This past weekend, the Center for Faith and Work LA held an event for LA healthcare workers as part of their ongoing event series, Reimagining Work. The event explored what it looks like to view all work in healthcare as a calling from God, and how workers can reimagine what it means to work in the industry in light of their faith and calling.
Speakers included keynote, Dr. David Levy, neurosurgeon and Author of Gray Matter, and panelists Dr. Kim-Lien Nguyen (Cardiologist), Jaslyn Dixon (LMFT), Dr. Susan Huang (Neurologist and Associate CMO), and Dr. Mike Sunu (Emergency Physician). In all of the rich experiences and perspectives shared, two main themes emerged for healthcare professionals to consider: first, look deeply inward at your sense of calling and holistic health, and then, with renewed vision, consider the way you interact with others and are sensitive to spiritual needs.
Looking Deeply Inward
Understanding Your Calling
The way you view your purpose in healthcare will define how you do your work. If your purpose is to succeed and rise through the ranks at all costs, as Dr. Levy shared is common in medicine and especially surgery, your ambition will define your work and your relationships. If you see each shift as something to endure in order to get a paycheck, this will drain your passion and work ethic. It’s only when we understand our calling to our work that we can begin to find a healthy sense of our purpose.
Every person working in healthcare has a profound effect on others. Depending on your type of work, you may literally affect someone’s body, mind, or wellbeing. Regardless of your type of work, you have an effect on the way a patient, a visitor, or a coworker experiences their day. As you wrestle with defining your purpose, understand that God has called you both to do good work and to love others. Your work matters deeply to God and to everyone it impacts.
Spiritual and Emotional Care
You probably don’t need it to be pointed out that burnout is a serious problem in healthcare. Everything about your work is draining: intense education and training, long shifts, the pressure to work quickly, the nature of the work of caring for others. Trying to do excellent work as well as loving others will only go so far if you’re burnt-out. As Dr. Levy shared, “Stress makes us non-relational.”
The reality is, you can only give so much without being filled yourself. Jasyln Dixon, the LMFT on the panel, used the profound metaphor of viewing yourself not as a fast-flowing river, but as a reservoir, so filled that you are able to overflow care and service to others. We were all created with limits and the need for Sabbath rest, community, and time with God. This means taking time to recognize what you need and making those needs a priority, both for your sake and to bring your best self into your work.
Looking Outward with Renewed Vision
Finding Space to Care in Efficiency
So many working in healthcare are working in environments with intense pressure to work quickly and efficiently. In the midst of this, it can be difficult just to keep up with your responsibilities, and easy to lose sight of the emotional needs of those around you. The pressure to be efficient can quickly create a disconnected environment: patients in vulnerable positions feeling neglected, family and friends feeling dismissed, coworkers feeling slighted.
Dr. Sunu, the ER physician on the panel, feels this tension constantly between care and efficiency. He has been struck recently by the reality of Imago Dei, that each person is made in the image of God, and what a difference it can make when he intentionally reminds himself that every patient, family, friend and coworker is someone made in God’s image. While you may not be able to take extra time with someone, it can make a world of difference to use what short moments you do have with someone to slow down your spirit, see God’s image in them, and communicate love and care in your interaction.
Sensitivity to Spiritual Needs
Many people consider spirituality to be a very private thing, and it is a delicate topic to approach with others. The reality is, awareness of spirituality is usually heightened for patients due to the vulnerable nature of healthcare. Of course, chaplains are available in most cases to address spirituality, but Dr. Levy encourages healthcare providers to be aware of spiritual needs and how you might be able to offer support.
One way Dr. Levy does this is by offering to say a short prayer for patients prior to being taken into surgery. He began this practice after a dentist offered to do the same for him when he was on edge before a dental procedure, and it deeply affected him. He wrestled with how other staff might view him for incorporating religion, or even how patients might react to the offer, but felt convicted that the potential to help encourage his patients outweighed the risk. While not everyone accepts his offer to pray (which he graciously understands), it has had an incredibly profound effect on so many patients and their families. As you go about your work, keep your spirit open to small ways you can appropriately be a spiritual support to 2others.
For more information on the CFWLA and the Reimagining Work Series, check out their website, where there will soon be videos released from this event.