H. Todd Yeates, MD
Let me preface this by saying that this is not a scholarly article but mostly my perspective and experience. As we all know, emergency medicine is a demanding practice that exposes us to high levels of stress. We have constant pressure, frequent complex cases, long hours, circadian dysrhythmia, challenging consultants, and difficult patient interactions. The list that makes our job challenging is endless. Needless to say, our professional career choice can take a toll on the mental and emotional well-being of each one of us. I would dare to say that there is not one of us who has not felt the stress of our career with some sort of impact on our overall well-being.
There has been extensive discussion recently about wellness and what we can do to create improved personal and institutional wellness. While this is obviously multifactorial and requires a multifactorial approach, in my experience, one thing that has helped me is gratitude. Research has shown that the practice of gratitude can have a significant positive impact on the wellness of those working in a high-stress environment. Gratitude is defined as the quality of being thankful, showing appreciation for what one has, and acknowledging the kindness of others. In an article from the Harvard Business Review, titled “Manage Your Energy, Not Your Time” it states, “A powerful ritual that fuels positive emotions is expressing appreciation to others, a practice that seems to be as beneficial to the giver as to the receiver. It can take the form of a handwritten note, an e-mail, a call, or a conversation—and the more detailed and specific, the higher the impact. As with all rituals, setting aside a particular time to do it vastly increases the chances of success.”
I feel that practicing gratitude in emergency medicine involves acknowledging the positive aspects (yes–they are there) of the job and expressing appreciation for the support of colleagues and the trust of patients allowing us to participate in their care. This practice can be particularly beneficial for wellness–as it has for me.
Gratitude can lead to stress reduction. Integrating gratitude into our daily practice can be achieved through various methods, including gratitude journaling, team appreciation, and mindfulness practices. Research by Emmons and McCullough (2003) found that individuals who kept gratitude journals reported reduced stress levels and increased feelings of well-being. Expressing appreciation for colleagues’ efforts fosters unity and boosts morale. I personally also often thank my patients for the opportunity to assist in their care. (Obviously, this doesn’t apply to all of my patients.) Among many things, I am grateful that I can use my education, something that took considerable effort to achieve, to assist in their care. I am grateful that I have a career that allows me to provide a positive impact in the lives of individual patients and the community. I am grateful that my care allows me to provide a comfortable living for my family and myself.
I have been through highs and lows in my career and, for me, the practice of gratitude has helped increase my well-being. I don’t promise a panacea but hopefully a small improvement on our wellness journey.
- Emmons, R. A., & McCullough, M. E. (2003). Counting blessings versus burdens: An experimental investigation of gratitude and subjective well-being in daily life. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84(2), 377-389.
- Wood, A. M., Joseph, S., & Maltby, J. (2009). Gratitude uniquely predicts satisfaction with life: Incremental validity above the domains and facets of the Five Factor Model. Personality and Individual Differences, 45(1), 49-54.
- Schwartz, T & McCarthy, C. Harvard Business Review, (10/2007). Manage Your Energy, Not Your Time.