Volume 36 Number 6 | December 2022
Heather Herrington, DVM, MLS(ASCP)CM, ASCLS Ascending Professionals Forum Chair
Let’s get this out of the way right from the very start—I’m a hypocrite. When I came up with the idea for this article, there was no doubt in my mind it was a subject that needed to be covered. In addition, I enthusiastically support the concept behind what you are about to read. However, I do not practice what I preach, and while I was writing this, I felt like I was personally attacking myself. I am working on it, though, and hopefully we can all improve. With that elephant in the room addressed, here we go!
When was the last time you did something for yourself? When was your last vacation? When was your last day off? How many hours did you sleep last night? When did you last experience joy? I want you to think about these questions, so give yourself some time right now.
I’m not kidding. Contemplating your answers will make the next questions I’m going to ask you far more impactful.
“[D]o you feel like you are at your best self to perform your job? Are you in a place where you can advocate for your patients? Can you ensure the results you are turning out are optimal?”
I think it’s safe to assume that most of us entered this profession because we care about our patients. Every single decision we make at work directly impacts the care they receive. Given your answers to the previous questions, do you feel like you are at your best self to perform your job? Are you in a place where you can advocate for your patients? Can you ensure the results you are turning out are optimal?
If you are not taking care of yourself mentally, physically, and emotionally, the answer to all three of those questions is no. When we fail at self-care, we also fail at patient care.
With staffing shortages and coworkers coming down with COVID, I fully recognize that this concept is a really bitter pill to swallow. I’m in the middle of a 15-day stretch during which I’m working 13 of those days. Recently, I heard a laboratory professional talk about her 21 overnight shifts in a row. These scheduling issues are unlikely to go away any time soon. But that’s why it’s even more crucial that we take care of ourselves.
About a year ago, my department was struggling even more than usual to cover evening and night shifts, and a few of my coworkers started working double shifts. In the moment, it worked great. Those shifts were staffed. Long term, though, those are now my previous coworkers. They worked until they couldn’t stand it anymore, and then they quit. Obviously, the overtime pay they were getting was fantastic, but this sort of schedule was not sustainable for their own well-being.
When people hear “self-care,” I suspect a lot of them immediately think about things like a spa day or a beach vacation; things that are too expensive or time consuming for them to do on a regular basis. Fortunately for all of us, that take on what constitutes self-care is wrong. There are incredibly simple things you can do on a daily basis to improve your life. It’s just a matter of figuring out what works for you.
I’m an animal lover, and before I leave for work, I watch ridiculous reels on Facebook that people have made of their pets. It only takes a couple of minutes, and they make me laugh. During your commute, that’s time you could use to listen to a podcast you like or your favorite radio station.
While you’re at work, when you get to take a break or eat lunch, try to not talk about work with your coworkers, so it’s genuinely a break. Read a book, go for a walk, or chat with your coworkers about literally anything except the QC that failed or the infectious disease doctor who called to request you work up the normal respiratory flora in a specimen from a chest tube that was incorrectly ordered as a pleural fluid, so now you’re stuck identifying and running a susceptibility on multiple organisms that are literally supposed to be there. (Remember how I self-identified at the very beginning as a hypocrite? Guess what I talked about during my lunch break today.)
In a nutshell, self-care is anything you enjoy—snuggling with your pets, taking your kids to the playground, baking cookies, going to the gym, reading a book, getting enough sleep, etc. It’s prioritizing yourself, and it’s not negotiable. To properly take care of your patients, you have to take care of yourself first.
Heather Herrington is a Medical Technologist at Allegheny Health Network in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.