Sarah Dalton MD Reflects on Life in Paediatric Acute Care

People often ask me how I can work in Paediatric Acute Care. Isn’t it too draining? Isn’t it too sad? How do you manage when awful things happen? It’s a really good question. There are many reasons why I love working in this area, but I think the matter of how we manage emotions is really important. Bad and sad things do happen. And many times my first job is to show clear leadership and facilitate a team offering the very best clinical care. My second job is then to step down from that role, think about the family, the team and myself and make sure our next steps are compassionate and caring. Sometimes this means a team member will come to me in tears, apologising for their emotion; “I don’t know why I am so upset”.

The challenge of healthcare is caring deeply for our patients at the same time as looking after ourselves. I couldn’t run a resuscitation team if I was thinking about how tragic the situation was. But I also can’t leave my emotions at the door coming to work every day, blithely moving between patients and families without a thought for their world. Indeed this kind of compassion fatigue is one of the first signs of clinician burnout. As healthcare workers most of us are aware of this balance, and aim to walk a magic line somewhere along the middle. But what happens when that line drifts? When you notice the anxiety in your patients eyes but don’t have time to address it? Or worse, you stop noticing at all?

Many Participants this weekend have reflected on the value of lessons already learned about the importance of listening and responding to the concerns of patients and their families. It’s all too easy to put on an emotional suit of armour whilst putting on your uniform, and spend the day completing tasks that meet your needs, without ever considering the needs of others. It protects us. But it can harm others. And if you don’t stop to think about it you may not realise how far your line has drifted and far away you are from the compassionate practitioner you aim to be. Hearing stories from Carole and Susan this weekend has created a long lasting impression on all of us about the critical need to ensure patients and families are central to everything we do. We must imagine what it would be like to walk a mile in their shoes or spend a week in their hospital room. It’s time to draw back the curtain that we conveniently place between clinicians and patients and truly work together with shared decision making for a better patient experience.