Whether you are a pulmonologist working in critical care or another member of an ICU team, the stress of long hours, pain and loss can take its toll.
Many hospitals have responded with art therapy, meditation and yoga programs to help ease burnout.
“Those are good self-care strategies for healthcare professionals, but they put the responsibility on the clinician to pursue them,” said Tammy L. Eaton, lead author of a recent study on how the pandemic changed delivery of post-ICU recovery care.
A more direct way to reduce burnout may be connecting caregivers with their patients’ survival stories. Eaton knows the power of such experiences firsthand.
A man walked up to her in a mall and told her she had been his ICU nurse treating him for head trauma 18 months earlier.
The emotional encounter was the first time she had ever seen one of her ICU patients after they left, according to an interview she did with the Society of Critical Care Medicine.
It made her think: “Oh my gosh, this is exactly why I’m doing this,” she said.
An abstract presented at the SCCM Critical Care Congress in January 2023 reported that post-ICU clinics designed to help patients recover from a critical illness can also help healthcare workers, according to a SCCM press release citing the research by Eaton and others.
“Connecting healthcare professionals with former patients’ survival journeys — including through videos, photographs, written stories, and even in-person visits — shifts the focus of addressing burnout and gives ICU professionals purpose and stamina to keep going,” she said.
The findings about the power of post-ICU clinics to help with burnout were unexpected, Eaton said.
Unprompted, interviewees from among 29 post-ICU healthcare professionals at 15 sites in the U.S., Canada and the U.K. discussed how the post-ICU programs may help.
The healthcare professionals singled out two ways the programs could help reduce symptoms of burnout: visualizing and communicating treatment successes. Those included the possibility of establishing relationships with patients and their family members in a way that isn’t possible in the ICU.
SCCM has conducted its own research and has compiled best practices for avoiding burnout.
Evidence of the severity of the problem continues to mount. In its latest report “Medscape U.S. Physician Burnout & Depression Report 2023,” based on responses from more than 9,100 physicians across 29 specialties between June 2022 and October 2022, at least a third reported feeling burnout.
The top three specialties reporting burnout were: