The pandemic is putting unprecedented stress on healthcare resources. As a leader, you know the most important resources in your organization are its people—the physicians, advanced practitioners, nurses and other healthcare workers who are standing against the coronavirus every day. They are facing conditions that are consistently testing their training, their stamina and their mental and emotional health as never before.
A new Prudential study of frontline healthcare workers reports they are “sacrificing their own health and safety and doing what they can to treat and save the lives of COVID-19 patients. While this dedication to their profession is part of who they are, it is also leading to intense anxiety, fear and difficulty sleeping—the same symptoms described by their counterparts in China during and following their experience in dealing with the brunt of the pandemic.”1
They struggle to help their patients—and they struggle with fears about their own exposure to the virus and whether they may be bringing it home to their families.
So, leading them through the COVID-19 pandemic requires paying renewed attention to their well being. The study, based on interviews with frontline healthcare workers in various settings, reports management support makes a huge difference. “The perception of management support had a significant impact on workers’ overall moods. Those with little management support felt angry, disrespected and betrayed. Those with additional management support still felt anxiety and fear, but used more mental health coping techniques and described less mood instability.”
Honest communication, careful listening, transparency about what the organization is doing to meet both patient and physician needs, willingness to recognize and reward hard work and sacrifice, provision of concrete and easy-to-access resources for physicians in distress—these are some of the key values leaders need to embody and offer.
As Penelope Hsu, MD, a New York based pediatrician and personal coach on the frontlines of an early COVID-19 hot spot, puts it clearly, “Leadership needs to lead by example, be present, be supportive and be honest about what they can and can’t do. If leaders show up in this way,” she says, “workers know leadership is in the struggle with them.” This makes all the difference.
For details on these points, and more on leadership’s role in the pandemic, see our article “How to Lead Your Organization Through COVID-19.”
*Berg, Sara, “Survey: Doctors’ big COVID-19 worry is keeping their families safe”, AMA, May 25, 2020