A Word of Encouragement to Medical Personnel

I work as a full-time chaplain at a hospital in the North Georgia area.  Every day that I go to work, I am greeted by posters drawn by children encouraging the staff as they continue to battle COVID-19.

Back during the third COVID wave, a young doctor told me that he had seen more deaths during the previous eight months than all of his practice as a doctor.

During this fourth wave, it has been as bad, if not worse. This time a younger population is getting sick and dying. It has taken a collective toll on those caring for them.

As intelligent and as well-trained as the medical personnel is, nothing could have prepared them for the emotional and physical demands of a pandemic.

We are seeing a devastating turnover and exodus of hospital personnel across hospital systems nationwide.  There are many reasons why they are leaving. Anxiety levels are high. Some left early in fear of catching COVID. Some refuse to be vaccinated. Burnout and compassion fatigue is real. Without any data to back this up, I think many are struggling with issues of purpose and self-worth.

COVID has led many to believe they are no longer making a difference or they wonder whether the personal sacrifices they are making are worth the toll COVID is taking on them and their families.

In order for a job, any job to be meaningful, it has to add purpose to life. The medical field is servant-oriented and people-centered.  With the call schedules and demands placed on medical personnel, they must have compassion for people and a desire to help others.  However, extra demands placed on them by COVID have caused many to rethink their jobs at the purpose level.

For many, if not most, an occupation in the healthcare field is a calling.  If the energy for fulfilling this calling is questioned, wanes, or is suddenly depleted, this can lead to shame. This feeling of shame is characterized by a belief that a person is not enough, can’t do enough, or be enough for what is needed to fulfill his or her job.

Because our identity is often tied to our occupation, some healthcare workers find themselves beset with an identity crisis. They struggle to know for sure whether they can recover their first love or whether they must move on to a different line of work for their own sanity.

Intuitively, someone has used chalk to put a message on the concrete wall in the parking garage at our hospital that says, “You Are Enough. You Have Enough. You Give Enough.”  Workers see this message as they leave to go home.

These words are there for those who doubt, for those on the verge of listening to the voice fanned by COVID that says, “What you give isn’t enough. What you do doesn’t make a difference. Give up!”

Our son Ryan dove for the University of Tennessee. He was an SEC Champion, Mr. Tennessee, an All-American, and competed in the Olympic Trials.  We tried to make him a “Dawg,” but if the visit with Mark Richt in his office couldn’t convince him, what can I do? Throughout his great career in high school and college, I often told him, “Diving is what you do; it is not who you are.” I wanted him to know that one day, diving would be over and he would move on to something else. I wanted him to develop a self-identity beyond diving.

Recently, after 30 years of being a pastor, I moved on to continue my work as a full-time chaplain and a part-time counselor. For seven years, I prepared myself to move into the role of chaplain, knowing that one day I would no longer pastor a church. The day will also come when I will no longer be a chaplain or a pastoral counselor.  Having a self-identity beyond these roles will be important as well.

I’ve had people say to me, “You are not enough.” The world says to me, “You do not have enough.” I have come to terms with the reality that I can never give enough to earn favor with God. Fortunately, God doesn’t require that I earn His favor.

I have learned to rest in God’s grace, that God accepts me just as I am.  For me, my identity comes from my relationship with God, that I was created in God’s image, that I am a sinner saved by God’s grace.  That is my identity.

Being accepted by God does not mean I have stopped working on my shortcomings or stopped growing in my faith or as a person. It does mean that I continue to find ways to be kind to myself, to care for myself, and to find ways to enjoy the abundant life God wants me to live, even as I enter into the pain and suffering of others.

I believe that God gives us great freedom to choose many different occupations which we can live out our calling to love God with all that we are and to love others as we love ourselves.

Of course, our identity has a huge impact on what we choose to do with our lives and where we find purpose. But, just as important, it has a lot to do with whether we find peace in our souls and how we manage the obstacles that the world throws in our paths.

While each of us works this out, we can do so without shame, knowing that God wants us to find rest and assurance that He extends His grace to each of us.

It is because of God’s grace that we can all live with some assurance that we are enough, we have enough, and we give enough.  Thanks to every person in our healthcare industry for what you are doing to save life, sustain life, and in some cases, honor the lives of those whose time with us is no more.

Photo Credit: https://www.healthcarefinancenews.com/news/healthcare-workers-treating-covid-19-show-more-negative-mental-health-effects