New university course module addresses clinician burnout

By Helle Gjønnes Møller

To work with hearing loss is a calling for many. As a hearing care professional, you are often included in a family’s hearing journey, which can be both a profound and rewarding experience. However, there can also be a cost to caring – particularly in work environments characterized by increased workload and fewer resources. 

To address this aspect of audiological practice, Dr. Dunay Schmulian, Director of Audiology at Metro South Health, has developed a new module for the Ida Institute University Course, entitled Clinician wellbeing: Self-care in the hearing clinic. We asked Dr. Schmulian about her motivation for creating the material and about the link between clinician wellbeing and person-centered care.

Severe burnout statistics
Research indicates that healthcare professionals are particularly susceptible to stress and burnout. In Australia, one in four clinicians leave due to burnout, often within two years of graduating. Similarly, investigations show that one in four Australian university students suffer from mental ill-health. Dr. Schmulian says “Burnout has always been around, only known by different names. But in the past few years, I have noted an increase. In my courses, an average of one in five students received formalized support – and these were just the students who actually asked for help.”

A ‘no pain no gain’ mentality 
So, what is the underlying explanation for such grave statistics? Schmulian says, “A sinister contribution to this number is the true but unspoken dictum that success validates good and bad decisions, especially when it comes to self-care. We live in a world that rewards the ‘no pain no gain’, ‘burning the candle at both ends’, ‘toughing it out’ mentality – and earning our belonging through struggle and reward. Many students get absorbed in this culture. And while having some high intensity times is absolutely okay and to be expected, the acceptance of a constant state of overwhelm is not. The workload will not change, nor will the limits to the workforce.”

Increasing awareness
In addition to these adverse trends, Schmulian also sees a positive aspect, “There is an increased awareness of the value of wellbeing in clinician practice – and early detection of poor mental health is on the rise, alongside early intervention. While we recognize higher rates of mental health issues in students, including stress- and burnout-related symptoms across the board, it is encouraging to know that these very alarming conditions are finally receiving attention to minimize negative consequences.”

The clinician’s bread and butter
With the newly launched university course module, Schmulian is hoping to dispel myths, provide insights, start a journey of discovery, and abolish fearmongering. “It has become imperative to embed clinician wellbeing into every aspect of clinical practice. Therefore, the course centers around the clinical encounter – the clinician’s bread and butter, and where we spend most of our time.” 

As a clinician, researcher, and manager of talented professionals, Schmulian is passionate about introducing knowledge and providing skills to clinicians to futureproof and enjoy their careers. The new course module is a culmination of many years of thinking, reading, implementing, tweaking, and forming a framework by which every clinical encounter is truly person- and family-centered. “The wonderful Ida tools and strategies offer a person-centered approach to hearing healthcare. This course will support ‘the other person’ in the room – the clinician.”

Keep your cup full 
So, what role does person-centered care (PCC) play in terms of ensuring clinician wellbeing? Schmulian says, “In order to be excellent at communication – which is our core business – clinicians must be excellent at listening. At the heart of listening and communicating is the ability to self-regulate; to know and separate your business from the client’s business. The now trite statement that you cannot pour from an empty cup holds water (or tea). But I want to extend that to say that person-centered care requires us to show up for every appointment as a full cup. The point is never to empty your cup at work.” 

“The new university course material provides strategies to keep your cup full and serve others from a place of deep self-regulation, informed emotional expression, and non-anxious presence. Combined with your work-specific knowledge, this makes for an exciting career,” says Schmulian.

The new university course module Clinician wellbeing: Self-care in the hearing clinic will be complemented by a Learning Hall module later in 2021.