A couple of years ago I spoke to healthcare professionals in the US about what makes for a joyous day at work as part of a project sponsored by the Commonwealth Fund, when I was working in America as a Harkness fellow.
The project took me to two states on different sides of the country and gave me the opportunity to talk in depth to obstetricians, midwives and physician associates, using formal qualitative project methodology.
The professionals I spoke to were from different systems but the results were uniform and were split across three themes:
joy from non-clinical work, such as working in a good team
joy from clinical work, such as fulfilling the clinical needs of patients
keeping personally well – for example, maintaining a positive work/life balance.
There were some negative things too, but I’ll stick to the positive for this blog!
Most of the themes from the non-clinical side were similar to those you’d hear outside of healthcare in any service industry: good teams, ability to improve efficiencies, and also an ability to improve the effectiveness of what we do.
I spoke to 'average' clinicians, not so-called leaders, which tells you that clinicians have an inherent desire to make things better for their patients (and probably themselves too.)
The fact that clinicians get joy from clinical work is not going to surprise anyone. But the themes themselves may surprise the non-clinician. Joy was obtained by getting a patient to do something they may not have wanted to outwardly do, but that would improve their health – examples given included losing weight or turning up for an appointment.
"Joy was obtained by getting a patient to do something they may not have wanted to outwardly do, but that would improve their health."
The final themes were around physician wellness. "Physician, heal thyself," has been said before by others better known than me - St Luke wrote it down in his gospel a while ago.
I think it’s good to see it repeated here, especially in view of the sometimes cited bravado of doctors to ignore their own health. I’m not overly sure, however, whether it was a 'nice to have' or that it was a priority.
More surprising, given the debates around specialists and generalists, was the joy that this group of clinicians got from doing different types of work, and that this was the same whether we’re talking about non-clinical or clinical work.
Variety is the spice of life, so it seems, whether this be doing both obstetrics and gynaecology, or working on a quality improvement project and keeping up to date. All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy seems apt here.
No more clichés. The important thing is that we’re beginning to hear what makes health professionals tick from real health professionals. Other industries have linked this to productivity. Healthcare hasn’t yet done that particularly well – perhaps it’s the difficulty of measuring productivity in healthcare.
However, we are beginning to connect our ability to do our job with our own health, (perhaps that link isn’t overly unexpected given what we do all day.) Michael Rosbash and Jeffrey Hall got the Nobel prize for physiology of the body clock recently and we were already aware of the link between night shifts and cancer.
There is still work to be done. The Royal Medical Benevolent Fund launches its Together for Doctors campaign on 16 November. The pressure all healthcare professionals are under at the moment is immense. As well as not losing sight of what healthcare professionals need to do to maintain their own health, we mustn’t underestimate the effect that having a good day at work has on an individual and then hopefully the system too.
If you’re a believer in joyful days at work and want to know how to make things more joyful why not come along to our joy in primary care event on 15 January – Blue Monday, supposedly the unhappiest day of the year – to work out how we can make things a bit better.
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