The superhero narrative has been and continues to be prevalent when referring to healthcare workers, and not for terrible reasons per se. Healthcare workers are some of the toughest people I know. I have deep respect for each one of my colleagues, for their fortitude and capacity to bear extraordinary burdens, experiences and responsibilities on their shoulders. My colleagues and I have weathered particularly significant storms in recent years with the pandemic and the resulting fallout of severe staffing shortages. We know we’re a tough breed, and we know people generally mean well when they label us superheroes.
But to hold exclusively to the superhero narrative can unwittingly isolate healthcare workers into some “Other” category, which closes us off from the vital connection, understanding, and support we need when we come up against our limits. Because as flattering as the superhero label can be, the reality is, we are still fundamentally human – in our work, in our capacity, in our navigation of this wild professional world of caring for the sick, suffering and dying – particularly as it clashes with the “normal” everyday world that loves to find quick fixes for our pains and move on already.
This is the substance of my conversation with Lisa Keefauver, the lovely and deeply insightful host of the highly rated Grief is a Sneaky B!tch podcast. In this podcast episode, “Human, Not Superhero,” we talk about my journey and growth as a pediatric ICU nurse, the realities of professional grief, and in Lisa’s words, the important cultural shifts needed to better serve both families and the medical professionals that serve them.
My hope is that if you’re a healthcare professional listening to this episode, you find permission to be human, even as you continue to do extraordinary, heroic work. If you are not a healthcare professional but know one in your life, I hope this helps you understand our experiences and how you can better support us when we need a safe place to put down our superhero capes for awhile. Thanks for listening, friends.