Peer Support for Healthcare Professionals
(Especially During the COVID-19 Global Pandemic)
Dr. Robert J. Cipriano Jr, Psy.D., ABPP
Cordico Advisory Board Member
The power of connectedness and support is important for anyone during times of crisis, and is crucial for our healthcare professionals during this unprecedented time in our history. Healthcare professionals face significant challenges including:
- Treating and caring for large numbers of ill patients on the frontline
- Experiencing death, pain, sorrow, or severe illness of others on each shift
- Not having the appropriate quantity or quality of personal protective equipment (PPE)
- Deficient staff-to-patient ratios on a consistent basis
- Experiencing time-sensitive challenges
- Lacking sleep due to 12, 16, and, at times, 24-hour shifts
- Not being able to return home due to exposure
- Experiencing anxiety surrounding exposure to self, family, colleagues, and friends
- Developing a “marathon” perception of “when is this going to end?”
One survey of 1,257 physicians and nurses during the height of the pandemic found that approximately 50 percent reported symptoms of depression, 44 percent reported symptoms of anxiety, and 34 percent reported insomnia. Further compounding these stressors, many healthcare workers face stigma challenges that surround seeking help and they may not even have appropriate access to a professional who can understand, relate, or offer sound suggestions and support. As a result of these issues, our healthcare professionals are often left feeling overwhelmed, anxious, depressed, helpless, and hopeless.
Healthcare administrators can help support their most valuable assets, the healthcare professionals, by developing a peer support policy or standard operating procedure (SOP). Peer support are specially trained healthcare workers who are uniquely qualified to support their peers because they are familiar with the shared culture, work environment, common experiences and key challenges shared across the profession, in addition to the stressors and pressures associated with the work. Properly vetted and trained peer support who possess empathy, and display competence in behavioral health principles (active listening, key support, and behavioral health resources for those that would warrant such services beyond the scope of general peer support), are of paramount importance.
In summary, consideration for peer support trained in behavioral health principles is a significant opportunity to explore and foster stronger wellness programs for healthcare professionals. Peer support who are healthcare professionals themselves, either “in-house” and/or external healthcare professionals (not from the same medical organization/agency/hospital), are important resources to help manage many variables simultaneously and sequentially during the COVID-19 crisis and beyond.
Cordico is the world leader in wellness technology for high-stress professions, serving hundreds of organizations. Cordico helps identify people for critical roles, accelerate leadership, and strengthen workforce engagement, safety, and wellness. Our trusted wellness solutions provide confidential, in-hand, on-demand 24/7 access to the best available wellness support for people working in the most demanding and high-stress professions.
“Frontline Trauma” in Scientific American 322, 6, 36-37 (June 2020) doi:10.1038/scientificamerican0 620-36
Mock, Jillian (for June 1, 2020) https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/psychological-trauma-is-the-next-crisis-for-coronavirus-health-workers1/