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Healthcare professionals nationwide are feeling the strain of nearly two years of nonstop COVID concerns.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Dr. John Zelem, a former general surgeon, is the founder and CEO of Streamline Solutions Consulting, Inc., and a regular panelist on the ICD10monitor Internet broadcast Talk Ten Tuesdays. His essay is from his book, “The Process of becoming Successful, Develop the Passion to Win.”

We have been hearing so much in the media lately about the daily challenges physicians and nurses and other healthcare workers are experiencing. This is leading to something called “burnout,” and many leaving the healthcare professions entirely.

The COVID-19 pandemic has been said to be a major factor, and has certainly played a major role. This trend is not just occurring with new professionals, but even those who are seasoned and experienced. These are individuals who initially joined the profession with excitement and enthusiasm. They have spent many long months getting the education needed to do so, but the pressures have been overwhelming, including the immensity and intensity of the pandemic, and the related frustration in dealing with a disease that seems to be “winning” and its collateral consequences.

Allow me a moment to put this into perspective, and develop what I call a “four season analogy.” This analogy involves farming, but it is a concept that can apply to many areas of life, and even healthcare, in this presentation. I know we are all familiar with the four actual seasons, as we experience them on an annual basis to varying degrees, depending on where we live. Despite geographical differences, though, there are still always four seasons.

Starting the cycle with winter, making a decision to enter the healthcare profession is very much like this season, as it is an “intuitive” season: a time for decision-making and planning. It is cold, and not much physically gets accomplished, but it is a time of thinking and planning. Take the farmer who is getting ready for the next planting. They may get the seeds and the fertilizer ready, and plan where the crops will go. In our winter season, we also do our planning, get our thoughts in order, maybe set some goals, and make the decision to get projects started. 

Spring is the actual “get started” season, wherein professionals have completed their education, found a job, and embarked on their career. This is where one is right out of the gate with great enthusiasm and energy. The farmer would be preparing the soil, planting the seeds, making the rows straight, and fertilizing and watering the early crop. In both situations, great amounts of energy are being expended, with excitement. Initial challenges are handled with relative ease.

Summer is the “hitting your wall” or “life happens” season. In this situation, it may be the pandemic. This is the season when the challenges start to become more daunting, and maybe even increase in number. We haven’t seen a lot of results yet, and begin to wonder if what we are doing is really working. The farmer may see a drought, or too much rain. The crop may be poor, or it may be overtaken by pests and animals. Your own summer may find you ultra-busy, struggling with family problems or financial strain, fatigue, or burnout. Yet the farmer doesn’t give up on his crop. Should you give up on what you are trying to achieve? It’s tough to be objective under this sort of pressure, and unfortunately, this is the season where the most people quit. They let the weeds of their lives overtake the harvest, even though it is just around the corner. They may not have the drive and resolve to dig deep down and continue plodding along to get to fall: the harvest season. Those who quit will never know how close they were to their harvest. This is where many healthcare professionals may find themselves now.

Yes, fall is the “harvest” season. This is when, if you’ve made it through summer, you can begin to reap the rewards, achieve the satisfaction, and look at the people you saved – not the ones you couldn’t. For the farmer, the crop comes in and goes to market – and it usually is profitable. For others, perhaps they finally get that promotion they’ve been working for, or a big breakthrough, if self-employed. The farmer, the professionals, have successfully weathered some of the toughest challenges and are beginning to receive the satisfaction of achieving positive results. This is not the end, though. As mentioned before, you cannot stay here; you need to reset your goals. You will either go forward or slide backward, because another year of the four seasons will approach.

What season are you in? Are you ready for another cycle? We hope you are, because healthcare workers are our heroes, and not all heroes wear capes. We need you!

Programming Note: Listen to Dr. Zelem every Tuesday on Talk Ten Tuesdays, 10 Eastern.


John Zelem, MD, FACS

John Zelem, MD, is principal owner and chief executive officer of Streamline Solutions Consulting, Inc. providing technology-enabled, expert physician advisor services. A board-certified general surgeon with more than 26 years of clinical experience, Dr. Zelem managed quality assessment and improvement as a former executive medical director in the past. He developed expertise in compliance, contracts and regulations, utilization review, case management, client relations, physician advisor programs, and physician education. Dr. Zelem is a member of the RACmonitor editorial board.

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