Expect the unexpected – resilience in practice

An emergency situation can disrupt the work of your practice, potentially putting staff and patients at risk. Here, Survindar Chahal of First Practice Management offers some practical steps you can take to successfully deal with the unexpected

Last year ‘resilience’ became the new NHS buzzword – another target for practices to achieve. We’ve all heard it but, if you put aside what our line of business tells you, what does resilience actually mean? The dictionary definition is: ‘The capacity to recover quickly from difficulties’; another definition is the ability to, ‘…spring back into shape’ after a setback.

Having that ‘bounce-back-ability’ is a day-to-day trait of being a practice manager – but some are better at it than others.

Much of the advice you hear about how to be resilient will tell you to, ‘Talk to someone’, or ‘Think positively’; these are suggested reactions to the stressful situations you deal with (e.g. a missed deadline, an angry patient or staff shortages).

Life as a practice manager can sometimes be a very solitary role; those above, to the side and below you   come to you to solve a problem. As line managers, we’re exposed to increasing levels of stress. Some of us struggle to deal with problems until they arise, or with having the time to build personal or ‘emotional’ resilience.

What are the factors that affect resilience, and what can practice managers do to improve our ability to cope?

Factors impacting on resilience


Emotional resilience is described as how you, ‘Deal with life as it is, not what you think it should be’. You’ll need to be resilient at dealing with staff members not doing what you’ve asked them to do, or a situation that goes in a different way than you want. There are a various factors that can affect this.

  • Lack of control: Having little or no choice over the pace of work, or the responsibility to make decisions, can frustrate because waiting for someone else to give the go-ahead can leave you feeling frustrated, or cause undue delays.
  • Lack of support at work: This can affect confidence and others may see you as ineffective, preferring to go to those over your head.
  • Lack of support outside of work: Having a support network outside of work boosts your personal wellbeing
  • Several stressful events at once: Significant events can affect how you react to other events – financial difficulties, work environment, losing your job and other factors can affect your psychological wellbeing and, in turn, how you deal with small or big issues.

The sum of all of these factors impacting on a person can really take a toll if left unchecked, so it’s good practice to build resilience. If you don’t, it could ultimately lead to stress, exhaustion and de-motivation – something healthcare professionals often refer to as ‘burnout’.

Building personal resilience

Resilience is something that is built by having the right attitude, support network and behaviours in place to help you to stay positive, balanced and confident. It isn’t some magical gift that a select few are born with, but it does take some commitment. Here are some of the key traits.

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Flexibility: Expect to face challenges and be prepared to find ways to adapt or adjust your goals. Be prepared for the need to deviate from your plans.

Reflection: If you’ve had a stressful or negative experience, you owe it to yourself to reflect on what lessons can be learned from it. This means stepping away from asking ‘Why me?’ – looking at what could be done differently next time for a different result.

Action: Ask yourself what could you do to improve your situation? When you respond this, you need to put the answer into action. Reflecting too much can lead to that ‘Why me?’ thinking, when what will actually make things better for you is finding a solution and doing it.

Prioritise: From small things – like your daily tasks – to your own personal career goals, having a clear sense of purpose is key to your positive outlook. Understand what matters most and how you spend your time – what changes can you make that will allow more time to focus on the important issues? Are you concentrating too much on the small stuff? Does it really matter that much? Put the issues into proportion so you can focus on the right things.

Communicate: Effective communication will help others to understand changes, your expectation of them and new directions; it’s also an opportunity to get them onside and involved (and even to delegate some work to them?) You can let others know what you intend to do, and have a chance to explain it to them. It also works the other way around – understand what they’re doing and why. Have a weekly catch up with the team, see what you can learn as a group and reflect on what changes this can bring.

Emotional intelligence: Learn how to identify your own emotional triggers and manage them. How you come across to people aids your ability to manage how people respond to you and your work. It can help you, as a manager, to see things objectively and to respect the views of others. It’s also about having the strength to ask for help when you need it – it’s not a sign of weakness, it’s admitting that you want to learn how to do something and coming to an expert to find out the right way of doing it.

Resilient future

We all need a broad set of skills and behaviours that can help us be more resilient in the workplace – it becomes a good return on investment if we are emotionally more able to deal with the issues faced day–to-day. It’s a skill that will help to build an organisational culture in the workplace that starts from individuals and simply makes good business sense.

The calls for the NHS to be a more resilient organisation, to provide resilience in the health services we provide, can only come from individuals being able to be more resilient themselves.

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