Combat Strategies at the Burnout Battlefront
I'm dedicating this column to a group of faithful readers who grapple, often on a daily basis, with personal and professional survival in the career combat zone - the folks, mostly women, of the nursing profession. And with the "managed scare" monster, like an invading army, scaring off patients and professionals, it's not just a downsizing climate on the frontlines...Today, for many health care professionals, it's downright "frightsizing." (And believe me, Newt Gingrich, notwithstanding your division of labor and gender guidelines, I'd be proud to be stationed in the trenches with any number of these feisty and foxy warriors.)
Let me share two "war stories." The first was a stress survival workshop for VA Hospital Head Nurses. These women were feeling stretched to the limit by demanding doctors, impatient patients and visitors, personnel shortages and staff morale issues, insufficient supplies, difficulty communicating with administration, etc. The tension in the room both crackled and hung heavy like an impending storm or siege. Then each nurse thunderously barked her name and work station: "Johnson, W-14, Thomas, W-16, Sanders W-20, etc. I reflexively responded: "It sounds like you're reporting from your battle stations." The nurses' spontaneous and labored sighs told me I was psychologically on target. (In fact, I haven't heard such deep breathing and heavy sighing since the last time I called one of those 1-900 numbers. And you wonder why I love doing workshops with healthcare professionals?!)
Seriously...while these vets may have been weary, they were not beaten down. This dedicated nursing group knew how to circle their medicine carts against the aforementioned "stress carriers," or, at least, to defuse momentarily their "combat fatigue" with some "M*A*S*H" humor. The nurses' favorite supervisory battle cry: "Do your eight and hit the gate; nine to five and stay alive." Hey, she who laughs last...lasts!
The second scenario involved tension with a traditional partner and an all too frequent antagonist - the (predominantly) male physician. I was leading a conflict management workshop for the beleaguered outpatient nursing staff. There had been general group grumbling, when the administrator suddenly declared, "What happens if you're just tired of accommodating these doctors; being the one who always has to bend. Then what?"
As "the expert," I definitely was on the hot seat. Fortunately, only time froze, my brain was cooking. (Hmmm. Perhaps some of my detractor's are partially right. At times, maybe I do have my brain up my derriere...Then again, as I'm often on the "hot seat," that just fires up those brain cells!) I now replied, "Try telling the doctor you may not be your normal cheerful self today. And when he asks, 'Why not?,' say, 'I hurt my back.' When he inquires, in a somewhat haughty manner, 'Now how did that happen?,' in a most humble manner reply, 'I'm not sure, but I think I've been bending over backwards for too many people lately.'" The nurses roared their approval.
Just remember...Practice Safe Stress!
Feedback Segment: How about sharing your thoughts on how you, friends or colleagues use humor in dealing with stress, conflict or moods, yours or others, in your personal life, at home or at work? HFTE will run the best stories and, of course, credit you. (And the real lagniappe, you become a member of the Stress Doc's Stress Buster's Club.) Also, email me to learn more about "The Stress Doc's" serious and humorous on-line support/chat group -- "The Frequent Sighers Club.
Mark Gorkin, "The Stress Doc," Licensed Clinical Social Worker, is a nationally recognized speaker, workshop leader, author and psychohumorist on stress, reorganizational change, anger, team building, creativity and humor. His motto: Have Stress? Will Travel! Reach "The Doc" at (202) 232-8662, email: Stress Doc@aol.com.