Dr Stacey Killick
What a year it has been, with the parameters of our roles as paediatricians ever-changing, now and leading into the unforeseen future. This winter arrives with its cold and wet weather and the usual line-up of offenders, including Influenza and RSV.
Yet here we are, feeling tired, bedraggled, and somewhat despondent. Though our wonderful population have had six months at home (testing their parents’ last nerves), they are now facing a winter that they are not prepared for. Vaccination schedules are behind, respiratory viruses are being generously shared around now that schools are open, elective procedures have been put on hold, and those who live in poverty will be more vulnerable than ever with COVID widening the socioeconomic divide.
The pressure is mounting and there are so many needs to be met – but before we can step up to serve the children that need us, we have to prepare to do this by looking after ourselves.
Here are some tips which might help you and your team.
Make a HALT box
You might have heard of the acronym HALT (hungry, angry, late, tired) and we’ve all had that moment where we have had (or should have taken) a step back because we meet one or more of those criteria. So why not create a HALT box for your staff room. Loads of snacks, microwavable meals for those nights when a hot meal can be a game changer, paracetamol, throat lozenges and tissues and a few things to help de-stress (adult colouring books are good for this). We can’t provide sleep or turn back the clocks, but this is a start.
Mute group chats and don’t read work emails on your off days
Being at work is one thing; being at home and having work related chat and issues intrude on your rest days is another. We’re all guilty of it, but as the winter pressures increase, it’s likely to cause more unrest and worry than it
will be of any use, and interruptions such as these do affect the quality of time that you have off. The world, and the group chat, will carry on without you. The WhatsApp mute button is your friend, and always remember to put your ‘out of office’ auto-replies on when you are on annual leave!
Do something you love every week
This is a piece of advice I was given by one of my tutors at a course last year. Someone asked her what she had learnt that was the most useful and that she wish she had realised earlier – her answer was to do something you love. To keep up with something that you enjoy no matter what, because to have that small fragment of happiness and to remind yourself of the person that you are is so important. One hour a week, just one hour out of the 168 hours in a week. For me it was reading and listening to music from years ago, and they now feature in every week for me. Priceless.
Start a ‘baking / bring cakes’ rota
We have all had an awful day where everything seems to be going wrong… and as if by magic something sugary appears in the staff room and the day becomes 1% more manageable. Cake is like the baked goods equivalent of dexamethasone and mag sulphate with its indescribable ability to make nearly everything better. Utilise that.
Appreciate everyone – and make sure you tell them
We all know how nice it is for someone to take the time to thank us, to notice our hard work or the extra things that we have done. Perhaps through this challenging time we could all try that bit harder to thank one another, to be more observant and to take the time to ensure all feel appreciated. A quick email to the team to say thanks for their efforts with a particular patient can make a big difference to morale. Many departments now run a ‘learning from excellence‘ scheme – if yours doesn’t yet, perhaps you could start one?
Try and keep up with your training / extra curricular tasks
To begin with, many of these things were put on hold. But now that time is going on and this may become the ‘new normal’ for a while, we need to try to keep up with our training. For me, I make a list of the small things that I could achieve this week (and I never get them all done!) But it acts as a prompt and maybe for those 5 minutes that handover starts late, or for that 10 minutes in between patients in clinic, a couple of them can get crossed off the list.
Rethink the routine work
Just because something has ‘always been done’ a certain way, doesn’t mean it’s the best way – especially now that thanks to COVID many things are so different. This means there are lots of opportunities for innovation – ask those around you: is there a way that we could make this process run more smoothly? Could jobs and roles be allocated differently? Could we be better at getting staff to go for breaks? Could we find a better way of managing the jobs list? And if there is, now is the time to trial it.
Find an offload buddy
Our friends and family are great, and they listen to us often. But it’s nice not to make all our chat about work and if they aren’t medical they may not fully understand – so find a buddy. Take it in turns ranting about this week’s sagas, the issues coming up, the stresses. One of my friends is a GP and we have weekly sessions ‘chatting it all out’ and both of us not only have an outsider’s opinion, but we also see it all from other angles and feel a lot better afterwards.
Maximise your time off out of work
Life is not back to normal, and this is the long haul. So plan ahead and enjoy your time off as much as is possible. Get the most out of it that you can, and whatever you need to do, do it without feeling guilty. If you need to have the ultimate slob day, do it properly with snacks, pyjamas and classic films on in the background.
We are aware of burnout and the affect that such stresses can have on our health, and we preach that prevention is better than cure… but our support guidance and literature does not quite match that yet. We should start thinking wellness, not illness. I hope this helps.
Dr Stacey Killick is a Paediatric registrar (ST8) in North Wales