The Covid-19 pandemic brought the health system to its knees – doctors, nurses and support staff truly “walked through the valley of the shadow of death.” Mamta Gautam, MD, an Ottowa, Canada psychiatrist at PeakMD, jumped in immediately to support her peers as soon as the pandemic hit. She initiated a daily video call for professionals where she supported their pain and anguish and documented the psychiatric needs of health staff as they navigated out-of-control, hospital-packed, death-filled days during a peacetime pandemic that tested the resolve and dedication of people who felt helpless in their chosen profession of saving lives. This came naturally to her based on 30 years of practice in physician and health professional wellness.
“For two years, we lived in a VUCA world,” she says, “volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous.” She continued, “Even in 2022 we are facing the remnants of that time, with only measured assurance of what will happen next. I felt it so important to acknowledge, record, and learn from this experience from the perspective of those delivering our healthcare.”
She witnessed burnout happening in the three stages described by American psychologist Christina Maslach. Emotional exhaustion from demand outpacing resources; depersonalization, where people withdraw socially at work and at home; and reduced personal accomplishment dominated by less job satisfaction and questioning of commitment to a chosen line of work.
With time, the burnout becomes an emotional vortex, she says, newly accompanied “compassion fatigue” where the professional is unable to refuel and give efficiently or at all to the people whom they serve. This then leads to moral distress and injury. Dr. Gautam listened to many physicians who were traumatized at having to make decisions between who would live and who would die.
The pandemic fell even more forcefully on the shoulders of women physicians, nurses, and staff, who were assigned more caretaker tasks for patients and med students, at the expense of pursuing their research goals and career advancement. In the home too, women bore much more of the child, extended family and household care while trying to work from home as well.
While Dr. Gautam recognized that challenges of the pandemic were often systemic in nature and would take time to change, it became critically important to offer psychiatric care to professionals and guide them to self-care. “Doctors are caregivers,” she says, “not care receivers.” Her training and experience offered insight that each individual could develop a capacity to handle even the most difficult of situations.
She found common themes in her sessions which helped her patients cope, which she now calls the “5 C’s of Resilience.”
1. Control – bringing strength and personality to what we can change, even if it’s only 2%. Control of the whole situation is an illusion.
2. Commitment – maintaining the values of meaning of what we do
3. Connection – holding those around us at work and at home, and having someone check in on you
4. Calming – exercises one can do to relax, change perspective, or burn off energy
5. Care for Self – reframing from a sense of selfishness to a sense of self-investment; erasing guilt and replacing with healthy daily habits one deserves
“We’ve trained professionals in many organizations internationally to implement these ‘5 C’s’,” Dr. Gautam reports. “It results in people maintaining their passion for the work, their patience in contributing to long-term changes, and persistence in turning weakness into strength.”
She beams when she says, “Thanks to the pandemic, and our hard work together, we have newly learned how to turn burnout into joy through the power of resilience.”
Dr. Mamta Gautam sees patients in her private practice at PeakMD (https://peakmd.ca). She also facilitates an online community called “The Raft” for women and wellness in medicine (https://peakmd.ca/the-raft/ ).
You can watch an hour-long interview with Dr. Gautam about her practice and programs at https://gotohealthmedia.com/turning-burnout-into-joy-the-power-of-resilience-mamta-gautam-md/ .
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