COVID-19, Wellness, Career Planning

Micro-Communities of Practice to Maintain Resilience During Times of Uncertainty: A Sustainable Means to Draw Strength When Depleted

The impact COVID-19 has had on our personal and professional livelihood cannot be taken lightly.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, we have focused our efforts on protecting our patients, our loved ones, and ourselves. We relinquished the connectedness that had once rejuvenated our ethos for emergency medicine. Social creatures by nature, emergency physicians crave opportunities to share narratives and create meaning from work collectively. Some of us have successfully navigated separation from family and friends by identifying creative ways to maintain connectedness while adhering to social distancing requirements. How then can we practically and sustainably maintain our sanity during times of uncertainty?

In this commentary, we describe lessons learned for maintaining personal vitality and professional connectedness. By creating our very own micro-community of practice, we have been able to create a shared space to provide peer-to-peer mentorship and process the ripples of the pandemic to create meaning from chaos – meaning that has been essential to guide us as leaders.

We are three emergency physicians who hold a variety of academic leadership positions at three institutions within the same geographic region.  While our kinship began long before the pandemic, the last year strengthened our resolve to maintain regular interactions to support one another – personally and professionally. It did not matter that we represented three very unique health systems; we had one same goal in mind: Keeping ourselves and our respective teams moving forward through the isolation and frustration of COVID-19. We have learned that to maintain sanity and nurture resilience during a pandemic requires intentional action. And over the past year, we have identified critical tips that have helped us sustainably navigate uncertainty.

As you travel the many roads and detours over your evolving careers, remember that the relationships you build along the way will be critical to your success. You may need to rely on these relationships during darker days to come. Our overarching message is simple: Expand your relationship circles, both professional and personal, and nurture them with intention. It's worth it. There will come a day when you will need support through difficult work situations, career-altering decisions, or perhaps another pandemic. Start building your micro-communities of practice.

Tips to Maintain Thriving Professional Relationships During Times of Uncertainty

  1. Share resources with one another. One benefit of networking is utilizing the expertise and resources of that colleague to aid in your daily responsibilities and career development.  Through the years we continue to share our resources to help one another. Policies, spreadsheet templates, curricula: you name it, we've sent to each other as samples, and it really helps to reduce work. Why recreate the wheel for some things when a colleague has already done it?
  2. Connect with like-minded individuals, regardless of where they’re from. Join a local or regional group with similar interests or roles as yours. Share your stories and listen to others – in them, you will find common ground.
  3. Raise your glass. What's better than sharing a meal with friends? (Sharing a BIG meal with friends!) We made a commitment to make time for this at every regional or national conference, and in between. Strive for connectedness as often as possible. Unfortunately, COVID put the kibosh on getting together at restaurants, but we did this electronically during the pandemic. As restrictions lifted, and we were all vaccinated, we hopped back on the food-train and shared some great meals, provided lots of laughter, and generated great ideas we could take with us to develop for ourselves or with each other. This winter was intimidating, but we eventually decided to have an outdoor dinner thanks to a heated igloo. There is nothing more memorable than an Arctic dinner with great company!
  4. Embrace laughter. There are few things as cathartic and nurturing for the soul as a good belly laugh. Find ways to see things for what they are, even the humor in them. Create spaces for others to rant and complain, and try to find humor in the ridiculous. Find others who allow the same for you. Laughing got us through some difficult times, kept our sanity, and further bonded our relationship. It was a safe space; what was discussed between us stays between us.
  5. Watch the forecast. Tough times lie ahead in any career. Identify triggers for burnout and create sustainable plans to mitigate them. Plan ahead during stable times when waters are calm for those times you'll need a rudder for stability.
  6. Commit to communicate. Keep in touch and check in with your group – no matter how silly the communication may seem. The random, occasional funny text or meme within our group text sets off a flurry of return texts, likes, dislikes, laughs, and further conversation. It may also arrive when it's needed most. Don't be afraid to inject supportive messages during the day or week. You never know what the person might be dealing with on the other end. You very well may be helping them through.
  7. Offer support through transitions.  When making life- or career-altering decisions, call on those you trust and who have had to make the same or similar decisions. These are people who understand what you are going through, understand the context and potential roadblocks or pitfalls. And who better to air your dirty laundry and get advice!
  8. Venture off your island. When things are tough, it's easy to remain isolated. Sometimes it's just easier to turn inward. Periodically check in on others who might be doing the same. Find ways to leave what’s comfortable for you, and find comfort in new or alternate ways of connecting or enjoying life. Purposely choose to meet up somewhere distant from your home or workplace. Physical separation from these places can be refreshing and invigorating. You will leave with a new sense of energy and purpose.
  9. Inspire one another.  Brainstorm or create opportunities that were not obvious to you as an individual. Sometimes you need peers to see areas of growth required in yourself that you do not see.  Offer ideas for growth or change and accept that from others. Life can be tough at times, but through it all, three peer mentors found a way to empower one another.
  10. Do Steps #1 through #9 over again. Do not underestimate the impact a consistent routine can have on your well-being. A consistent routine built into how you connect with your community of peer mentors can satisfy the innate craving for belonging and boost brain dopamine levels.

What's our message? Leave your self-imposed islands and develop your micro-communities to sustainably maintain your sanity and resilience during times of crisis and uncertainty. Basically, screw COVID!

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