There is a famous festive song called, “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” that sings, “It's the most wonderful time of the year. It's the hap-happiest season of all.”
And for many people, this is the happiest season, a time to meet with loved ones and celebrate the year that has been, and the one that will come. This year, there is palpable relief and a hunger to finally have the chance to unwind and connect.
But for us – for the acute clinical workforce – I know that this season can feel complicated.
While others are gathering in each other’s homes, with their loved ones, many of us are hard at work in overcrowded emergency departments, with exhausted colleagues and the unrelenting pressures of access block. When others are eating pavlova, we are quickly swallowing down a protein bar on the run. While others are listening to carols, we are listening to the bat phone going off. When people are wearing Christmas hats and corny t-shirts, we are wearing scrubs and full PPE, to keep us safe from COVID-19.
While others are celebrating increasing freedoms, border openings, and are excited to let their hair down, many of us are anxious about how many avoidable presentations we will see due to alcohol. We know that this time of year is when people are most likely to seek help for intimate partner violence, suicidal thoughts and self-harm. We are wondering: will it be even worse this year?
We know that vaccination coverage is high across our two countries, but we remain anxious about the present threat of COVID-19. The pandemic is not over. It continues to strain our already strained healthcare systems. With cases rapidly rising in some parts of our two countries, many of us are nervous how this will impact the hospitals we work in – particularly in rural and regional areas.
When we do have time off, I know that many of us feel nervous about visiting public places or mingling in large groups. The risk can gnaw at us. I know that many of us, like me, worry we will attend a COVID-19 exposure site and not be able to work for a few days. What will that mean for our colleagues, our families, and the public?
But, despite all of this, we continue to show up, we continue to serve our communities and we give our best to the people that need our care in emergency departments. We are a dedicated and, too often, a selfless bunch.
But we need to look after ourselves, and each other.
The College will spend 2022 striving and advocating for the changes and investments in our systems that will ensure patients get the care they deserve, and we get the working conditions that we need to provide that care safely and effectively.
State and federal elections are opportunities to shed light on issues and for policymakers to be forced to take notice. Next year, we have several. It is going to be a big year for the College’s advocacy work.
But until we can achieve the structural changes that will allow us to be less exhausted and less overworked, we need to show up for ourselves, and for each other. I don’t mean this is in a spend-a-week-in-a-spa kind of way, although that could have power for some. I know that our work worlds, right now, are not conducive to zen. Many of us are just hanging in there.
Try finding wellbeing, for yourself and for others, in the small moments. It can be found when you take a minute to pause, stand still, and take three deep breaths when you are feeling overwhelmed. It can be when trudging to the car after nightshift you stop and notice the sunrise staining the morning sky a vivid orange.
It can be laughing with a colleague over a funny TikTok. It can be when you manage to fight through the tiredness and jog, work out, or go for a bush walk. Or when you don’t fight through the tiredness and just go to bed and watch Netflix. It can be when you text a workmate and say, are you alright?
The College provides various supports for members and trainees, and I encourage you to utilise these if needed, and to reach out to your fellow FACEMs and trainees. We are all in this together.
In closing, I want to thank you for your enormous efforts to care for patients, colleagues, and yourselves, in 2021, in the face of numerous challenges. For those of you who manage some time off work over the holiday period, I wish you a safe and replenishing break.
For those who will be working, please keep safe, and continue to look after each other as you look after your patients.
Thank you to the College staff, and to the members and trainees who volunteer their time in College work, who have all worked hard during the last year to support us.
It has been a such a difficult and turbulent year. We should all feel very proud of what our specialty has contributed to the pandemic response, and to improving the health of our communities, in the last twelve months – I certainly do.
I wish you all a happy festive period, in whatever shape it takes, and a very happy New Year. May 2022 bring us smoother waters to sail.
Dr Clare Skinner