How Can We Create Space for Grief?

By | September 13, 2021

All too often, we forget that physicians and clinical scientists are humans. Because of this, we do not create the space needed for human reactions in difficult times. Furthermore, we often mention burnout and resilience, yet fail to focus on the underlying humanistic needs required for a healthy psyche and periods of grief.

Let’s Consider the Current Models…

Our current private practice model provides no time away from clinical care without harsh financial repercussions. This dilemma creates problems in certain situations; for example, how do I manage grief when a loved one dies? As a corporate athlete, doing my best to operate at my highest potential professionally, when am I allowed time to recover? Unfortunately with this business model, time to recover is not considered. Consequently, to avoid the pressures of private practice, many clinicians have chosen to become employed; however, the same situation occurs. If one is part of an employment productivity model, then when they are not producing, they are not working.

Another layer to add to these challenging models is the fact that many have served at their highest capacity during the COVID pandemic, but still have a layer of guilt. Specifically, “If I miss time at work, I am burdening my colleagues with additional responsibilities. How can I rest and recover when it impacts others who need the same downtime?”

Truthfully, Academia is no better. Researchers must fund themselves through grants. Unfortunately, grants have deadlines that do not consider extenuating circumstances, such as the death of a parent or child.

It can be said without question, and even more apparent in the past 18 months, that grief, support and personal time are critical for the well-being of all. Let us not view those that dedicate their lives to the care of others as heroes, but instead, as humans who possess a higher calling. We should protect their needs more, not less.

It’s time that medicine evolves to a more humanistic model in all realms, including providing support for those who offer a health service to others. Hence, we must be proactive in reaching out when we know others are in times of need. In addition, it’s crucial to provide an environment that allows for the time and space required for grief, both personal and that which occurs as a result of our daily activities, which are filled with human suffering, death, and dying. As healthcare providers, our lives and mission center on creating life for those we serve; let us give the same attention to those we ask to help others.