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Clinician peer support seems to be a hot topic these days.  At Medically Induced Trauma Support Services (MITSS), we have had a flurry of activity around peer support over the past couple of months.  Linda Kenney and I were honored to present at three peer support trainings at the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.  We were there to talk about MITSS as an external resource for clinicians and staff following an adverse event.   These sessions were well attended, and the participants were enthusiastic and engaged.

In June, Linda and I were guests of a popular healthcare tweet chat, #HCLDR (Healthcare Leadership), talking about clinician support.  While I can’t say that I know exactly what 12,000,000 Twitter impressions means, it certainly sounds good, and, according to the chat’s host, it’s a number up 40% over their average weekly participation.

During this past week, IHI hosted a MITSS workshop in Cambridge – Building a Clinician Support Program.  We were joined by Susan Scott, architect of the forYOU Team at the UMissouri Medical Center, and Dr. Patrick McEnaney and Kim Munto of Milford Regional Hospital’s Peers Supporting Peers Program.  The workshop filled up quickly; as a matter of fact, we were over enrolled, and a wait list needed to be established for future trainings. 

All of this got me thinking about the important things to remember when building a clinician support program.  While this list is based on my personal observations, each of the following themes seems to come up time and time again in nearly every instance: 

 1.      Tell your stories.  Cliché and overused?  Perhaps.  But, there is nothing more powerful than a story to garner the motivation necessary to learn and change.   And, if that story comes from a well respected member of the senior leadership team, all the better.  Tales of a hushed audience where you “can hear a pin drop” while the CMO details a medical error he was involved in earlier in his career are not just urban legend.  It is happening in hospitals all over the country, and these stories often serve as the foundation for building a peer support program.  They can also have the power to engage the hearts and minds of even the staunchest cynics.

2.      Don’t underestimate what you already have under your own roof.  EAP, chaplaincy, social work, employee wellness programs, human resources, communications, psychiatry, and the list goes on.  They can all play a significant role in the development of a peer support program.   It is a good idea to check out resources in your community, too, for external supports.  As you pull together a peer support team, be sure to do a comprehensive environmental scan both in and outside of your organization.

3.      The only way to build skills is to practice, practice, practice.  It is important to remember that you are not training a group of mini therapists.  It is critical for a peer supporter to recognize when she is “in over her head,” and there is a need to “take it up the chain.”  That being said, supporting a peer who has been traumatized by an adverse event does require a certain skill set.  While most peer supporters are already the go to people in times of crisis, things like role playing, simulations, case studies, and small group discussions can help to hone the requisite skills.

4.      Foster a community of learning.  Give your peer support team numerous opportunities to connect and learn from each other.  Peer supporter meetings, group debriefs, webinars, and listservs are all formal ways to reinforce learning.   Individual check-ins and mentoring, as well as informal gatherings like dinners and outings, can go a long way toward fostering a cohesive team.  It can be difficult, though, to schedule multi-disciplinary team meetings and events in a chaotic hospital environment.  Since regular meetings can help to insure the program’s sustainability, it’s important to get department managers on board to prioritize attendance.

 5.      As you look at ways to support your clinicians and staff, what are you doing for your patients and families?  Pretty self-explanatory, but not always on people’s radar.  At MITSS, we’d like to believe that one of the benefits to creating a culture that supports it clinicians following an adverse event is greater empathy for the plight of the patient and family members involved.                                           

This list is by no means exhaustive, and we would appreciate your comments if you have anything to add. 

Building a clinician support program can be a lengthy and complicated process.  But, it can also be one of the most worthwhile, and culture defining, endeavors that an organization can undertake.   As members of the MACRMI Advisory Group, we are happy to see clinician support recognized as an integral piece to an overall culture of safety.

Winnie Tobin

Communications Director



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