Caring for the carers – an opportunity to celebrate and appreciate women’s role in healthcare
The Covid-19 pandemic flagged the mental and physical strain on the healthcare system and its people. This is a chance to acknowledge the frontline heroes and identify the strengths and weaknesses highlighted by the public health crisis.
Health professionals showed up for the country, and they were celebrated and supported. Unfortunately, some did not make it, and others carry the physical, emotional and financial scars thrust on them by their occupation. These frontline workers suffered psychological and physical harm in an environment where occupational and mental health support are not institutionalised or normalised.
The I’m a Health Hero summit creates a platform to celebrate and appreciate women’s role in healthcare, especially in the Covid-19 pandemic response. We are expecting a sharing of experiences as women working in healthcare, learnings to better support each other, and the role of mentorship and coaching in professional development. We will have a professor from Harvard Medical School sharing her journey in overcoming impostor syndrome and how we need to be kinder to ourselves and live authentically.
Health leaders will also share successes and lessons as leaders during the public health emergency. We aim to identify areas of common interest, and we will have different health professionals gather in the same room, including medical doctors, dentists, paramedics, optometrists, biokineticists and pharmacists, to name a few.
The disruption caused by the pandemic to the economy, personal finances and relationships was a reality felt by all. Some health professionals faced significant financial challenges during lockdown because they were not seeing patients, especially in the private sector, and yet the government only offered financial relief to other sectors of the economy.
Studies conducted before the pandemic cite worrying levels of depression, anxiety, burnout and other mental health problems among young professionals and women, especially those working in low-resourced environments. Burnout and emotional exhaustion lead to dehumanised care, compromising patient safety and experience. Professionals must be skilled, motivated and adaptable, and understand the social determinants of this country.
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We need a health system conducive to professionals accessing the required wellness and mental well-being support. It’s critical to highlight that health professionals cannot take time off following a significant adverse event such as the unexpected death of a loved one, because of the lack of capacity to accommodate “emotional first-aid”.
The training of professionals ought to highlight the importance of self-care, normalise shouting for help, highlight the harm caused by “perfectionism”, and create a reliable peer support system. The support tools and resources must be standardised, institutionalised and made safe to access. The pandemic also highlighted that working in healthcare may harm the frontliners’ health, especially in poorly resourced environments and public health emergencies. Professionals need to be kinder to themselves and each other, and be aware of the microaggressions experienced by females working in male-dominated environments.
Emphasis should be placed on prioritising the well-being of health professionals, including equipping health leaders with the skills to cultivate a culture and environment that is supportive and safe, thus facilitating skills retention, which is critical for the public sector. For South Africa to achieve the goal of Universal Care Coverage, the sector needs to be intentional about finding innovative ways to retain professionals in the country. Collaboration with the private sector is imperative as the sector now has more specialist medical practitioners and advanced health technology while serving only 20% of the South African population.
The Constitution guarantees the right to access healthcare, but the actual receipt of care is influenced by the availability, suitability and quality of health resources. At the height of the pandemic we witnessed the strain on the system and its people. The public health crisis highlighted the existing strengths and weaknesses we need to use and fix to bounce back and build a resilient health system.
For frontline workers including doctors, nurses, physiotherapists and dentists, you can sign up at Zoom link here. DM/MC
Dr Brenda Kubheka is a medical professional and specialist in clinical risk and ethics. She is also a co-founder of Matched Media, a strategic health communications and research consultancy. Elizabeth Kgabane is an all-around marketing professional, writer and Communications Officer at Matched Media.
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