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Start 2019 afresh: addressing practice manager end-of-year burnout

13 December 2018 | Sonya Black, LLB, B.Com, Special Counsel - Employment, QLD, Avant Law and Marianna Kelly, MRiskMgt, GDipDisputeMgt, DipPracticeMgt, practice manager, registered nurse, accredited mediator and Risk Advisor, QLD, Avant

Judging by calls we are receiving to our Medico-legal Advisory Service – over 2,100 calls from practices in FY 2018 – many of you are feeling a little tired as the year draws to a close.

Managing staff and patients and keeping up-to-date with regulatory and other changes can result in stress and fatigue. So as we come to the end of the working year, we encourage you to take some time to reflect on your health and wellbeing, and to implement strategies to maintain it in the New Year.

Keeping up-to-date

You do not need us to tell you about the challenges involved in keeping abreast of regulatory and other changes and ensuring those changes are implemented into the business. This will often involve managing system and compliance updates and training for medical and administration staff.

In the past 12 months alone, practice managers have had to consider issues such as notifiable data breach laws, Medicare changes and My Health Record.

Staff management

As anyone who has ever managed a team knows, managing staff can be incredibly rewarding. However it is almost never easy and not always pleasant. Along with the rewards of seeing team members grow and develop, comes the need to deal with staff complaints and performance and conduct issues in the workplace.

You may also be supporting staff who are going through personal traumas and potentially managing them through physical or mental health issues.

Even if you are not responsible for managing them, you may be debriefing with the medical staff about their difficult patients and situations. You may also be responding to frustrations about administrative systems and processes, while trying to ensure compliance with those systems and processes.

Many managers are promoted into their role and may not have had training or experience in managing a team. Just to reiterate – managing people is a skill. While it rarely comes naturally, it is a skill that you can develop but it is important to recognise that it requires time.

One of the problems managers may face is trying to fit in the people management around a full day job – which generally means working longer and longer hours to fit everything in. Experienced managers recognise that the staffing issues are not an interruption, they are the job and need to be scheduled in. That might mean delegating other tasks.

Equally – investing time in your own development can pay off enormously.

Patient management and compassion fatigue

As the practice manager, you may be at the frontline of managing difficult, sometimes violent or manipulative patients – and dealing with complaints. You will also be dealing with patients managing relationship breakdowns, domestic violence, child abuse and other issues. You may also be supporting distressed or grieving family members.

The concept of compassion fatigue or vicarious trauma is increasingly recognised as an issue within the medical profession. While it may not be possible to avoid distressing stories and events, it is important to acknowledge that this constant need to be compassionate can be draining for even the most experienced practice manager. The need to ensure patient confidentiality can make it difficult to let go of some of these issues, so it’s important to find ways of debriefing safely.

With colleagues you might discuss ways of taking time out or supporting each other after a particularly difficult encounter. Allow yourself some time to manage your emotions after you have dealt with these events – go for a walk or take a short coffee break.

Try to leave work at work.

Constantly contactable

Many practice managers are contactable both day and night by email, phone and social media. There is often an expectation of an immediate response. This can be exhausting.

You may need to take proactive steps to manage your availability. Often it’s important to challenge your own assumption that you need to respond immediately. You might need to set expectations with the practice owners and doctors you support about your availability. Agreeing you will not be available after hours except in an emergency, and what constitutes an emergency, can make it easier to switch off after hours and help you avoid the need to constantly check your electronic devices.

Managing your health and wellbeing

Being aware of the factors that can cause fatigue is an important first step. Burnout is a problem across the health profession and it can impact patient safety as well as staff wellbeing.

Prioritising self-care is also important. It is all too easy to let these things slip when you are busy but making an effort to eat well, get good sleep and exercise will pay off in the long run. Be sure to take some time out for yourself and spend quality time with family and friends.

Seek assistance and support from your GP and other healthcare professionals if you require it.

Key lessons

  • Delegate tasks to ease the pressure of managing staffing issues while performing the day-to-day tasks of running a practice.
  • Be aware of compassion fatigue and debrief with colleagues. It can be helpful to network with other practice managers so you can support each other.
  • Take proactive steps to manage your availability by phone, email and social media.
  • Seek assistance and support if you require it.

Empowering practice managers

We’re dedicated to empowering practice managers through education and professional development. Each year, in partnership with AAPM, we award five practice managers scholarships to undertake online practice management courses. Find out who the 2018 scholarship recipients are and more information about the Avant-AAPM Scholarship Program.

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