How to bend without breaking

October 2, 2018

Debra Wiggs, FACMPE, past board chair of MGMA, shares her definition of resilience and explains why you need it.

The concept of resilience often is bandied about as an attribute needed to work successfully in the healthcare field. But what does resilience really mean and, more importantly, how do you develop it? 

The American Psychological Association (APA) defines resilience as “the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats, or significant sources of stress-such as family and relationship problems, serious health problems, or workplace and financial stressors.” The APA also notes that building resilience likely involves a great deal of emotional distress. 

Luckily, Debra Wiggs, FACMPE, disagrees.

“Resilience is not borne out of being oppressed - that’s where you learn that you have resilience. But it’s not what forms resilience, in my opinion,” says Wiggs, a founder of V2V Management Solutions, a medical practice management consultancy based in Lewiston, Idaho.“I hear resilience being used more and more as an expectation of physicians … and it’s paired usually with the conversation of burnout. It’s like, well, you got to get resilient, so you won’t be burned out. Well, no, I think you have to avoid the things that create burnout, which defines resilience.”

Wiggs says resilience can help medical practice leaders avoid or reduce the impact of difficult situations without necessarily having to experience them first. 

“Equip yourself on the front end to be resilient so you don’t have to go through some of the fire. I’m not saying people won’t go through tough times - we live in an imperfect world, and there are terrible things going on,” Wiggs says. “But how do you build yourself to a place of being flexible and move with change and not be resistant to it but responsive?”

At this year’s Medical Group Management Association (MGMA) Annual Conference in Boston, Wiggs will lead a session focused on how practice leaders can develop the necessary knowledge and skill sets, including emotional intelligence, critical thinking, and personal awareness, so when they are faced with an unexpected or alarming situation in the workplace, they can respond rationally rather than reverting to fight-or-flight mode. 

Wiggs says her concept of resilience is summed up by Victor Frankel’s quote: “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In that response is our growth and our freedom.” If practice leaders know ahead of time how they want to act in the face of certain situations or stimuli, they open up the space in their lives and thought processes to be more flexible, she adds.  

Wiggs also will address how practice leaders can foster resilience throughout their organizations, noting that a group can magnify the effectiveness of resilience and reduce the burden on practice leaders. “The more we spread out the effort, the easier it is to be resilient because it’s spreading out the whole problem across multiple people,” Wiggs says. “Don’t be the single source of everything. There is a lot of things out there that can be shared and not held individually. So let other people be a part of the solution.” 

Wiggs will be speaking about “Leadership Resilience: Bending Without Breaking” on Tuesday from 8 to 9 a.m. at MGMA18.