The revolutionary act of kindness

We’re living in a period of rapid technological advancement. Some are calling it the “fourth industrial revolution”, with the rise of artificial intelligence (AI), advanced robotics, blockchain technology, augmented reality, gene editing, the Internet of Things, and more.

It’s exciting to see the computational power of Open AI’s ChatGPT. The possibilities seem endless and many believe that this new technology is THE answer.

The Issue of Healthcare Worker Burnout and Departure

Despite these rapid advancements in technology, the rate of healthcare worker burnout and healthcare workers leaving the profession has been on the RISE.(1)

This alarming trend raises a critical question: Is new technology truly the answer to this crisis?

Limitations of Technology in Addressing Human Needs

Technology in healthcare has led to remarkable advancements in patient diagnosis and treatment. However, the development of technology is primarily market-driven, focusing more on profitability than on improving human culture.(2)

Atul Gawande’s discussion on the World Health Organization’s Surgical Safety Checklist and how it can change human behaviour serves as an example.(2,3)

A simple piece of paper that can be printed for next to nothing can reduce the rate of deaths and surgical complications by more than one-third.(2,3) Gawande asks who will promote such an idea when nobody makes any profit from it?(2,3)

This raises a fundamental question: Though technology is exciting and lucrative, is it truly the solution to our current healthcare challenges, particularly concerning worker wellbeing and retention?

Evidence of Factors Affecting Burnout

Evidence suggests that trainee physicians are twice as likely to report burnout and stress, attributed to a dysfunctional work environment, excessive work demands, and concerns about patient care.(4) Other studies highlight lack of organisational support, workplace bullying, and harassment as significant contributors to burnout and the exodus from the healthcare field.(4,5)

The revolutionary act of kindness for healthcare workers

In contrast to the focus on high-tech solutions, a different approach emerges from the healthcare community itself. When a group of doctors was asked what could positively change the healthcare workplace, the majority echoed themes of (6):

  • Kindness
  • Compassion
  • Flexibility
  • Empathy
  • Less hierarchy
  • Trust
  • More staff

This collective voice suggests a revolutionary act of kindness— kindness to ourselves and kindness to each other, in both personal connection and organisations.

A simple, cost-free gesture that holds the power to transform workplace dynamics.

Evidence in ways to promote wellbeing and engagement in a workplace

Dr Christina Maslach (known for her research on occupational burnout) states the six positive elements that promote engagement and wellbeing in a workplace can be defined as (7):

  • A sustainable workload
  • Choice and control
  • Recognition and reward
  • A supportive work community
  • Fairness, respect, and social justice
  • Clear values and meaningful work

These principles underscore the importance of fostering an environment that values kindness and support.

Personal example

I remember a particularly tough day as a medical registrar. Post-take, understaffed, no lunch break (a day many are familiar with). Then my day was completely transformed by a simple act of kindness from one of the ward clerks. She brought me a sandwich and an apple juice that improved my day for the better.

Writing it now, all this time later, her kindness still moves me.

I remember all the ‘small’ moments throughout my years as a medical student and doctor when colleagues and patients truly saw me and showed kindness.

Patients’ perspectives

A study on patient experience in Australian hospitals further reinforces the importance of ‘soft skills’ in medicine, with good communication, prioritisation of emotional needs, and high-quality information at arrival and discharge being paramount to patients.(8) This highlights the crucial role of kindness and empathy in patient care.

A workplace where being kind is the norm

Imagine a workplace where doctors are kind to each other, no matter where they sit on the medical hierarchy, and no matter specialty.

Where that kindness extends across all disciplines and to patients.

The same kindness exists at head management, and ripples down in the way they see and treat their junior staff.

Final Thoughts

As healthcare workers we are under the pump. Short staffed, high workloads, and increasing expectations. Tension and emotions can easily run high.

Yet I believe in the power of kindness and its ability to transform the day of those around you.

As that famous quote says, “in a world where you can be anything, be kind.”

What do you think?

References

  1. Johnson J, Hall LH, Berzins K, Baker J, Melling K, Thompson C. Mental healthcare staff well‐being and burnout: A narrative review of trends, causes, implications, and recommendations for future interventions. International journal of mental health nursing. 2018 Feb;27(1):20-32.
  2. Thimbleby H. Technology and the future of healthcare. Journal of public health research. 2013 Dec;2(3):jphr-2013.
  3. Gawande A. Checklist manifesto, the (HB). Penguin Books India; 2010.
  4. Zhou AY, Panagioti M, Esmail A, Agius R, Van Tongeren M, Bower P. Factors associated with burnout and stress in trainee physicians: a systematic review and meta-analysis. JAMA network open. 2020 Aug 3;3(8):e2013761-.
  5. Poon YS, Lin YP, Griffiths P, Yong KK, Seah B, Liaw SY. A global overview of healthcare workers’ turnover intention amid COVID-19 pandemic: a systematic review with future directions. Human resources for health. 2022 Sep 24;20(1):70.
  6. Farmer J. Creative Solutions for Herculean problems: Fixing Culture in Healthcare. CCIM24: Meet Me in the Mediverse; 2024 Mar 09; Sydney, Australia.
  7. Maslach C. Finding solutions to the problem of burnout. Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice and Research. 2017 Jun;69(2):143.
  8. Rapport F, Hibbert P, Baysari M, Long JC, Seah R, Zheng WY, Jones C, Preece K, Braithwaite J. What do patients really want? An in-depth examination of patient experience in four Australian hospitals. BMC health services research. 2019 Dec;19:1-9.

Leave a Reply