by Angela Renkema MPH, BSN, RN, NPD-BC, RN-BC, CPH
NRP Programmatic Advisor, Director

As we head into another month of the COVID-19 pandemic, the news headlines continue to be packed with the latest COVID-19 concerns and questions. What will the impact of COVID-19 and flu have on our hospitals? When will a vaccine be ready? What is the best treatment? A topic that has not been getting as much recent attention is the continued toll this pandemic has on our clinicians. 

Recently, I have had conversations with clinicians that ranged from “I am glad that I am not at bedside right now” to “I have done my duty caring for COVID patients for the last six months, and now I am done” to “I am in therapy to help me deal with what I have experienced.” Our clinicians’ wellbeing needs to remain at the forefront of our minds as we head into the fall and winter. Continued strategies to help clinicians manage are required. One of these strategies is through peer-to-peer connections.

Social support is key for the wellbeing of us all. Poor social support can have negative impacts on our emotional and physical health. Peer support is one way which individuals can receive social support. Peer-to-peer support groups have been an effective strategy in providing social support to clinicians. Research has shown that peer-to-peer support groups help decrease work stress, burnout, and perceived work demands and increase self-reported health and engagement.Seys et al, in their literature review on how to support second victim clinicians, found that peer support can help clinicians cope with the impact of the second victim experience. 

Social support to share clinical work experiences

Peer support can vary and gives clinicians the opportunity to share their stories. It can be done in a structured way in which a facilitator asks questions, or it can be informal where peers set up time to connect. These sessions can be five minutes to an hour and do not need to be discipline specific. Some modalities to support peer-to-peer connection are:

  1. Conducting 10-minute interdisciplinary team debriefing sessions at the middle or end of each shift to share celebrations and struggles of the shift.
  2. Creating a buddy system in which individuals are expected to check in with each other and ensure healthy mental health status, etc.
  3. Scheduling standing support group meetings (while physically distancing). Share dates and times with clinicians so they can stop by to share their stories or seek support if needed. These meetings should have standard ground rules and a lead who will facilitate the conversations. Provide the facilitator with some structured questions to support the discussion in the groups. The discussion could focus on how clinicians feel and provide a safe place to tell stories and share experiences. Structure these sessions around shifts or times in the organization that are not busy.

Social support to share life experiences, have fun

Another way you can support your clinicians through social support is by creating opportunities for them to connect that aren’t focused on discussing clinical work.  Some ways in which you can support this include:

  1. Hosting virtual coffee/breakfast/lunch chats. Limit the group size so all participants can connect.
  2. Providing space or encourage small group outdoor meetings for clinicians to decompress after work (of course, while physically distancing).
  3. Hosting a virtual cooking class. Let individuals take turns teaching others how to cook a favorite dish.
  4. Hosting virtual trivia.

Clinicians are unique in the daily highs and lows they face through their jobs. They need to the ability to connect with others who understand the joys and sorrow that they experience. In doing this, they can improve their mental and physical health.

COVID-19 is not going away in the upcoming months, and neither is its impact on our clinicians. Just as we have different treatment strategies for COVID, we also need to have different strategies to support clinicians. 

About the author. Angela Renkema is a programmatic advisor, director for the Vizient/AACN Nurse Residency Program. Angela supports nurse residency program coordinators throughout the country as and leads the development of NRP program resources through data analysis.  Angela is passionate about analyzing and using NRP data to help support the NRP coordinators and new graduate nurses.  Prior to joining Vizient, Angela was an Nurse Residency Program Coordinator at a member organization.

Published: September 24, 2020