16:02 PM

The Nature of a Health Care Worker: It's Time to Take Care of Each Other and Ourselves


Twenty months.

No one expected we would still be fighting a global pandemic that took from us so many people and activities that we love.

We’ve had to change the way we socialize. Change the way we work together. Change the way we celebrate. We’ve even changed what we wear, with masks becoming an everyday part of our lives.

Now, nearly two years into the ordeal of COVID-19, many of us are struggling, wanting a chance to return to normal but not even sure what that means anymore.

To make matters worse, we are heading into what’s traditionally our busiest season without a break after a surprisingly busy high census summer.

Jim Cunningham, M.D., chief medical officer at Cook Children’s, said this summer tested the staff’s resilience like never before. After facing a global pandemic and an unprecedented winter storm, we did not get the respite this summer that everyone had hoped for as we head into the winter.

Instead, we battled another COVID surge and an outbreak of RSV.

“You expect certain things to happen in the winter, and the summer to give you some relief,” Dr. Cunningham said. “For everything to happen all at once during the summer, that was incredibly tough for our staff throughout the system."

Megan Chavez, VP of Patient and Family Experience at Cook Children’s said it’s the nature of a health care worker to put their head down and get to work, regardless of the monumental task that awaits them.

So many of you out there are beyond tired. You are stressed and experiencing symptoms of burnout. Megan encourages you to seek out opportunities to help one another. She notices staff members working to do everything they can for patients and their families, Megan said, but she doesn’t always see staff taking care of themselves or each other.

“Find ways that you can reach out to your peers,” Megan said. “If you know everyone has had a hard day, you don’t need someone to say they need help. Go up to someone and say, ‘Today, was hard for me. Was it hard for you?’ Someone may not vocalize how tired or stressed they actually are. Extending a helping hand or starting a conversation may be exactly what that person needs right now.”

 The people we spoke to for this article point out that they already see us supporting one another and cheering each other on. 

We see you:

  • Sending each other sticky notes with kudos
  •  Leaving a bag of candy for your coworker
  • Acknowledging your coworker's birthday or the birth of their new baby in the family
  • Sharing something funny to lift your workday spirits

Deborah Rubinson, AVP of Education, said all of these moments of acknowledgment matter and help us all to move forward. She added that we should make sure we check in on one another. Deborah spoke about the team experience during Cook Children’s Town Hall in October. “I have been so touched and so humbled to watch the way that you’ve been there for each other over this past year and a half,” Deborah said.

Deborah said that as caregivers, you probably didn’t think about those moments when you took the extra moment to reach out to someone and ask, “How are you?” or spent a little extra time with a coworker.

“After all, our people truly are our most important asset, and that includes you. Please remember to take care of you,” Deborah said.

Pam Foster, director of Spiritual Care, sees what you are going through during one of the most difficult times in the history of Cook Children’s.

“Right now, so many of us are just so sad,” Pam said. “We miss the way things used to be at Cook Children’s. We see you eating alone. We know you miss the chance to eat with your friends and to gather socially like we did previously. We share in your pain, and we want you to know we are here for you. Although we are behind masks, we can still look each other in the eye and connect. Let’s be the community we long for.”

Spiritual Care (formally Pastoral Care) is available for employees, regardless of their faith or beliefs. The team will listen and offer a safe space for whatever might need to be said.

Chaplains are available in-house, every day from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. For after-hours needs, chaplains are available. To contact a chaplain, call 682-885-4030 or send Pam an email at Pam.Foster@cookchildrens.org.

You can also visit with someone from Work Life Services. Cook Children’s partners with this service to provide six free counseling sessions to all of our employees and their spouses. It’s available to you 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Call 1-800-395-1616 or go online to uprisehealth.com and type in the passcode: Cook.

Deborah Rubinson and her team have made burnout a top priority for the system. They are forming task forces to examine ways we can help each other. Deborah says that decompression plays a major role in burnout. Our survey results showed that our activation (connection to purpose) was high, but that our decompression (ability to disconnect from work and recharge) was low.

Not finding ways to decompress leads to symptoms of burnout over time even if we are highly committed to the promise.

On those days when you just want to decompress a little, try any of these helpful tips:

  • Go for a walk or a run, or spend some quality time alone.
  • Step away for a while and take a deep breath. Hold it. Then let it out slowly.
  • Sit for a minute and rub your own neck, shoulders, head and lower back. It may not be as relaxing as a professional massage, but it will help relieve some tension.
  • Enjoy your day off. Step away from your work emails and don’t check in on how the day is going. Make an agreement among co-workers that you will only be bothered if it’s an emergency.
  • Spend some quality time with your family.
  • Spend some quality time in your car. Go for a long drive and listen to your favorite music or podcast.
  • Find a good book, TV show or movie that will take your mind off the real world for a couple of hours.
  • Get creative. Write in your journal. Paint. Cook. Build. Decorate.
  • Get some much-needed rest/take a nap.

“The past two years have been long and hard, but we are headed in the right direction,” Deborah said. “We are not going back. We are going forward and it is hard for people to move forward when they focus on the past. One day, we’ll look back on this time in our history with pride for the way we all persevered and we came out stronger and even better. Until then, take care of yourself and each other, and don’t wait to ask for help when you need it.”

Dr. Cunningham adds, “We all wanted some relief before the winter and that didn’t happen. None of us could have expected what happened,” Dr. Cunningham added. “But, as usual, everyone pitched in, gave it everything they had and we got through it. Look at what we’ve already done! It’s all so very impressive. There’s lots of reason for hope if we can all hold on a little longer. I have reason to believe we have the strength to continue to carry on because of the people who work at Cook Children’s.”