A social worker shares his thoughts on burnout and self-care when facing challenges working in the palliative care space.
Mr Steven Kuah is a senior social worker at Metta Hospice Care, with more than 10 years of experience in the social service sector, including over two years in hospice care. Like many healthcare professionals, Steven also experienced physical and mental burnout when helping patients and their caregivers and managing his workloads. He realised that neglecting one’s needs may result in more stress and can be energy-draining; it’s important to take care of yourself.
WAYS TO MANAGE BURNOUT
At the Workplace
It’s important to promote work-life balance. Restful spaces can be created at the workplace for members of the palliative care team to take a few minutes’ respite in the middle of a hectic day. Just a few thoughtful touches like plants and artful décor, such as comfortable chairs, can instantly create a less stressful environment. Flexible work arrangements can also be offered depending on individual needs.
Steven’s seniors in the social work sector always advised him not to choose a work environment that is not a good fit, as this would compromise his health and happiness. This advice reminded him of a quote by the late Indian Hindu monk and yogi Paramahansa Yogananda: “The greatest influence in your life, stronger than your willpower, is your environment.” To resolve burnout issues and meet job demands, supervisors must look after their team’s well-being and communicate frequently.
Our hospice team has kept to Metta’s motto, “Compassionate love to share. Brightens hope to those we care.” leaning into kindness and practising compassion, which is immensely helpful to the family members coping with the loss and death of their loved one. Often, hospice workers become part of their patients’ lives, grieving for a patient’s death can sometimes become personal, and they can easily forget to care for themselves. As team members may need emotional support for their work, it is beneficial for them to maintain positive relationships, and spend time with their family members during their free time. Providing a platform for the team members to share their experiences and support one another will make a difference, as well as offering counselling services.
Home is a place of comfort and sanctuary for many of us. Steven recommends practising healthy habits such as getting sufficient sleep, eating regular meals and having time for exercise and recreational activities. A simple meditation of 30 mins or walking around the neighbourhood may help relieve stress. Finally, speak to family and friends if you need a listening ear.
In conclusion, he points out that while many of those who work in palliative care may be passionate about their job, it is more often the knowledge, skills and competencies acquired over time that will help them to manage complex cases and demanding workloads.
Committing to remaining in the profession is good but palliative care workers must continue to upskill and stay relevant. Organisations should also be supportive in this aspect. In this way, we will be able to always meet the needs of those in our care.
Photo: Steven Kuah sharing his experiences and supporting colleagues by Leo Mike, Senior Community Partnership Executive