When I think of integrity I think of honesty, trustworthiness, acting honourably and ethically, with a certain strength and leadership qualities.
Integrity is one of the core values of the medical profession that also includes caring, compassion, competence and confidentiality. These are values that form the basis of all the caring professions and those opting to work in them generally have a strong vocation to help others. They are expected from the start of their training to act with confidentiality and integrity. During their career training these values and standards are emphasised and modelled by their teachers.
Caring for others is personally rewarding, requiring dedication and often coping with an excessive workload. Dealing with the suffering of patients though illness, pain and death can have a deep impact on the practitioner, and can lead to burnout and mental health problems. This results in an erosion of personal values, ideals and own standards.
In addition it is mistakes, complaints and litigation that can have a devastating affect on an individuals integrity and resultant self esteem.
There is a large amount of research over the last thirty years highlighting the problem of burnout and the increased incidence of depression and suicide in health care practitioners. Practical achievable solutions have been largely ignored by professional bodies and employers, in what is classical denial in the face of the evidence.
To help professionals maintain their integrity there is a need for a radical change in culture towards mistakes and support of staff. In the meantime I urge practitioners to put their own well being first, and follow the proverb from Luke’s gospel, ‘Physician heal thyself.’ They need to put in place their own self care measures and support systems to maintain their health and, as a result, will be in tune with their values acting with integrity and compassion.
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