Commentary: More resilient health care will come from systems, not individuals

COVID. Monkey flower. Flu season. The opioid epidemic. Back to school germs. Even following the news about the latest health issues is tiring; It feels like we are constantly and rapidly moving from one healthcare crisis to the next without a break. It is even more tiring for healthcare professionals who deal with these crises every day. As we continue to face public health challenges, we need systematic resilience efforts to prevent the next big resignation for these workers.

Before we create systemic resilience, we need to have a better grasp of what resilience means and how it looks in practice in healthcare settings, and understand where it comes from. The ability to plan for and deal with unexpected events and crises, and the rebound and growth from them, is absolutely critical for healthcare professionals.

Health practitioner burnout and health professions workforce shortages were problematic even before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. When the pandemic hit, the problem of burnout and unbearable tension and stress for healthcare workers – as with many issues like racism and health inequality – came to the fore strongly. Health workers began to leave in droves. Combined with the pre-pandemic workforce shortage in the healthcare professions, this mass resignation has left the healthcare industry with a workforce crisis.

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Going beyond building resilience in individuals is crucial to creating a sustainable healthcare workforce, according to a 2021 Journal of Interprofessional Care article. Current levels of distress and despair cannot be addressed individually but must be addressed proactively through systems, starting with the stigma of seeking help and developing the infrastructure to support healthcare workers.

Within the broader healthcare community, we need to move beyond the idea that resilience is individualized. This approach puts all the pressure on individual employees, rather than dealing with broader conditions. Wellness becomes an additional burden for healthcare professionals. Instead, we need a systematic approach to these workers who we know will be under great stress.

A number of organizations began researching their providers to assess what they were looking for in a support system rather than implementing something from a higher-level management model. The World Health Organization has published policy recommendations that institutions should consider as well as establish systemic support.

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As we consider how best to design and implement resilience systems, we need to expand support beyond physicians to extend support to the entire healthcare workforce. The drive for collaborative practice and teamwork requires that workers in all roles have a say in building healthcare systems and be given equal access to their benefits. While addressing such changes in increasingly complex maintenance systems is undeniably difficult, the cost of staying static will be devastating.

A major culture shift is needed to move healthcare from institutional models to healthcare models, including providers and workers. This shift will embody things like accessible, affordable assets within organizations to provide assistance when employees need it without being seen as a sign of weakness.

Delivering excellent patient care is difficult when dealing with personal and mental health issues. It is time to implement what has come to be known as the quadruple goal of health care, by making the well-being and satisfaction of health workers a priority, along with improving individual care, improving the health of communities and reducing cost. Promoting equity in health as an additional priority will consolidate progress.

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If organizations implement programs, policies, and protocols that support these goals, the healthcare workforce can count on consistent institutional support to provide a safety net for all workers and providers across occupations and levels. A systematic effort to promote health can be transformative and will bring us closer to building a resilient culture and a workforce of caregivers who know they are important and cared for.

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