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Taking stock of our individual health status

By Ginger Breedlove, CNM, PhD, APRN, FACNM, ACNM President

Lately I’ve been reading a great deal about fatigue and burnout, especially in the health care professions. For many of us, our careers began with high passion and energy, and a desire to “be all” for our patients, all the time. The health system we work in focuses reward on high patient satisfaction, perhaps at the expense of our happiness, while work environments and demands may have transformed our passion into feelings of exhaustion and lack of reward. I’ve noticed, while listening to many fulltime practicing midwives, that workplace stress and overall professional unhappiness are rapidly increasing.

What contributes to professional unhappiness? The list of contributing variables is long and confounding: more women seeking care through the ACA without enough providers to match the demand, challenges incorporating electronic health records and effective e-communication systems in care delivery, extended work hours, low pay, ineffective advocacy from those who influence decision-making, unattainable performance enhancements, lack of recognition for good work by peers and leadership, and the list goes on. How can we help ourselves when the systems we work in are so challenging?

One consequence of prolonged, unaddressed workplace stress is more health professionals prematurely leaving the profession. Plus, exhausted or stressed providers are at increased risk for unintentional patient error, inability to effectively engage with patients, incomplete documentation in medical records, decreased ability to provide evidence-based recommendations, and insufficient time or caring to engage patients in informed decision-making.

We know from numerous studies exploring midwifery in a variety of countries that midwives are experiencing exhaustion and burnout at higher rates than ever before. In the United States, we have no current information about satisfaction in the workplace or midwifery burnout. Last year, I presented an education session at our Annual Meeting about this topic. After the meeting, ACNM formed a small team to discuss research options and resource development.

I am pleased to share that Brie Thumm, a PhD student from the University of Colorado, is designing her doctoral study to focus on workplace stress in midwifery. Our team is excited for her work ahead, and anticipates a national survey of US midwives in spring of 2016. ACNM will be identifying current trends in the profession and unique needs of members in order to frame recommendations and provide resources to reduce workplace stress.

Life events are not coincidence. As I was writing this blog on a recent flight to New York, I sat beside an 83 year old man who worked for Purdue Pharma for 50 years. He volunteered as a leader in many projects in his early years, including investigating the use of Betadine with NASA astronauts. He told me how much he loved his job for so many years, and I asked what pearls he could offer about work place stress. He suggested trying new ways of approaching how you do your work, volunteering to lead projects that impact change, thanking co-workers and leaders for work well done, and not being shy about positive critique with recommendations to management on how to improve the work environment. Lastly, he said, if you are spending more time at work than home, the joy and fun of the job will transform over time to anger and stress. It will take a toll somewhere in your life.

What can we do when we recognize personal levels of exhaustion? The most common recommendation is to take steps toward stress reduction. When I was recently diagnosed with heart disease, a dear friend and midwife Jennifer Averill Moffitt introduced me to the value of mindfulness-based stress reduction. I enrolled in an online course designed to be self-paced for the participant. I have also embraced 3 books that each provided unique insight into mind-body health: The Places that Scare You, by Pema Chodron (thank you Juliana Fehr), Wherever You Go There You Are, by Jon Kabat-Zinn (thank you Melissa Avery), and Courage, the Joy of Living Dangerously, by Osho (thanks to my student, Michelle Clausen). Each of these books has provided life-changing approaches for being internally focused, providing options toward a new way of reducing stress.

Other suggestions are: turn on the music! Classical arrangements enhance relaxation. Try starting a reflective journal, being mindful of where you want to make changes. Yoga and meditation, both focusing on breath and quiet reflection, also help. If you are avoiding talking about serious issues, perhaps it is time to start that difficult conversation. Exercise, eat healthy, and be in nature. Assess sleep patterns and ways to improve rest. All of these positively impact our health, brain, and spirit! Starting with one idea may lead to life changes.

My chat on the plane reminded me that we are the captains of our ship. Most literature states we consciously make over 35,000 personal choices every day. These choices impact our overall health and happiness. It takes mindful intention to change and embrace our personal needs. Take stock of your own personal well-being and take steps toward health and happiness.

If you will be attending the ACNM 60th Annual Meeting & Exhibition, don’t miss the opening general session with Joan Borysenko, PhD, who will be presenting on Mindfulness, Genes, and the New Brain Science: Midwifing Mind, Body, and Spirit. We need you healthy and happy in order to provide a strong and growing workforce of midwives that delivers midwifery-led care for all women.

Posted By Barbra Elenbaas | 4/29/2015 3:11:31 PM



Any opinions expressed in this blog are those of the individual participant(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the American College of Nurse-Midwives. ACNM is not responsible for accuracy of any of the information provided by guest bloggers and/or members via the Comments section. We welcome all feedback – including comments, ideas and suggestions. We also welcome civil, friendly debates. However, any and all content that is deemed inflammatory or rude will not be posted.


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