Resilience and Team Work During COVID

Barbara Orlando, MD

When I moved to the United States and decided to go back to work after an eight-year break to take care of my kids, I did not imagine how tough it would be to enter the workforce the second time around. As an attending I took interest in wellness after going through a pretty rough residency and reading more and more stories about burnout and suicide among our lines. Having a daughter interested in going into medicine was another reason to try to improve this growing problem. 

Forward to 2020, and the COVID-19 pandemic came along and hit us, fast and hard. Our staff had to deal with critically ill patients, and large numbers of them in a very short period of time. Many patients died, alone and scared. We had to adjust to new roles and new rules. We reorganized our department and re-assigned people to tasks they were not necessarily familiar with. Needless to say we experienced an unprecedented degree of stress.

But to my surprise, our staff found the strength to adapt quickly and with an incredible energy and dedication.Teachers rose to the occasion: senior residents taught their junior peers, and ICU attendings built ICU teams with CRNA’s, residents, non-ICU attending, OR nurses, nursing aids, and PA’s. And last but not least, our patients and their families taught us strength and resilience. We saw patients fighting for their lives while still displaying faith and gratitude. We saw families abiding by those new rules we had to create in this uncertain time, finding ways to stay in touch with their loved ones.

Resilience, the ability to bounce back from adversity, is well known now as one of the backbones of surviving burnout. To make it through, we had to implement a “resilience tool kit”. It took the shape of various initiatives: allowing staff to recuperate after working a few days in a row by being off for a few days; giving options to our more senior staff to stay home at the peak of the pandemic; creating a “wellness” system with daily emails giving tips on free workout,  providing information on free food deliveries donated by generous New Yorkers, which was so helpful for those of us stuck in ICU for long period of times, or promoting information on mindfulness apps.

This experience taught me so much on humanity in general. It emphasized the importance of team work and team learning, because we are stronger as a group. It also strongly proved the importance of resilience and having a “resilience tool box” to allow each of us to find ways of coping with stressful situations. Extraordinary situations emulate extraordinary responses. I am so proud of my profession!

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