I said it. The R Word.

I feel sad at the bad reputation the word “resilience” has now got in healthcare environments. Sometime around 2017 (possibly in the wake of the junior doctor strikes and increased awareness that being a healthcare professional is hard work) there was a great increase in “Resilience training” for healthcare professionals. It came at the perfect time for me personally. I was returning to work after the death of my baby Gail. My own resilience was at rock bottom and I desperately needed some. I went on one of these courses, and it was one of the best and most helpful courses I have ever done.

So what does it mean anyway?

The definition I like best is:

The ability to grow and move forward in the face of adversity.

I like that it validates the crap thing that is happening, AND that its possible to grow from that. Both things are equally true and equally valid.

The course I went on (plus coaching and the associated reading) started me on a self-development journey, ultimately leading to me becoming a coach.

(Incidentally I wrote about “The R Word” in another blog post prior to that course – you can read that here).

However Resilience has a bad name in healthcare. Most health care professionals are, by definition, resilient to be able to work in the environment of the NHS. And when HCPs were sent on “R word Training” there was an underlying suggestion that the individual was at fault – they weren’t “resilient” enough and they needed fixing. Rather than the broken system being the issue.

Systems need resilience too

Systems need resilience too. And the system appears to be in a very bad way at the moment – even more so than I’ve ever seen before. If we look at the definition above – the NHS is facing a huge adversity (and has been even before the C word happened) but at a national level its falling apart rather than growing. Another definition of resilience is “bending not breaking” and there is absolutely no give in the system: no ability to bend any farther. It’s broken. Individual health care professionals and teams are trying their best, more than ever before, but its never going to be enough, and that expectation gap between what we want for patients and what is realistically achievable is a recipe for burnout of the entire system.

We can’t (at an individual level) control what’s happening in the NHS. Nor can we control patient numbers, expectations or what the media says. We have limited influence over our own workload. I sometimes feel at a loss as to how I can support health care professionals when there’s so much pressure. So what CAN we control? What DO we have a choice about?

Which brings me back to personal resilience. We always have a choice in how we respond. You may have read about Viktor Frankl, an Austrian psychiatrist who was incarcerated in Auschwitz concentration camp during the Second World War. I could share any number of quotes from his incredible book “Man’s Search for Meaning“. I’m choosing to share this one:

“We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms — to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

There are many things you can choose to do: to leave, to stay, to ask for help, to move to a different job, to live according to your values and the person you want to be. I’m not suggesting that any of these choices are easy. They all come accompanied by difficult thoughts and feelings. (Personally I find it helpful even knowing that difficult thoughts and feelings are normal and are part of the experience of being human and having a rich and meaningful life). But its empowering to know you do have a choice in all situations.

Some Reflective Questions to End On

  • What are you choosing today?
  • What can you control?
  • What are your small moments of joy?
  • What are you learning about yourself through this adversity?
  • How can you show yourself compassion in this moment?
  • How can you grow and move forward in the face of your adversity?
  • What actions can you take to live your values and purpose?