Showcasing Science

Showcasing Science: Emotional Labour in Healthcare

By Professor Catherine Hayes CSci, University of Sunderland

Horizons of Emotional Labour in Medical and Healthcare Provision: Business Open as Unusual

Catherine Hayes CSciFor those of us whose professional roles have not incorporated working at the front line of patient care during the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been a motivational drive to ensure that our academic publications advocate and raise awareness of directly relevant issues, which are of pivotal yet often under acknowledged importance to our colleagues.

The complex ambiguity and uncertainty that has accompanied dealing with an entirely new and largely unpredictable disease trajectory, has placed the mental health of our medical, health and social care workers under psychological duress not witnessed across a generation. Beyond the physical demands of wearing hot and occlusive PPE during in the avoidance of indiscriminate viral particles, this healthcare workforce has actively witnessed the sacrifice of colleagues in an effort to save the lives of others. The faces of those who have died, shown across our TV screens are often clad with face masks, visors or academic gowns which bear testimony to the unrivalled professional commitment of these people. Less often we see pictures of them with their families and the stark realisation that these people had lives beyond the context of the workplace hits us. Lives which also incorporated being mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, brothers and sisters, for whom a year ago, dying as a consequence of working at this front line of patient care in the UK, would have been regarded as unimaginable.

As a Chartered Scientist and Podiatrist, focussing on the concept of emotional labour as part of my role of Professor of Health Professions Pedagogy and Scholarship at Sunderland, has been something possible in the context of lockdown. Desk based research has become a mechanism of providing insight and clarity of issues impacting on the mental health of our workforces, which will impact for another generation. As yet the full impact on the mental health of colleagues who have worked through the pandemic can only be inferentially predicted but raising awareness of the demands placed on their personal resilience as well as their general health and wellbeing, is a small but necessary contribution to professional practice.

I have also been in the position of attending the online funeral of one of our dedicated healthcare worker, Adekunle Enitan, who worked at the William Harvey Hospital in Ashford, East Kent in the context of ICU. Aged only 55 years and a proud Nigerian father of two, Ade’s doctoral work was ironically focused on the improvement of those who spent lengthy periods of time in intensive care – the place where he lost his own battle with the infection. Knowing that Ade had dedicated not only his professional life to those in ICU but also his spare time digging and preparing a flower garden for them to look out onto, during their rehabilitation, made his death all the more poignant. Yet his face was one of hundreds across the world who lived, unknown to the general public, who clapped for them each Thursday, but not unloved for their sacrifice.

On a pragmatic level, the privilege of working in the Faculty of Health Sciences and Wellbeing at the University of Sunderland covering such disparate yet interconnected aspects of science, which all contribute to human health and wellbeing is something which cannot fail to gain a new sense of priority at this time. Within, research disciplinarity has also come to the fore, as something that we been aware of but can now fully understand.  Whereas my areas of professional focus lie within the context of pedagogical and health services research, the empirical sciences which underpin our capacity to make an impact on COVID-19 have actively contributed to. As we now see the beginning of viral resurgence since lockdown measures were lifted and we get back to ‘business as unusual’, it remains my greatest privilege not only to represent the profession of podiatry but also to remind us of the price those less fortunate have paid for our endeavours in establishing a new sense of normality.

This article was published as part of our Showcasing Science series, read the rest of the blogs here.

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