Why Healthcare Workers Deserve Healthy Work

Healthcare workers deserve healthy work. Every worker does.

American workers are currently agitating for more humanized work conditions. They're voting with their feet, leaving their current jobs in search of healthier and possibly happier work.

Yet not everyone believes work should include health or happiness. For many, work is purely functional, and the best work is simply work done well to reach a desired end. The thought is, “Employers don't exist to make you healthy or happy; they exist to provide a paycheck. Get happy on your own time.” Personal, cultural, and generational lenses certainly color the meaning of work. But a new consensus on healthy work is sorely needed.

If you are a stressed out, burning out physician or clinician, your work situation is wholly unique. As a health expert, you know the damage that acute and chronic stress wreaks upon the body. And as a care provider, your potential impairment from a stressful job can impact the health and well-being of your family, staff, patients, community, and nation. Clarifying if you have the fundamental right to healthy work and what healthy work means for you is especially critical.

I believe healthcare workers deserve healthy work for two basic reasons.

First, we should be afforded the same care we give others. Every day, we work under the prime directive of primum non nocere, or “First, do no harm.”

But if huge swaths of us physicians and clinicians are struggling with job-induced exhaustion, anxiety, depression, PTSD, and feeling trapped and hopeless, are we not experiencing harm? We deserve to work without being harmed.

Second, we should be afforded Geneva Convention protection as if we were in a conflict. Healthcare workers have always battled disease. It’s what we do. But the Coronavirus pandemic amplified the language and actual experience of battle. We medical personnel are combatants in a long-standing and acutely exacerbated healthcare war.

The four Geneva Conventions in 1949 laid out ethical standards on how to treat fellow human beings in wartime. (Yes, this is oxymoronic.) From Geneva Convention I, Article 24:

“Medical personnel…shall be respected and protected in all circumstances (1).”

This verbiage couldn’t be clearer. Healthy work is a right, not a privilege, and goes beyond preservation of your physical person. It includes your mental and emotional well-being, as detailed by the World Health Organization (emphasis mine):

“The right to health is a fundamental part of our human rights and of our understanding of a life in dignity. The right to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, to give it its full name, is not new.

Internationally, it was first articulated in the 1946 Constitution of the World Health Organization (WHO), whose preamble defines health as ‘a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.' The preamble further states that ‘the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health is one of the fundamental rights of every human being without distinction of race, religion, political belief, economic or social condition (2).’”

Stressed out, burning out physicians and clinicians have become wounded patients requiring treatment. We are casualties of the very health care system designed to save others’ lives. But tragically, this system is not designed to heal us. Until our health care system changes, we physicians and clinicians must find ways to heal ourselves—physically, mentally, and emotionally. We deserve it. Healthy work is our human right.

If you are a job-stressed physician or clinician, what does healthy work look like for you? Does it mean shorter days? Fewer patients? Less paperwork? More flexibility? Better pay? Or does it mean greater alignment with your values, and happiness? Does it mean switching workplaces, or switching careers altogether? Whatever that looks like for you, strive to make at least one small change today. Your health, your happiness, and your well-being depend on it.



Are you a stressed woman physician or clinician who HATES Mondays? You can make NEW ones!

Snag the free Evolve Work Action tool to assess your work’s effects on you and to get possible next steps about your work situation: https://www.evolvedphysician.com/pl/279448. And visit https://www.evolvedphysician.com to learn more about online courses and coaching services.

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