We must encourage regular face-to-face interactions to support physician well-being as we navigate the next phase of the COVID-19 pandemic, writes oncologist and clinical academic Dr. Marion Mateos in part two of this series.
Thinking back to my early career experience as a pediatric oncologist, it is evident that the 2019 coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic has caused us to reconsider our own values and goals.
When something is taken away, like the ability to see loved ones and friends, you realize how important it is.
In this article, I discuss how we can improve physician well-being as new ways of working take hold. Last week I talked about balancing oncology and motherhood during the pandemic.
First, the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the value of human interaction.
Let’s break down the silos of Zoom or Teams we’ve built during that time. We need to support young scientists, young doctors and junior doctors in the transition from virtual to face-to-face meetings.
Let’s move away from multitasking on our computers and towards conducting thoughtful and meaningful hybrid or face-to-face meetings. In late 2022, I experienced the roar of speaking at a face-to-face conference. It was magical to see people smile.
dr Marion Mateos writes debriefings and support between doctors is more important now than ever.
In my view, it will be critical for physicians to have more face-to-face opportunities to socialize and learn to practice skills that are critical to our work. Medical students and trainees had fewer opportunities for face-to-face teaching during the COVID-19 pandemic. Traditional bedside tutorials for medical students have been replaced with virtual equivalents during lockdown.
A cardiac exam with tangible thrills and systolic murmurs in a real patient can therefore come as a shock after the touchscreen learning of the early pandemic years. Similarly, for a more advanced medical trainee, important communication skills, such as breaking bad news or creating complex management plans, may need to be a focus.
Second, I believe that as a medical community, we need to encourage debriefing practices for ourselves. In our new hybrid virtual world, a colleague in trouble can go undetected longer than before.
Healthcare professionals should be offered and encouraged to participate in active debriefings after challenging patient situations and not just during times of crisis. This promotes and builds resilience. Face-to-face debriefings are important to improve communication.
Nonverbal cues and spontaneous communication during debriefing can provide insight into the mental and emotional needs of ourselves and our colleagues. It can be easier and more effective to freely share in person than to raise your virtual hand or write something in a virtual chat.
However, there may be some colleagues who need individual debriefings, as it really takes courage to openly share our experiences. Regular one-on-one sessions can be helpful to provide a forum outside of work and at home to talk about our experiences, which can be confronting and emotionally draining.
Third, we could seek formalized mentoring programs to support our colleagues, particularly during times of transition or increased responsibility. Transition points of heightened vulnerability and self-doubt, especially in this new world of hybrid and virtual meetings.
Improved mentoring could be of value to physicians, particularly when the therapeutic relationship is challenged or when it affects the physician’s self-confidence. Social media and online information searches increase the complexity of doctor-patient interactions and require new skills to deal with them.
If I could learn from the past three years, it would be to have more confidence in times of self-doubt, to find a mentor to debrief regularly, and to meet face-to-face whenever possible.
Fostering self-awareness and healthy patient boundaries is critical to ensuring that we, the current medical community, can continue to do what we are good at: serving the holistic needs of our patients and families. It takes more than just a touchscreen to do this.
Moving forward, we need to integrate the hybrid virtual world and reinvigorate the human touch. Fortunately, social gatherings with friends and family are now possible. We navigated the “no hugs in 2020” to the awkward “will we hug in 2022?” Situation.
We can now meet without masks, travel abroad is possible and face-to-face conferences abroad are back on the agenda. “To go personally or not to go” is the question here.
We must also recognize the tremendous strain that the COVID-19 pandemic is placing on all of us – on medical systems, healthcare professionals and scientists worldwide, as well as on the experience of patients and families navigating the healthcare system in times of crisis.
Against the ever-changing global backdrop of insecurity and now war in Ukraine, let’s focus on restoring the social fabric of society. We need to celebrate our achievements and appreciate the families who will forever be grateful for our care, regardless of the outcome.
It is worth investing in debriefing and supporting everyone in the new hybrid virtual reality and encouraging everyone.
dr Marion Mateos is a pediatric oncologist at the Kids Cancer Center in Sydney and a clinical graduate at the University of New South Wales School of Clinical Medicine.
This is the second article in a two-part series by oncologist and clinical academic Dr. Marion Mateos. Read Part 1 as she talks about balancing oncology and motherhood during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Statements or opinions expressed in this article reflect the views of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official policies of the AMA, MJA, or InSight+ unless otherwise noted.
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