Disgruntled at work? Join the club.

Two years of professional experience within ambulatory care has honestly been nothing short of multifaceted.  Having direct contact with cancer patients has exposed me to people who are loving, appreciative, and strong-willed.  Along with that amazing exposure comes unfortunate interactions with cantankerous, ignorant, and self-proclaimed “important” individuals.  I’m well aware that dealing with cancer patients on a daily basis is not a career most people desire.  Furthermore, I’m conscious of the personality traits needed for various positions within healthcare.  Two years of ups, downs, smiles, frustrations, and biting my tongue during difficult patient interactions couldn’t have prepared me for what I witnessed this past Friday afternoon.

As I was standing at the hospital’s cashier window waiting to turn in my reimbursement forms, the man in front of me he was trying to pay his wife’s $250,000 chemotherapy bill.  Treatment was being held until the bill was paid in full.  The nurse who herded this patient’s husband the window, along with the employee behind the plexiglas who was processing this man’s seven credit cards, couldn’t have been more jaded, rude, or uncompassionate.

Employee burnout affects every industry.  Many times it’s an issue that’s overlooked in healthcare – an industry where circadian rhythms are disregarded and a “24-hour / 365 day” rule is applied.  Much like New York City, healthcare never sleeps.  Inpatient floors don’t ever turn off the lights; medical staff work mornings, evenings, and weekends.  Administrators are plagued with cutting costs and expected to not only meet, but to surpass increasing standards of care.  Between ever-changing DRGs, more stringent discharge guidelines, medical malpractice worries, and staff shortage concerns, who has time to worry about how patients are treated?  More importantly, though, who spearheads the difficult task of ensuring employee job satisfaction, which directly relates to patient interaction?

According to an article published by Susan E. Jackson and Randall Schuler entitled “Preventing Employee Burnout,” there are identifiable organizational conditions that cause burnout.  Lack of rewards, and excessive, outdated policies and procedures, work-paced jobs, and close supervision – all of which undermine an employee’s “feeling of control” top the list.  A lack of clear-cut expectations and job responsibilities, combined with conflict – both of which prevent an employee from being productive is the third condition.  Finally, the lack of support groups or cohesive work groups, which, in turn, prevent an employee from acquiring information needed to cope with the other three conditions simply adds salt to open wounds.

When the above conditions are present, employees cope by depersonalizing relationships.  Depersonalization was never more apparent than on Friday afternoon.  Where else within my organization, or across the healthcare industry as a whole, does this unacceptable attitude affect delivery of care?  While we’ve obviously come a long way from doctors making house calls, healthcare still has a component of customer service.  An effort to address the importance of employee satisfaction within healthcare will undoubtedly go a long way towards improving patient experience.

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