The mid year violent crime survey released in July 2016 by the Major Cities Chiefs Association shows 307 more homicides so far in 2016, according to data from 51 law enforcement agencies from some of the largest US cities. This is a shift from decades of falling crime levels. The threat of terrorist attacks is no longer on distant shores but right here in our neighborhoods. In the recent slew of attacks in and around Manhattan, a re-living of the nightmares of 9-11 was described by many. All of that is amplified by the paranoia fueled by election campaign ads and gross generalizations of candidates polarizing the masses. Just today, David Brooks wrote about the anxiety rampant in the current sociopolitical environment in the US, in The New York Times
In the context of this free-flowing, poorly controlled stress, our health care workers continue to demonstrate resilience and a sense of calm within a storm. It will be naïve of us to assume though that donning a white coat or scrubs shields them from the fears that surround them. Every gunshot victim, rape victim or suicide attempt can provoke responses in out providers which affect them and although they may be able to keep things together for their patients; this may affect their personal lives.
The trickle of pain from the community into the health workers is usually subtle but may present as an outburst or lack of cooperation between staff, undue absenteeism and rarely acting out with patients. As an example, it is not difficult to conceive how strained race relations or political polarization can lead to subconscious lapses in clinical care.
Our health care providers are frequently put in a precarious position of having to transition seamlessly between efficiency and empathy, setting limits when needed and accepting otherwise. In the current environment, this ability can only come if professionals are trained to check their own responses and take care of their medical and physical well being. This benefits everyone- healthcare providers, healthcare institutions and, most importantly, patients.
An essential component of efforts made by hospitals should be to incorporate novel wellness endeavors which positively reinforce pro-social and personal efforts towards self-improvement. A hospital wide fitness challenge is an example of successful strategies to reduce stress and improve camaraderie. Other instances could be internet based social groups, wellness outreach efforts or health-care related walk-a-thons. These seemingly unrelated efforts can bring our health care workers closer to the community, develop understanding and help bring back the general sense that no matter what comes our way, if we are together, no hurdle is insurmountable.