The theme for Women’s History Month 2022 is “Providing healing, promoting hope.” The theme could not be better considering the ceaseless efforts and contributions of women caregivers and frontline workers during the Covid-19 pandemic. Attending to their duties at home, millions of women across the world not only served as caregivers for the needy during the last two years but also promoted hope of a better future for all.
By nature, women are caregivers; they possess an inborn desire to care for others. In doing so, sometimes, they also burn themselves out. The Women’s History Month theme for 2022 assumes significance from the fact that the world now acknowledges that women, too, have been hurt and are in pain, and they need healing. The theme also recognizes that it is essential to free women from gender bias, be accountable to them and restore their honor in society. Thus, there is still hope for women for a better future. Hope is one of the most fundamental and powerful emotions, but it is also the least studied and understood globally.
Women comprise a majority of the health care workforce. Recent findings from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show approximately 85% of nursing and healthcare support occupations on the frontline are held by women. While some care providers could turn to telehealth during the pandemic, those on the frontline had to perform their tasks in person. And, with hospitals and health systems remaining open 24/7 throughout the pandemic, these women were always there to care for patients. They dealt with the challenges of treating and communicating with Covid-19 patients and their families. They watched as individuals suffered and comforted them as they died.
Women leading healthcare organizations rose to the occasion. Their ability to listen, collaborate, inspire and develop solutions has been a valuable resource for their teams. The most recent Women in the Workplace report from the consulting firm McKinsey & Company found that women leaders have done more than men in similar positions to support the workforce. Women balanced these obligations with incredibly demanding lives outside of work.
They were caregivers for children, spouses, and elderly family members. As daycare centers closed and schools shifted to virtual learning, they became the primary childcare providers, teaching assistants, tech support, and guidance counselors for their children.
In the words of Dr. Jerome Groopman, a professor at Harvard Medical School, “I looked for the answers in the lives of several extraordinary patients. They led me on a journey of discovery from a point where hope was absent to a place where it could not be lost. Along the way, I learned the difference between true hope and false hope and described times when I foolishly thought the latter was justified.”
Hope is one of our central emotions, but we are often at a loss when asked to define it. Many of us confuse hope with optimism, a prevailing attitude that “things turn out for the best.” But expectancy differs from optimism. Hope does not arise from being told to “think positively” or hearing an overly rosy forecast. Hope, unlike optimism, is rooted in reality. Hope is the elevating feeling we experience when we see – in our mind’s eye – a path to a better future. Hope acknowledges the significant obstacles and deep pitfalls along that path. Hope is what women through history have shown and taught us throughout history.
People in the healthcare or medical profession are so stressed during this pandemic that they all burnt themselves out. Such stress proved to be detrimental to the physical and mental health of many women and frontline workers during this period. A report on Pennsylvania’s Nursing School website reads, “High levels of burnout elevate risks of serious health conditions like obesity, depression, hypertension, and even cardiovascular problems.”
Many frontline workers, which included numerous women, suffered continuous stress. As a result, they suffered high rates of heart problems, especially when they were away from home for days. This stress multiplied when in high-stress situations like attending to critical patients or witnessing deaths. In simple words, the overhead page of code blue that indicates a critically ill patient strikes a nerve for everyone who has worked in hospitals, especially during the Covid-19 pandemic. There were several instances when doctors, nurses, attendants, and others had to run through the hospital halls, rushing to the unit where someone needed help. In such situations, they feel their hearts pounding and minds racing to consider what they would be encountering.
Burnout is accurate, and we, too, need to get real. It is essential to deal with the emotional toll of repeat traumas in our lives. You might think you are solid or stoic, which could very well be so. However, humans need to embrace the entire human experience. Burnout is real because one has feelings and care, and one should not be ashamed. Women have always stood by everyone, whether family members, friends, colleagues, or even strangers, needing hope and healing. They have always stood by us in solidarity. On the occasion of Women’s History Month, we salute all such women and hope that we will get through the challenges life throws our way together.
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