The 3 Pillars of Resilience: Strategies for Healthcare Pros Recovering After Mass Shootings

Another mass shooting has the eyes of the world focused on America. The ensuing discussion will rightfully center on lives lost, grieving families, gun control, and more. What we invariably overlook is the impact on the frontline healthcare professionals who witness the dehumanizing results in graphic detail. Resilience is key in the aftermath because it embodies the ability to recover after tragedies like the one unfolding in Las Vegas.

Scores of first responders and personnel in emergency departments and trauma centers around the country routinely deal with the end result of mass shootings. It comes with the profession we have chosen. But there is a psychological toll that is unacknowledged, underreported and poorly managed. The opportunity for downtime to recover after an adverse event can be elusive – sometimes discouraged. This approach is a disservice to the individual, to future patients, and to the hospital.

Following my involvement as a trauma surgeon during the Dallas shootings in July 2016, I found myself blindly navigating the path to recovery. It was unfamiliar territory and along the way I encountered many peaks, valleys, threats and triumphs. I have lived what many of you are about to experience.

The goal of resilience is to thrive after an adverse event – not succumb to its negative effects. Although I began my journey with no map or guidebook, in time I incorporated mechanisms that you can employ for successful recovery.

The 3 Pillars of Resilience are:

  1. Social Support
  2. Physical Self-care
  3. Meaning and Purpose

Social Support – This is two-fold. First, one must feel safe to openly discuss his or her feelings regarding an adverse event with colleagues who understand the stresses of the job. In this respect, healthy and supportive work relationships are essential.

Second, relationships with family and friends are important to remind you of the roles you have outside of work – that you are also a spouse, parent, sibling, and friend. Resilience allows you to continuously move between work and these various roles while on the path to recovery.

Physical self-care – The best research supports maintaining your cardiovascular health through regular physical activity. Keep it simple. Whatever activity works for you, do it!

Meaning and Purpose – Recovery is not linear, nor does it have an end date. One must make sense of the adverse event and integrate it into your life. For some that is through spirituality or religion. Or you may choose to use your experience to help others get through tough times. I find meaning and purpose as a public speaker sharing my testimonial with strangers in hopes they are inspired to employ these lessons in their recovery.

It is true that the Las Vegas shooting has me thinking of my colleagues working tirelessly to save lives, but these 3 Pillars of Resilience are universal to anyone who has experienced an adverse event. If that person is you, I hope you can incorporate these lessons into your recovery and emerge a better person in every way imagineable.

Thank you.

BHW

Brian H. Williams, MD