The Great Summer Escape
Today I’ll talk about the need to detach from work during the coming summer vacation season.
Before I begin, I want to take a moment to remember Sen. Thad Cochran, who passed away last week. Although he served 45 years in Congress, I only began interacting and working with him during the last decade or so. He was widely respected as a courtly gentleman who knew how to get things done. My experience with him was that he was always willing to help us. If we thought it was important to UMMC, so did he, and his ability to persuade people to follow his lead was considerable. The epitome of a faithful public servant and a true statesman, may he rest in peace.
Here we are on the threshold of another summer. We all know that UMMC, as an academic medical center, is a 24-7-365 machine that never stops. As we head into the summer vacation season, it’s more important than ever that you take some time to get away from it all, both physically and mentally. When you are able to get a break, I encourage you to totally disconnect – from email, texts and phone calls – as much as you can. If you must make an exception, try to limit it to a certain, confined part of the day.
My own experience has been that the competent people around me can handle any issue that arises. Sometimes it can be difficult to acknowledge, but I am not indispensable. And that’s a good thing. I try to take my own advice on this issue – which I acknowledge is something I certainly also struggle with.
During the last couple of years, we have been increasingly focused on professional burnout as a matter of institutional importance. We’ve made steady progress, and our Office of Well-being has begun to measure burnout in our providers, trainees and employees. This data is being analyzed so that feedback can be provided to groups and departments about how their providers are faring. I’m pleased with the progress we are making in this area.
Burnout continues to be a big issue, not just here but throughout the health care profession and in other workplaces. The World Health Organization made headlines last week when it announced it is updating its definition of burnout in the new version of its handbook of diseases, the International Classification of Diseases, ICD-11, which will go into effect in January 2022.
The new definition calls burnout a "syndrome" and specifically ties it to "chronic workplace stress" characterized by "feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion; increased mental distance from one's job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one's job; and reduced professional efficacy."
Employers and employees working together to ensure a healthy work-life balance is one of the important factors that can prevent or protect against burnout. In addition, self-care is a vital concept that can get too little attention in the high-performance culture of medicine and health care. To take good care of yourself, do some or all of the following:
- Get regular exercise. Make movement more integral to your life. Take the stairs instead of the elevator. Instead of having a one-on-one meeting in your office, confer while taking a walk.
- Eat well. And by that I don’t mean the traditional fare of the South, heavy on butter and fried foods. Opt for a diet of whole foods (instead of processed) that is low in sugar and salt and heavy on the fresh fruits and vegetables.
- Get a good night’s rest. Practice good sleep hygiene. Set a regular schedule for sleeping and waking and try to stick to it.
- Watch the vices. Don’t smoke, limit alcohol consumption and avoid overreliance on pharmaceuticals.
- Practice mindfulness. Take a few minutes during the day to do some deep breathing. Sign up for a yoga or meditation class at your neighborhood fitness center.
- Get out of your rut. Take up a hobby, schedule an outing with a friend you’ve lost touch with or take part in a fitness walk where you’ll meet new people.
- Be intentional. Put down that device you keep reflexively checking. Be present for your partner, your child, your parent. Be present for yourself.
Above all, if you‘ve put off planning for a vacation, go ahead and get that done. Even if it’s a “stay-cation,” make sure you put your work in the rearview mirror. Trust me, it will be waiting here when you get back.
The work we do is hard. It is important. It is often heavy. But it is rewarding and it is worth doing. We will all be better at taking care of others if we also remember to take care of ourselves. After all, a health “you” is the first and most important step in creating A Healthier Mississippi. Have a great summer!