Helping PAs Off The Pandemic Struggle Bus, Hope Cook, PA-C

Guest Post: Helping PAs Off The Pandemic Struggle Bus, Hope Cook, PA-C

I don’t know about other Physician Assistants, but I have definitely been on the “Struggle Bus” lately. Between my father nearly dying from COVID-19, my child being diagnosed with a chronic pediatric illness, as a parent managing home e-learning, the constant changes at work, and some recent salary changes, it’s been a difficult year for me personally and I KNOW I’m not alone.

PAs have been furloughed or have had their salaries reduced. Those PAs who have cared for patients during this time have found it more than challenging as they battle with policies and processes that change on a daily basis, and the acuity and volume shifts that have far-reaching financial implications for PAs as well as their employers. PAs from diverse backgrounds have also suffered in more ways than one blog post can account for. Sometimes, it feels like the weight of it all is just too much.

Fortunately, it’s not all gloom and doom. You may not be able to control what’s going on in the world, but there ARE things you can control, and hopefully this post will help, even if just a little.

Hope is a Dermatology PA, and a blogger over at hopethepa.com! She asked to guest post and has shared ten different things PAs can do to manage stress and focus on self-care during the COVID-19 Pandemic, and I’ve been so excited to share them.

Personally, I have been trying to focus on some of these very same things, because if we are being honest, 2020 has been rough for PAs! I hope you are able to take at least one of her suggestions and make a change for the positive this year. Hope has been such a refreshing light of positivity during the this time. She has been blogging away, and even hosted online an online yoga class for PA Moms, a group I so adore!

Hope was also kind enough to be my co-host for our PA Virtual Shadowing Events in September! She covered what her daily life is like as a Dermatology PA, and reviewed many different cases! The event is over, but you can sign up to be notified of future events HERE. If you want to watch a replay of the event, head on over to Patreon and join our community! The small fee supports the cost of the events, allowing us to bring more of them to you!

Hope Cook, PA-C

Are you just going through the motions, wondering how you’ll survive the rest of the year?  Are you stressed, overwhelmed, and ready for COVID to end already? Do you feel a sense of dread when thinking about the months ahead?

I’m guessing those of you working outside the home are fed up with the constant fear and worry of being around patients, and sick of breathing and talking through a mask. If you’re at home, you’re worried about if and when you can return to work and wondering when the heck your kids will be back in school.

I was furloughed four months earlier this year, and while I loved spending time with my family, waking up without an alarm clock, and taking online yoga classes, I was also going crazy being home 24/7 with two restless kids who don’t like each other. I was fortunate to return to work in August, but the Struggle Bus still stops by my house on a daily basis.

We’re all on the Bus to some degree. Here are some “Bus Stops” you can try out during your week. Use these as suggestions, not an excuse to self-flagellate for not doing “enough”. On a given day, I might only get in 3 of the 10 ideas, but progress, not perfection, is the idea.

1) Move daily. Walk, jog, or stretch every single day, even if it’s for 5 minutes. 

  • Rangan Chatterjee, the author of Feel Better in Five, is a big proponent of building good habits in 5 minutes a day. One of our PAs does walking laps around the building during lunch. I do stretches while my coffee brews. A friend does squats while blow-drying her hair.  
  •  It takes three weeks to form a habit, so get out your calendar and give yourself a big ol’ checkmark for each day you move for 5 minutes. Tip: Increase your likelihood of success by sticking to 5 minutes the first three weeks.  You can increase to ten minutes the next.  
  •  Listen to inspiring playlists or save your favorite podcasts for exercise. Or, call your mom or your bestie while you move. 
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2) Go to the “Spiritual Gym” daily. No need to leave your house or start a religious practice, simply do anything that gives you an emotional boost:

  • Practice daily gratitude: Jot down things you’re grateful for or discuss them with your partner/roommate/family during supper. My daughter’s gratitude last night was that I finally acquiesced to buying a bag of frozen mini-pancakes. My son’s was a high score on Nitro-type. Mine was my having several patients cancel right before lunch
  • Spend a few minutes sending out kind thoughts (or prayers if you pray) to others (co-workers, PAs without jobs, ER and ICU PAs, patients who are scared or sick). Taking your mind off your own woes will shift your perspective.
  • Sit quietly for 5-20 minutes and focus on your breath or use a meditation app like Insight Timer or Calm, which both offer free guided meditations. A parked car is an excellent place to meditate and re-center yourself, especially during lunch.  
  • Listen to a motivational podcast (Oprah Supersoul Conversations, School of Greatness, Happier with Gretchen Rubin, TED radio hour), pull up an inspiring video (Ted Talks or Some Good News) or watch funny videos on Youtube.

