I once heard someone describe healthcare professionals as the water in the lake that is the health system and indeed the community-A lake is a diverse ecosystem, but if the water dries up-everything dies. So, we need whole and passionate healthcare professionals if we want to sustain a functional health system. We as healthcare professionals, have a responsibility to the community and the system as much as ourselves, but we tend to find it so hard to take care of ourselves.
Why do some of us find it so hard to look after and nurture ourselves? We tend to physically squirm at the thought of self-care. It’s as if it’s a mark of the quality of person and care giver that we are; if we’re not putting everyone first, we’re not doing it properly. In our heads we know that we need to be strong to provide good quality care, but we can’t seem to translate it into practice without feeling guilty.
There is also the tendency to believe that we shouldn’t need to nurture ourselves or get support. Somehow we’re supposed to just be strong. We wouldn’t expect that of our patients or clients or family members, but we do of ourselves. Most practice guidelines stipulate that those who provide care should have some kind of regular support sessions, but we are loath to seek support even when we recognise signs of distress. We see it as a weakness or a failure to need support.
I propose, albeit quite unoriginally, that we have a responsibility to look after ourselves. We set the tone for our patients and clients, our families and friends. We need to be a an example of a whole, happy, healthy life. We need to remind ourselves and our clients that this doesn’t happen by accident-we have to work at it and sometimes we need support and guidance.
I believe that every student who aspires to provide care should be encouraged and equipped to develop a sustainable self-care programme as part of the curriculum. In my experience, the latter is usually lacking in healthcare curricula. Students are taught that it is important to ensure their well-being, but few courses actually provide tangible guidance about how to do that.
Mindful practice is one way that healthcare professionals can begin to improve their well-being. Mindful practice has been reported to create an expanded sense of awareness and a greater level of compassion which provides a space to recognise the need for self-care, identify resources and reconnect with our sense of agency. This allows us to engage with our work and our life in way that is more present, more aligned with our values and ultimately; more beneficial to our patients.