You just finished working a long shift that you weren’t originally scheduled for, and the shift was full of multiple complex cases and patient encounters. You come home, and your significant other is upset  that you had to work on your original day off. Because of your schedule being disrupted and having a tough shift, you find yourself being difficult with your family as you used up all the empathy that you had for “the day.”
Every day we face stresses and challenges in life, and it’s not as easy as using an “on-off switch”  when changing environments from work to home.
In this episode of EM OVER EASY, we discuss ways to navigate communication with spouses/family/friends, especially after a tough shift.
Second victim syndrome is when a health care professional commits an error or experiences a traumatizing event that subsequently manifests into negative experiences during their personal lives. This concept of second victim syndrome can trickle over into the lives of those close to us. So, is there a second, second victim syndrome  that our family/supports go through? Most likely, yes. Therefore, how we navigate our emotions during situations like this is incredibly important to both professional success and personal wellness.
What we do is hard, so maintaining a solid support system and healthy habits can help mediate the transition from work to home. We owe it to our family to take a moment before walking in the door to gather our thoughts and set our intentions for future interactions. We have to be mindful of ourselves to be mindful of others.
Be honest with yourself about the state you are in and what your needs are at the moment. Taking time to address sleep, physical activity or food can all give you the time to reflect and change your perception moving forward.
Early communication with your family and setting expectations for when you are home can help turn the page from a tough shift.
- Communication tips:
- Have a set phrase or form of communication to let your partner know it’s been a bad day.
- Have a place you can go to unwind.
- Have a process for unwinding/processing the day, and make sure your partner understands that process.
- Have a handful of people you can talk to about what happened that understand what you are going through, especially if your partner is not in medicine.
- Don’t take work home.
- Confine your work to particular times and locations.
- Develop good mobile device habits.
- Establish a good support network.
- Have an end-of-work habit.
When a support person is in medicine it is not all good. There are pros and cons to consider. A pro may be that someone in medicine may have an easier time understanding exactly what you’re going through. Shared experience among the two of you can help navigate difficult days.
While cons can include that they may process their feelings about a tough shift differently than you, you may have very rough shifts on the same day and one person may work more difficult shifts than the other (nights, weekends, etc.) and they feel like their work is more important.
Having someone who is non-clinical can also have pros and cons. A compelling pro is that it can be nice to have someone to talk to about things that have nothing to do with medicine, allowing you to take a break from wearing your medical hat.
Different perspectives look at the broader picture and don’t get caught up in the details. Having someone that has a broader outlook on situations can be valuable. While it may be harder for them to understand how you feel and exactly what you need on rough days.
If there was anything we want you to take home from this article, it’s the following:
- What we do is hard, so maintaining a healthy and robust support system is incredibly important to both professional success and personal wellness/resiliency.
- The key to navigating taking work home is communication and self-awareness.
- Recognizing when you are on “empty” is vital to clinical longevity.
- Recognize the Second “Second Victim Syndrome” of our family members.
- Learn to find positive coping mechanisms with your family to combat these issues and help maintain relationships.
- Ozeke O, Ozeke V, Coskun O, Budakoglu II. Second victims in health care: current perspectives. Adv Med Educ Pract. 2019;10:593-603. Published 2019 Aug 12. doi:10.2147/AMEP.S185912
- Schwartz SP, Adair KC, Bae J, et al. Work-life balance behaviours cluster in work settings and relate to burnout and safety culture: a cross-sectional survey analysis. BMJ Qual Saf. 2019;28(2):142-150. doi:10.1136/bmjqs-2018-007933