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Changing the World, Starting With Each Other

Written by Jennifer Esparza, BSN, RNC-OB, C-ONQS, C-EFM

After being a nurse for almost 20 years in the labor and delivery field, I have seen good and bad and lots of ugly – the best and the worst often come in the same shift. In my current position, I have seen stress interfere with new nurses and their inability to cope when they feel they aren't supported during difficult shifts. We would lose them after their initial contract period was over because they never found the connection they thought they needed. I knew that we could do better for them and our unit. Over the last few years, beginning with the pandemic, I have served my facility as a peer-responder leader and offered confidential emotional support to staff in need after a difficult situation in patient care or at their job role. When discussing peer response concerning nurse burnout and stress, there are numerous benefits to sharing personal experiences. Allow me to share my story with you in hopes of painting a picture of some dark times that eventually turned brighter with the help of compassion and care for my fellow nurses.

The journey of building a team for peer response to help those nurses in the middle of an emotional crisis was a battle. Thankfully, we had no clear horizon at the beginning of the pandemic, and I was able to train a small team right before our Texas hospital system was affected. Keeping that going was a small battle because our administration team focused on managing the unprecedented tasks that all healthcare had to tackle. Under the radar, we floated around to units that would need us, sent out info in emails, and built our cart with the help of a larger hospital team where the movement began.

Over the next three years, we were under restrictions and stress, but we held fast and made sure that even though we were tiny, we could offer what help we knew would make a difference. The second wave seemed the worst for our hospital, as a couple of units would see 8-10 deaths per shift for several weeks. The lack of support was apparent in the number of nurses leaving to travel to gain what they could with the pay wave used to support some of the most needed places in the United States.

Our CNO (Chief Nursing Officer) realized the team was doing what they could to support our staff through this emotional debriefing. Many directors were more aware as they heard their teams utilize our training. We held group debriefings as requested to help ease some of the more stressful days. After the second year for our team and the fifth year at the main campus, the system created a formal role in conjunction with our chaplaincy to provide this emotional support across our system. It offered a widened awareness and the ability to train large numbers for all our campuses to have their own team.

Over the past year, there has been a significant increase in the availability of employee support, with the introduction of Hotline virtual meetings that are accessible around the clock. The mental health of our nursing and interdisciplinary staff has become a primary focus, just as we have seen across the country. We realized, however, too late that we can't care for others if we can't take care of ourselves.

Although I cannot say that any conversation I have had with any staff member has wiped their emotional burden clean, I can offer them emotional first aid and resources for them to continue the care provided through our employer. However, sometimes a shoulder to cry on is what can make a difference, especially in the world of nursing and healthcare. I work with all women in our unit, and friendship happens because we are together more than with our friends and family at home. We go through the same stressors of patient care on all shifts and depend on each other to make it home on time. However, years ago, many might recall it was a culture of "eating our young" and "thickening of the skin."

Over the last few years, I have noticed a significant change in the attitudes among the staff around me. There is a deeper, more profound kindness and a better understanding when someone has a bad day or attitude. The efforts to improve our outlooks come from the top at our administration level, and our Peer Response Team has been called on by the management more often than the staff. We are aware, we are empathetic, and we are trying to change the world by starting with each other. I am grateful and blessed to be working in healthcare. I am thankful that I am not the only one left to feel this way. I also know I can't continue alone.

About the Author:

Jennifer Esparza, BSN, RNC-OB, C-ONQS, C-EFM, has been a Peer Response Leader of Code Lilac in the Memorial Hermann Hospital System since November 2019. She has been a Labor and Delivery Nurse for 19 years, with almost 14 years at Memorial Hermann Southeast Hospital. She does not hold any administration role other than Charge Nurse, though she participates in many councils to improve their campus goals and accreditations, including Magnet designation. Jennifer also has three daughters, one of whom works with her unit as a Unit Coordinator role, non-clinical, and two grandchildren.

Jennifer is an independent contributor to CEUfast’s Nursing Blog Program. Please note that the views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in this blog post are solely of the independent contributor and do not necessarily represent those of CEUfast. This is not medical advice. Always consult with your personal healthcare provider for any health-related questions or concerns.

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