It’s been almost a year since my snowboarding accident, and I’ve been faithfully attending my weekly physical therapy appointments trying to get my knee back into good shape. As eager as I was to start those visits, though, I am even more eager to be done with them. It takes a ton of energy and effort, and progress is so slow it can be hard to see. This sort of tedious, incremental progress is akin to the daily grind of our work, especially those of us working on transforming our health care system, and it can lead one to simply want to give up.
Burnout among nonprofit professionals is a significant issue. A 2011 study by Opportunity Knocks (PDF), a national career development organization, found that 50% of nonprofit sector employees may be burned out or are in danger of burnout in their jobs. But, the problem isn’t just common in the nonprofit sector, it’s found in many other “helping professions,” such as health care. Burnout can be a result of psychosocial challenges, such as compassion fatigue, which can be described as “the overall experience of emotional and physical fatigue that social service professionals experience due to chronic use of empathy.” Compassion fatigue can be compounded by, and sometimes caused by, the lack of reciprocity in our work and our inherent inability to say no.
While this isn’t new information, and I’m sure it’s something we’re all acutely familiar with, it’s an important reminder when Colorado has so much on the line. As a state, we’ve taken on a huge responsibility to transform the way people get necessary health care services. We’ve taken on this burden with good reason: it’s a matter of life or death. Too many Coloradans are struggling to get the health care they need when they need it at a price they can afford. Importantly, this incredible drive toward improving our health care system has also led to an abundance of initiatives and large-scale transformation efforts, the success of which are dependent on a relatively small group of dedicated leaders. Without these individuals, our best laid plans may unravel, and our communities will pay the price.
At CCMU and in all the many conversations I’m a part of, we talk a lot about what makes a great health care system: coverage, access, affordability, quality, and more. What we don’t often talk about is the people doing the hard work of getting us there. While it is of the utmost importance to hold these leaders accountable to our collective goals and values, we must also cherish their leadership, support them as humans, and allow them to make mistakes.
As my wife and I eagerly anticipate the birth of our second child, I am especially reflective on the importance of balancing my desire to do good in this world while maintaining a healthy family and personal life. I’ll keep going to those physical therapy appointments because I know the work will be worth it when I reach the goal, and I’ll keep doing my part to drive health care systems change for the same reason. But, I’ll also protect myself from burnout as best I can—and I hope you will, too. We need you.