Excellent clinical teams support each other by reflecting on patient encounters and sharing their emotions.
How do we, as interdisciplinary teams, cope with the weight and gravitas of our experiences with patients? This a question medical teams, units, and consult groups must address for the sake of team well-being, resiliency, and preventing burnout. It can be all too easy to move from patient to patient, not giving ourselves time to process the emotional and spiritual experiences that we encounter. Holding onto all of these events without processing them can be emotionally taxing for clinicians.
I’m the chaplain for our palliative care team, and we’ve been trying to add processing and reflection time after stressful patient encounters. We’ve opted to allot time during our morning huddle to discuss challenging events with patients. Below are a few ideas of what’s worked well for us, and what you could consider trying with your own team.
We are witness to the raw human story of our patients; we have to find ways to acknowledge and process emotionally taxing events as a team. Making intentional space as a team may take some trial and error before finding the right time and approach for your particular group dynamic.
Here are a few examples of what’s worked well in my experience:
1. Make time to debrief emotions during an established team huddle time.
Make time to talk about and process emotions that came up for team members while caring for patients. This is not a medical debrief. This could be a few minutes during morning huddle, or at another time that works well for your team.
2. Consider including creative processing modalities.
For example, making time for a group meditation or a walk together.
3. Hold a weekly or monthly ceremony for reflection.
This could be reading the names of patients who have passed away, and either passing a card around to sign from the team to the family, or tying a ribbon on a wreath in your team room to remember patients throughout the year. This can be as formal or informal as what feels right for your team.
Finally, I’d like to share a poem that I wrote when processing emotions that arose when caring for a patient:
I See You
I see the look in your eyes, the furrow in your brow.
I was preparing myself for this, I had heard of your anguish.
Tears fall, fears are exposed, no longer able to hide them.
I watch as you name
I see you move to an awakening of self with desire for authenticity.
You speak of
words you want to say,
and your hearts searching.
You move forward with your newfound personhood in the midst of your body’s decline with an internal power I did not see before. Now your tears have grief and hope mixed together.
I see you.