceptical, yet open mind – of having a growth mindset: What can I do differently to make the situation better?
Why, then, do I WRaP EM?
WRaP EM is about generating conversation and giving people the tools to build their own wellness, resilience and performance; and to help develop those attributes in the people around them. It’s a change in culture. I WRaP EM because I can contribute to making a difference. I have a role. I am part of a team, a team that can collectively achieve much more than any of its members could individually – to shift the balance towards improved wellness for healthcare workers, and as a result towards better care for patients as well. That’s why I WRaP EM!