My problem with teaching resilience

Resilience is a word used a lot these days, especially when teaching wellbeing to health professionals. When we hear the news of a young GP who ended their life there is immediate outrage. Everyone is angry and sad, how could we have let that happen?

Yet, instead of making real system changes we fall back on “resilience building”.

My issue is that most medics have come a long challenging route to where they are. Medicine isn’t an easy road, and you need to be tough to get there.

Putting the blame on the individual doesn’t acknowledge the fact that the system needs change.

Making someone work 100-hour weeks, without meal/water/bathroom breaks, no sunlight, no outside social activities, in a high-pressure environment and add on exams/training programs for months on end isn’t sustainable. Telling that person to be “more resilient” isn’t helpful. How about relieving the pressure they’re put under?

Photo by Karim MANJRA on Unsplash

Resilience, what is it anyway?

Resilience is how you’re able to adapt to what life throws at you. It’s how you can mentally, emotionally, and behaviourally adjust to external and internal demands.

This ability to “bounce back” is influenced by an individual’s view of themselves & the world, plus their social resources and own coping strategies.

Research shows that you can cultivate resilience.

Yes, resilience is important, and it’s great to be able to face the challenges of the world and keep on fighting. But, focusing solely on individual resilience when there are greater issues influencing an individual’s health is when the problem occurs.

Lifestyle drift, a real problem

Public health calls this phenomena of focusing on the individual’s behaviours for larger issues “lifestyle drift”.

It’s when policy change is targeted at the individual level, rather than at the upstream/root cause level. There may be short-term benefits, but no lasting improvement.

We must address the root cause to properly solve the problem. Focusing our time and resources on trying to “toughen up” health professionals is not going to work. We need help and we need change.

Once I asked for a week off after a negative patient outcome, I was so stressed and upset from what I had experienced. There was so much leave accumulated, I could have easily used five days. I was crying out for help.

The response was “no”, I was given a crisis hotline and instructed to keep working.

At the time I felt very alone and hopeless.

Medics witness a lot of trauma daily, added to their heavy workload, lack of breaks and studying, it’s normal to be affected. We are human beings, like everyone else, not superheroes.

Photo by Suzanne D. Williams on Unsplash

Let’s work for transformation

The system needs to be transformed. Better hours, staffing and emotional support. If health professionals witness a particularly traumatic case there should be a system in place to support them afterwards. I’m a dreamer and I do believe we can create bigger change.

Let’s recognise our beautiful humanity, be open to being vulnerable, and acknowledge that it’s okay to not be okay all the time.

I hope as a community we can create a group of medics that fight for sustainable work.

We will benefit but so will the whole community. Healthy & happy healthcare professionals is what this world needs.

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