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Gratitude for Caregivers

Posted By Linda Roszak Burton, Thursday, April 11, 2019

Gratitude Heals

John Henry Jowett quote says Gratitude is a vaccine, an antitoxin, and an antiseptic. A vaccine against the invasion of a disgruntled attitude. An antitoxin against the poison of fault-finding and grumbling. A soothing antiseptic in the spirit of thanksgiving.

Photo courtesy of Unsplash

When you read the phrase, gratitude for caregivers, what meaning do you apply? Is it a patient expressing gratitude to their caregiver for care and compassion shown to them during a recent health scare or recovery from an illness? Or, do you interpret it as an element of a positive and healthy work culture, where leaders and caregivers express gratitude to each other and their patients—genuinely, frequently, and value-based?

The good news is that it can, and based on research, needs to be interpreted both ways! We would assert that gratitude isn’t limited to any particular individual, profession, setting, or industry. Current research demonstrates that when gratitude is practiced, expressed, and received, the benefits are undeniable, significant, and multifaceted.

The POWER of gratitude:

  • Promotes healing, strengthens our immune system, lowers blood pressure, reduces symptoms of illness, and increases pain thresholds;
  • Motivates philanthropic giving. Being grateful has been found to make us more charitable and giving of our time, treasure, and talents;
  • Creates resilience by fostering greater mental, emotional, and physical health and well-being, for both the caregiver and patient;
  • Improves employee engagement by recognizing the value and contributions of coworkers;
  • Generates more positive social behaviors, buffering against negativity-bias, bolstering civility, respect, and broadening our attention to positive emotions.

To read more about these benefits go to Discovering the Health and Wellness Benefits of Gratitude

man suffering from burnout

A Remedy for Burnout

A Google search on the subject of burnout yields 114,000,000 results and counting! Job burnout as defined by the Mayo Clinic is a special type of work-related stress - a state of physical or emotional exhaustion (EE), a sense of reduced personal accomplishment (PA), and a loss of personal identity or depersonalization (DP). This widely accepted definition and the prevalence of burnout in healthcare has given us staggering and sometimes shocking statistics about the negative impact on individuals, teams, and organizations. Even more astounding are studies linking burnout to physician suicides, a higher rate of emotional exhaustion in as much as one-third of all US nurses, and the association between burnout and poor patient safety and quality outcomes, including mortality.

In a 2018 article in STAT, comes an even more disturbing reference to burnout…moral injury! First used to describe soldiers’ responses to their actions in war is now linked to “physicians being unable to provide high-quality care and healing in the context of healthcare.”

The Journal of Nursing Management, recently published a scoping review using the terms gratitude and health professionals. This scoping review consisted of synthesizing and thematically analyzing existing evidence regarding gratitude in healthcare relationships with the specific focus on patients and families expressing gratitude to their health professional. Health professionals were defined as physicians, nurses, patient care teams, and other healthcare providers. This broad review of existing knowledge included empirical and non-empirical literature and was not focused on evaluating the quality of research studies.

beautiful stylized black and white sunburst mosaic with the word imagine in the middle of it

Photo courtesy of Unsplash

In this particular study, expressions of gratitude from patients and family members to their health professional indicated a positive impact on caregiver well-being, stress reduction, and a possible reduction in symptoms and consequences of burnout. In addition, this review suggests gratitude from patients and families could contribute to “motivation and retention among health professionals, and when nurtured, is associated with a healthy work environment.”

An article on physician burnout in the Family Practice Management Journal identified practicing gratitude and offering resilience training as potential burnout interventions. Additionally, a mental technique of reframing negative events was recognized as helpful when dealing with burnout. Articles published in the NeuroLeadership Journal suggests reframing or re-contextualizing the way we think about a situation as an approach to minimize a negative emotional impact. Reframing is also defined as a “cognitive reappraisal” of ideas and emotions with more positive alternatives.

Quote from Rick Hanson, PhD, Buddha's Brain that says what flows through your mind sculpts your brain.

Photo courtesy of Unsplash

Similar to the scoping review in the Journal of Nursing Management, a research article in Frontiers in Psychology looked at the positive effect of patient gratitude and support on nurses’ burnout. Of the findings, when support and gratitude was expressed by patients to nurses, improvements were seen in one or more of the dimensions of burnout: emotional exhaustion (EE); personal accomplishment (PA); and depersonalization (DP).

Another important study highlighting the positive impact of gratitude on organizational wellness is from the International Journal of Workplace Health Management. This study showed that gratitude was found to be a consistent predictor of these outcomes among nurses:

  • Less exhaustion and less cynicism;
  • More proactive behaviors;
  • Higher rating of the health and safety climate;
  • Higher job satisfaction;
  • Fewer absences due to illness.

Additionally, The Greater Good Science Center published an article recognizing several healthcare organizations that have turned to this innovative remedy of gratitude to reduce burnout. Healthcare organizations such as Sutter Health, Kaiser Permanente, and Scripps Health have instituted programming to cultivate gratitude as part of their healthy work cultures.

Woman relaxing by a window with eyes closed while sunlight washes over her

Photo courtesy of Unsplash

Finally, perhaps the best way to wrap-up these insights and findings comes from research done by the National Research Corporation/NRC Health and Accordant Philanthropy. When asked what influenced their feelings of gratitude during a healthcare experience, thirty percent of participants said gratitude was spurred by the compassion, empathy, or kindness of caregivers. Similarly, when asked what would most likely make them feel grateful to caregivers, forty-one percent of the study participants indicated feeling genuinely cared about as a person.

Findings from these studies and others highlight the “perfect timing” for greater focus and attention to the important role gratitude plays in our healthcare settings.

Consider…

What one action can you take, personally, to tap into your own gratitude circuitry and that of your coworkers?

What learning opportunities can your organization or department initiate to promote gratitude as a cultural imperative?

Photos courtesy of Unsplash
Linda Roszak BurtonLinda Roszak Burton provides brain-based coaching and training programs to help healthcare organizations, their leaders and teams emerge stronger, more knowledgeable, and engaged for greater success and satisfaction. As a leadership coach, Linda utilizes the latest research and evidence-based practices from positive psychology, gratitude, and neuroscience to help her clients be at their best in todays stressful and overwhelming work environments. In addition, she supports various research initiatives and is currently conducting research on gratitude interventions for creating greater health and well-being for health care employees.

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