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Resiliency: What Is It Anyway? And Where Can I Find Some?


It is pretty difficult to work in the health care setting without hearing about the plague that has infected the majority of the workforce: burnout. The pressures of caregiving, budgets, bottom lines, quality scores and regulatory burden have been named as a few of the causes. As leaders in health care, we have acknowledged the illness and pinpointed the cause of burnout, but continue to struggle to find a cure.

The impact of burnout is widespread. A 2013 study by the Luican Leape Institute at the National Patient Safety Foundation found health care workforce injuries are 30 times greater than other industries, 60% of physicians surveyed were considering leaving practices, 70% knew a physician who left due to poor morale and 37% of newly licensed registered nurses were thinking of leaving their job. It seems that in our efforts to transform the health care system, we have neglected the very people carrying out the transformation. In the search for relief, many health care organizations have worked on building the resiliency of the workforce. Resiliency is the ability of people to cope with stress or crisis, and then rebound quickly.

Sheryl Sandburg, Facebook executive and author of "Lean In," recently found herself in desperate search for resiliency when her husband died suddenly while they were vacationing out of the country. In her latest book, "Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy," she describes the first few fragile days and months following his death, and her quest for a way to live through the pain. She thought that “resilience was the capacity to endure pain” and wanted to know how much resilience she had. However, she discovered that our amount of resilience isn’t fixed, and we should instead ask how we can become resilient. “Resilience is the strength and speed of our response to adversity — and we can build it. It isn’t about having a backbone. It’s about strengthening the muscles around our backbone.”

Have you ever wondered how certain people can sustain several setbacks in their lives, yet never seem to waver? Their drive and passion for life appears to be limitless. I always thought this ability was a result of one’s upbringing, but Sandberg and others have taught us that we can develop our own resiliency. If we can build resiliency within the health care workforce, we will have the renewed capacity to care for patients and transform the system.

Sandberg and her co-author Adam Grant offered the following insights for building resiliency:

  • Turn feelings into words. Countless studies have shown the positive impacts of recognizing small wins by writing down three things you do well each day, and recalling a humiliating event and writing a letter addressed to yourself expressing the understanding to yourself that you would express to a friend.
  • Feedback. “The ability to listen to feedback is a sign of resilience, and some of those who do it best gained that strength in the hardest way possible.” Sandberg recommends that you have at least one hard conversation per month and encourage each member of your team to do the same.

The Duke Center for Healthcare Safety and Quality also offers caregiver resiliency training. The center offers an introduction to gratitude journaling, as well as one and two-day workshops with tools and resources to build capacity to bounce back from burnout.

Resiliency won’t make all of our problems in health care go away, but it will enable those charged with fixing those problems to thrive in the workplace.

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