Dr Kate Edwards outlines wellbeing strategies in the age of COVID-19.
As we continue living and working within the COVID-19 pandemic, I think it’s safe to say each of us has probably had a little (or big!) ‘wobble’. For some people it’s because of the lack of visitors that patients are allowed at their bedside and having challenging discussions with patients’ loved ones over the telephone, or maybe it’s the realisation that life for the majority of us won’t be going back to ‘normal’ for quite some time, not to mention that many of us haven’t seen our own family and friends for a number of months.
Our hospital is a rural district general hospital in south-east Wales, and while we may not have seen the high numbers of COVID-19 patients as other inner-city tertiary centres, we have realised early on that these dramatic changes to our daily working lives will ultimately have a toll on our staff wellbeing. For this reason we have been quick to promote wellbeing among all healthcare workers, but particularly among doctors whose training programmes for the last 3 months have been curtailed, and have been asked to work in very demanding environments, often on new ‘COVID’ wards each week with staff they’ve never worked with previously.
As part of the daily COVID-19 updates set up by myself I have always maintained a focus on wellbeing with links to internal and external sources that staff can utilise. As a hospital, we’ve also realised the importance of being able to talk about stresses or worries within a confidential environment. Subsequently, our in-house clinical psychology team have worked wonders in setting up a mixture of drop-in and pre-booked sessions for all staff, either on an individual basis or as a team. Knowing this service is available which allows a ‘safe place’ for doctors to talk without being judged is a real weight off people’s minds and the anonymous feedback we’ve received so far about this service certainly reflects this.
Ultimately, whatever the reason for our worries, it’s important for us as doctors to realise that it’s okay not to be okay. Many of us live in this competitive medical world where failure isn’t a viable option, or fearful that our colleagues may see us as being ‘weak’ for admitting that we are stressed or anxious. Additionally, this ‘hero’ branding that we seem to have gained during the pandemic can sometimes make it even harder for us to seek self-help. But we actually need to realise that we are human, and we too are allowed to express our emotions particularly in challenging times such as this COVID-19 pandemic. So I encourage doctors who have any anxieties, no matter how big or small, to either link in with your local clinical psychology team, the HEIW Professional Support Unit or Health for Healthcare Professionals Wales – all of whom will be equipped to help you during these testing times.