According to Bonnano, “Resilience is the process of experiencing an adversity and managing to maintain a relatively stable trajectory of healthy functioning and adaption.”1 Deveson describes resilience as “a life force that promotes regeneration and renewal” and “the ability to confront adversity and still find hope and meaning in life.”2 Resilient providers experience stress and distress, but the resulting symptoms remain mild and transient and do not interfere with long-term functioning. Resilient providers recover quickly in response to challenging situations, and they also grow stronger.
Clearly, the emergency department is a work environment full of stressors. These include high-acuity patients, large volumes of patients, frequent interruptions, high expectations of family and friends, long wait times, boarders, consultants’ demands, inability to reach required performance indicators, and many others. As such, stress-induced activation of the sympathetic nervous system, when chronic, has deleterious health effects, resulting in depersonalization, emotional exhaustion, loss of enthusiasm, compassion fatigue, cynicism, and a low sense of accomplishment. Beyond individual health effects, being constantly stressed can affect one’s capacity to make medical judgments, which may impair ED teamwork and ultimately compromise patient care.
The profession of medicine is held in high esteem, but there is also widespread agreement that strategies and education are needed to improve resilience and well-being in physicians’ professional and personal lives. Such improvement correlates with work engagement. Crowe mentions the importance of resilience training as a method of controlling one’s range of emotional responses to adversity by building compassion satisfaction and lowering compassion fatigue.3 Self-compassion is a first step and can be protective. Also, building a repertoire of empathic responses to stressful situations may condition providers, allowing them to externalize adversity as part of a larger experience rather than learning to internalize the negativity as an individual failing. Thus, managing situational stress by applying strategy to it eventually makes the focus, practice, and exercise become teachable moments. By using these events to teach that experiencing a range of emotions is normal and then offering support, team cohesion can be encouraged. Leading and teaching in this manner can be effective role modeling, facilitate connecting with team members, and promote the recognition and use of empathy.