3) Cut back on screen time (as I’m on hour two of typing this!). Screen time is akin to eating too much sugar. You feel gross after a binge, but you keep doing it for the dopamine hits. Limit yourself to a social media check-in 2-3 times a day.

  • Move your phone out of the bedroom while you sleep. Even better, schedule your phone to go into sleep mode at least an hour before bedtime.
  • Resist the urge to check your phone first thing in the morning. Get in the habit (3weeks!) of doing your inspirational reading, writing, or meditating first.
  • Turn off all sound notifications on your phone for email, texts, FB, Instagram, etc. Turn off all banners for all non-essential things (I leave mine on for texts only).

4) Journal daily: Use an old notebook or start an online journal (you can set it to private mode). What should you write? Anything. Just start writing a stream-of-consciousness style for 10 or 20 minutes. According to Julia Cameron, author of the Artist’s Way, writing like this helps clean out cobwebs in your brain and reveals those repetitive thoughts circulating all day. Our subconscious also holds the key to many of the dilemmas and questions in our lives. You’ll discover insights and answers that have alluded you for months and years. Try it for a week, and you’ll be amazed. After I started following this advice a few years ago, I realized how miserable I was at my job. My subconscious had been trying to tell me this for months, but I’d been too busy to listen.

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5) Spend time outside at least 5 minutes a day. This is all it takes to boost your mood. No time? Try parking in the farthest parking spot. While you walk, notice the weather, the trees, the sounds. Or sit outside during lunch.  

My husband is a forester, so we “forest bathe” once a week by walking a nearby trail. I can be in a horrible mood, yelling at the kids, but my blood pressure instantly lowers when I walk under the trees.

6) Try to put good things in your body full of nutrients and antioxidants, but don’t beat yourself up for stress eating. Everything in moderation. As Michael Pollan put it, “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” If you eat enough healthy foods, it can lessen the impact of the occasional bottle/glass of wine or the sugar binge. My kids eat junk food, but I balance it out with tons of vegetables and fruits.

7) Sleep, get it, and get enough. Those of you with babies can skip this one. The rest of us should do our best to get 7-8 hours of sleep and get up the same time every day (even weekends). You’re not in college anymore. Research has shown we die sooner and develop more diseases if we’re getting less than seven hours. If you have kids, you know it’s even more important to go to bed on time so you can handle whatever the kids throw at you the next day (or that night).

8) Writing out your schedule the night before will ensure success, especially when it comes to exercise.   

  • A friend recommends doing a Sunday night “dump” by writing out all the things on your mind for the upcoming week.  She goes through each item and decides if it really needs to be done and which day she’ll do it. (and whether she can outsource the task).  
  • Our schedule includes weekly things we look forward to like “Chocolate Chip Pancake Tuesdays,” family movie night, “Pajama Thursdays,” ordering from our favorite lunch counter on Fridays, and scones from our neighborhood bakery on Saturdays. I also do my grocery pick-up on the same day of the week. This gives the week a reassuring rhythm and provides us with predictability during this unpredictable time.

9) Be kind to yourself: If you’re drained emotionally, take a break.  Your family will be much better off without you sighing, griping, or stomping around the house. Put yourself in timeout.  I go for a walk or sit in my car. If you’re burned out at work, allow yourself an honest talk with your boss. We all fear job loss but ignoring job burnout will affect every facet of your life, from your own mental and physical health to your family’s emotional health. I realized how much my daughter picked up on my burnout when she said, “I hate your stupid job and your stupid work computer. They make you so grumpy and mean!”

10) Talk to a friend, neighbor, or family member every single day. Isolation and loneliness lead to depression and even earlier death.  If you don’t have a group of friends nearby, join like-minded people on Facebook (there are tons of private PA Facebook groups, including Empowered PAs!). Or, invest in a therapist. They get paid to listen to you. We employ 4 in our family!

Please share ways you and your family are handling the pandemic. What are your tips for staying sane? Share your comments and ideas below

 -Hope Cook has been a PA for 18 years, the last 11 in dermatology. She is passionate about writing, teaching yoga, and providing support for PAs experiencing burnout. Hope writes honestly about her struggles and wins with her career and family life at www.hopethepa.com. She and her husband and two children live in Georgia. Her Instagram handle is @hopethepa, and her email is hope.cook@gmail.com

Thanks so much to Hope for all she has done to help support PAs, Pre-PAs and PA Students during this time! I love ALL of these tips, and hope you will be able to take them to heart. I’m thankful for PAs like her who have focused on the postive when so many people are struggling.


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Physician Assistant, Owner and Blogger at EmpoweredPAs.com. Currently practicing in a Pediatric Emergency Department, overseeing and developing evidence-based clinical practice guidelines with teams of amazing people, supporting and mentoring Pre-PA and PA Students, with a hope to advance our profession and give PAs the tools and resouces they need to advance their careers.