Nourish yourself to reduce burnout and create a healthy workplace for your staff.
Updated: May 27
“I’ve finally found my passion!” Not every day, my patients walk into my office smiling, but it’s delightful when it happens. I’d been working with this guy for a while, focusing on mindful self-awareness and kicking his people-pleasing habit. I never intended to help him find his passion, but it happened when he began paying attention to what was genuinely fulfilling.
Pay attention to the personal and organizational factors that erode well-being and nourish your team.
Addressing burnout requires that we toggle between the personal and the organizational. Paying attention to what is fulfilling and deeply meaningful to you and me while at the same time working to address barriers to equitable distribution of workload, leadership practices that erode trust, and challenges that interfere with building community at the team level.
The way we’re working isn’t working. So how do we step out of the frame and change how we work to create a system nourishing for us and everyone in our healthcare organizations?
Adele Wang, an integrative health provider, and I explored this question and considered the challenges healthcare workers experience trying to hold onto their passion while working in the traditional healthcare system. She shared some wisdom from her years of experience working to help people navigate these challenges both within and outside the system.
To navigate this well, Adele suggests that we start by asking questions.
“Is it possible to do things in a new way?
"Can we spend more time with patients?
"Can we leave the factory productivity model behind us and move into a model of care that nourishes patients, physicians, and nurses?
"What would it look like to create a system where the patient walks into the room and feels nourished by the clinician's interaction before a single word has been said?”
Asking questions with an open mind brings creativity back into the conversation. Answering them may not be straightforward, but relying on the same rigid response strategies cannot solve our challenges.
There is no way to use Lean or other hyper-efficiency-focused strategies to create a more fulfilling and nourishing system. If we try, we’ll end up with more of the same and stay stuck relentlessly chasing productivity. We must act courageously to disrupt our typical way of doing things.
Disrupt the cycle of hyper-efficiency that drives Burnout.
So how do we disrupt the cycle? We start with ourselves. Reclaim the spark of our passion and joy in life, then our joy in medicine. Then allow our passion to spread by helping others to reclaim their spark too.
Reconnecting with what nourishes us may not be enough to solve the healthcare staffing crisis, but it’s the only logical place to start.
I’m not sure where you’re at, but if you’re anything like me, increased irritability and snarky comments indicate that I’m headed for burnout and distanced from meaningful connection to my patients, colleagues, and myself.
The nasty thing about burnout is that it can hit repeatedly. Once we’ve burned out, we’re not immune to it happening again. In some ways, we’re more vulnerable. But we’re also more aware of the early signs of burnout to intervene faster.
You might need to take a time out or some time off to rest and explore where you connect with the joy in life. And there may be simple things you can do to reduce the intensity of some of the drivers of burnout that are unique to you.
Consider what makes healthcare uniquely challenging & fulfilling for you.
As Adele suggests, maybe you’re in the “right zip code” but on the wrong street or working at the wrong address. Redirecting your skills from one clinic to another may allow you to realign your strengths and desires with an inherently more nourishing situation.
This might involve moving from the ICU to a pediatric outpatient clinic or transitioning from an inpatient oncology unit to an outpatient transplant clinic.
The clues to what is nourishing to you are usually hidden in plain sight in your life. Do you love mystery novels and solving puzzles like me? Working in mental health may allow you to scratch the itch to puzzle things out. Do you love talking with other parents and playing with little kids at the park? Maybe a peds clinic is the right place for you.
Sometimes moving a few doors down is enough to allow you to regenerate your passion and energy. But sometimes it’s not.
Address the systemic drivers of Burnout impacting your team.
Many of the burnout drivers will follow you wherever you go. Multi-tasking. Inequitable or excessive workload. Working in silos. Lack of trust within teams. Insufficient time with patients. Working short.
These burnout drivers are increasingly problematic across healthcare settings. But this does not mean that you are powerless to intervene. These drivers require systemic interventions and big-picture thinking. Addressing these challenges one by one will help you to transform the most demanding environments into healthy environments for staff.
Creating systemic transformation starts when leaders dare to draw on the wisdom of the staff working in these systems. Maybe it seems impossible to reduce distractions or the pull to multi-task in the ED or the ICU. But is it?
If your staff could focus on one thing at a time, they would become more focused, less anxious, and happier. You may not know what levers to pull to create this change, but I bet your staff have some ideas that might help.
It’s time to take a big step back. Slow down and start with you. Consider what nourishes you and what gets in the way of work-life satisfaction. Make the changes you need to make to realign yourself with your passion. Then begin to address the systemic factors. Listen to your team and take bold action to realign daily practices with what your people need to flourish.
Bio: Adele Wang is an integrative health provider who also mentors professional people struggling with anxiety and physical manifestations of stress. In her current practice, she focuses on helping healthcare providers realign themselves with their passions in life and medicine. Adele is also the host of the All Things Human podcast.