Having spent hours with medical professionals as a consultant and patient, I know it takes a special kind of person to care for others in their most trying and vulnerable times. This responsibility has been thrown into overdrive due to COVID, causing emotional exhaustion, which in turn affects patient care. By equipping yourself with emotional intelligence, you can be more resilient for yourself and your patients.
Emotional intelligence is all about keeping your intelligence high, when emotions are running high.
Healthcare creates an environment conducive to a whirlwind of emotions, and rules and regulations centered around patient-provider interactions are often complex to navigate. This leaves many on the brink of emotional exhaustion, and in order to survive, depersonalization with patients becomes the status quo. Feeling disconnected from their patients is another added burden, as few of them enter this industry just for the pay – it’s the impact of helping people get and stay healthy that drives them. I’ve seen it time and time again with people in my life, as well as in my own patient journey as I battled stage 3 cancer.
Prior to the pandemic, reducing burnout among healthcare workers had become standard policy. Now it’s more than a policy, it’s a top priority with growing staffing shortages in healthcare. A February 2022 survey by USA Today and Ipsos of more than 1,100 healthcare workers found nearly a quarter of respondents said they were likely to leave the field in the near future.
It’s time to maximize your health by embracing emotional intelligence with these three tips, which will also improve your communications with your peers and patients.
Acknowledge your emotions.
Repelling emotions requires more energy than recognizing them because it is rare to have to repel them once, it’s a constant arm wrestling. When you don’t process your emotions, they can manifest as physical pain. Recognize your emotions beyond narrow definitions of sad, angry or happy – use as many adjectives as you can think of, get descriptive, look up synonyms. Write them down. Share with your therapist. Recognize it when you train. Talk about it in a notes page on your phone. Once you’ve recognized, you can recognize, treat, and treat.
Recognize your strengths and weaknesses.
Your colleagues can be a catalyst. When you’re overworked, your stamina changes, and it’s important to share this with your team, as they feel the same – and in these situations, you can lean on each other. Verbalizing that you need help and asking others how they can be supported builds trust. This co-worker dynamic allows your team to be more adaptable, which leads to a better culture. Your patients will feel this change, as they will be more comfortable and more willing to listen to your instructions and advice.
Don’t assume, ask.
Assumptions lead to destruction. You can’t read minds, especially when you live in a diverse city with an array of cultures that approach life and work responsibilities in different ways. If you need to take a day off, ask. If your patient looks confused, slow down and ask what’s going on. If you start to overcompensate because you notice a co-worker is struggling, ask them how you can help. If you need more resources at work, but think you shouldn’t ask because of budget cuts, ask anyway. Assumptions are rarely correct, and there is only one person left who carries all the weight – YOU. Do yourself a favor, open the dialogue.
Sahar Paz is the CEO of Own Your Voice Strategy Firm and a Harvard Certified Emotional Intelligence Expert whose mission is to transform the patient-provider experience.