by Lieke Campbell, Dentistry Student, Ghent, Belgium.
There is a saying that goes something like: ‘you can only truly care for another when you care for yourself’. This makes sense because when we do not make sure our body is well cared for we might get tired, exhausted or even ill to the point we cannot care for another anymore. I have also found that becoming very emotional, e.g. angry or frustrated, and taking on too much from or for others, are also signs that we are not truly well and not taking care of ourselves first. Taking care of ourselves is a key part of the responsibility of being a health care professional.
If this is true, and if this is the way our bodies naturally work, why is this level of responsibility not lived in everyday life?
In my experience, there are three things to look at:
- The system
- Ourselves and our choices on a daily basis
- The word responsibility and our relationship with it.
The pressure of the health care system is huge. There are currently a lot of financial cut backs occurring and many health care facilities like hospitals and nursing homes are cutting their number of employees back to a minimal level. This means people are having to work very hard to get their job done and ensure all people are cared for. This puts a huge stress onto the employees and consequently the care they can offer is lessened as there is less time and more pressure placed on them to get the work done.
This raises the question: Is it just about getting the job done, or is it also about offering a quality that makes the employee and the patient feel met, seen and cared for?
The choices we make on a daily basis
Do we choose to deeply care for ourselves such that we are truly ready to care for the sick and ill people we are working with? I am studying dentistry and am realising that this, like many other health care related jobs, is a very physically demanding job. It is becoming clear to me that I have to make sure I look after my body well and ensure that it is ready for the work I have to do. The way I am learning to do this involves a dedication towards preparing myself each day with gentle exercising, healthy food, going to bed early and waking early, going for regular walks, deepening my relationships with my family and colleagues and so on.
Another aspect of our daily choices that has an impact on the level of care we deliver is based on another saying: ‘walk your talk’. In other words: do we live the advice we give to our patients? For instance: I notice that as dentists we recommend that people should take care of their teeth, and hence eat and live in a way that supports the health of their teeth and be responsible with that. It therefore makes sense to also live these things ourselves; otherwise the advice we give will come empty of lived experience and authority. We recommend no sugar, no smoking, brushing our teeth twice a day and flossing just as an example. But, do we live these things ourselves? This is a key and foundational aspect of responsibility that I feel is needed to be taken to truly take care for the people around us.
Responsibility and our relationship with it.
This brings me to the point of our relationship with responsibility. Taking care of ourselves like that is often seen as boring and hard in our society – you are being ‘too responsible’ if you do all this, but is this true? Why do we see being responsible as boring and as something to not be consistent at?
I found that living responsibly in my day to day choices is incredibly satisfying. To live responsibly for me means to know that everything I do is felt by everyone else, therefore the way I move matters, the way I think about myself matters, the way and what I eat matters even if nobody can see me, I know it is all felt as soon as I meet someone. I am a student of this and am in no way perfect, but to live this level of responsibility brings a simplicity to my life and a feeling of coming home. Knowing that our choices and actions do influence all others is a huge support to keep making these choices for myself, but also for all others I meet.
Therefore, to take responsibility is no longer seen as a heavy task; it gives by its spherical nature back to all involved, that is the people you care for, work with and eventually also yourself – as you are the person living in a body well cared for.
So our first responsibility as healthcare professionals is to take care of ourselves, to make choices every day that we know and feel are supportive and healthy, so that we can be truly supportive to those we care for and inspire them to take care of themselves also.