Medical Staff Gotta Play!

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The recent Pokemon Go craze has hospital administrators  flummoxed by their employees’ behavior. Several hospitals have called for a ban on medical staff playing the digital game while at work, claiming that they are ignoring patient needs in pursuit of the free-to-play location-based augmented reality mobile game. There is no question that social media should never come before a patient’s medical needs, but the administrators may be missing an important point.

Adults need to play.

Yup, that’s what I said. Adults need to play.

Articles about burnout in the medical field appear every day on my news feed. Caring professionals exposed to repeated trauma working long hours in tough conditions with impossible patient to staff ratios face compassion fatigue and burnout on a regular basis. There are no easy answers, probably not one thing that can turn this phenomenon around. But if we look at the current Pokemon seeking behavior, it gives us a clue.

Think about recess at school and all the studies that show how increased physical movement and play greatly improve children’s ability to learn, function and lead healthier lives. Why should it be any different for adults? In fact, Alison Tonkin and Julia Whitaker have just published a terrific book Play in Healthcare for Adults: Using Play to Promote Health and Wellbeing Across the Adult Lifespan, that explores the role of play in adults’ health and coping. 

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They show how central play is to our biological makeup and evolutionary history. Play is a crucial ingredient of survival for all mammalian species (Tonkin & Whitaker, 2016). In the forward to the book, Suzanne Zeedyk, a research scientist and founder of connected baby states

We know these truths instinctively. However we relegate them to our private lives and personal relationships. Contemporary culture does not reserve an official role for play in our public, professional lives. Work is serious. Play is not.

That’s why this book is radical. Its editors have been willing to shout loudly about the importance of play in professional contexts.They have been willing to bring theory, empirical evidence, and practical examples to their claim.

Jon Loungo, a child life specialist at Maimonides Hospital Center in Brooklyn, NY, coined the term Tongue Depressor Challenge. It refers to providing medical staff (and often patients) with loose parts , and telling them, “Create something that shows how the hospital experience could be improved, in real or imaginary ways, and include at least one tongue depressor in your project.”  With this 3-D challenge in mind, I allow my imagination free reign in envisioning what the presence of play might contribute to excellent healthcare in hospitals. I picture doctors, nurses, administrators and technicians taking scheduled breaks throughout the work day. I picture play rooms set aside for staff that include expressive art corners, rock climbing walls, trampolines and ping pong tables.  Hey, and what about pet therapy?

Call me crazy.

 

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