Working in a hospital setting day after day, especially during a national pandemic, can plight clinicians with stress and trauma. It’s without a doubt that extraordinary challenges arise in the blink of an eye, often without warning. Due to the nature of operating out of a hospital, health care workers are often faced with making decisions that result in uncertainty and anxiety. And amidst the coronavirus pandemic, challenges such as burnout, extreme exposure to death and suffering, and personal safety can be at the forefront of a hospitalist’s state of mind.
While we know that health care organizations have programs in place that assist with mental wellness, sometimes in situations as of late, a more comprehensive approach may be needed. In a recent article in Anesthesia & Analgesia (International Anesthesia Research Society) author Cristina Sophia Albott, M.D. outlines the necessity for psychological stress response interventions such as a peer support model program, similar to that of the United States Army Battle Buddies program. In the Battle Buddies program, two soldiers are paired together to help each other in every aspect of life, including training and traveling.
According to Dr. Albott, utilizing a program such as Battle Buddies in the hospital allows health care organizations to
“incorporate evidence-informed stress inoculation methods developed for managing psychological stress exposure in providers deployed to disasters.” *
Using this methodology, Dr. Albott has worked with the Departments of Anesthesiology and Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences at the University of Minnesota Medical Center to help medical professionals cope with “battlefield conditions” in the hospital.
“Our multilevel, resource-efficient, and scalable approach places two key tools directly in the hands of providers: (1) a peer support Battle Buddy; and (2) a designated mental health consultant who can facilitate training in stress inoculation methods, provide additional support, or coordinate referral for external professional consultation. In parallel, we have instituted a voluntary research data-collection component that will enable us to evaluate the intervention’s effectiveness while also identifying the most salient resilience factors for future iterations. It is our hope that these elements will provide guidance to other organizations seeking to protect the well-being of their medical workforce during the pandemic. Given the remarkable adaptability of human beings, we believe that, by promoting resilience, our diverse health care workforce can emerge from this monumental challenge with new skills, closer relationships, and greater confidence in the power of community.” *
Often, when health care organizations become overwhelmed with the demands of responding to crisis, clinicians can suffer with PTSD including anxiety, grief, depression, and negative thought patterns. Additionally, clinicians of differing age groups experience varying types of stress from one another. Because of this it is suggested that a peer support pair should be similar in their age and experience.
While programs like the one described above are either non-existent or still in infancy stages across the spread of American hospitals, the model shown by Dr. Albott shows promise. By taking note of how a program like this can be emotionally encouraging, health care organizations can decide how to best integrate and sustain a peer support model in their specific area of expertise. By sharing trials and challenging encounters with one another, peer support programs can help limit worries and mental distress among providers and caregivers and give them a greater sense of self-purpose.
The key takeaway here is the importance of fostering positive mental health in hospitals and medical institutions. By identifying and addressing stressors head on before they become an issue, health systems can curtail turnover, fatigue, and mental hardship among clinicians by implementing a program that focuses on connectedness, compassion, and support.
Want more information? To read the entire Anesthesia & Analgesia journal article, click here.
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*Direct quotes from Cristina Sophia Albott, M.D. – Anesthesia & Analgesia (International Anesthesia Research Society).
Albott, Cristina Sophia et al. “Battle Buddies: Rapid Deployment of a Psychological Resilience Intervention for Health Care Workers During the COVID-19 Pandemic.” Anesthesia and analgesia vol. 131,1 (2020): 43-54. doi:10.1213/ANE.0000000000004912