Nursing is a profession that requires compassion, caring, critical thinking and constant reflection to continue to grow as a professional. Over the last two years, there have been many headlines focused on the stressors nurses face in a system that is strained in terms of numbers of nurses and other clinical and non clinical healthcare staff available in the face of various public health crises. One thing is clear, nurses are getting tired. We often simply cannot get through the many challenges and sometimes roadblocks that exist in the healthcare system. These issues are doing more than wearing us out, they are making some nurses completely give up practising a beautiful profession that for many is a calling. So, what is the solution? How do we keep going when many times, we may be suffering in isolation and in silence? Part of the solution is recognizing that we are not alone. Part of the solution involves building support for nursing peers.
Peer Support is a model that has gained popularity within healthcare from the experience of patients and those who are living with often chronic and/or life-altering illnesses. Peers provide support to those experiencing similar illness-related challenges and difficulties. In recent years, the value of Peer Support models for those in helping professions has been noted. A decade ago the Canadian Medical Association noted the benefits of a physician-led Peer Support model. It was noted that physicians, while aware of supports like therapy or clergy, faced barriers like stigma, shame, fear and the perspective that others would not be able to understand the unique problems and challenges that they faced in their specialised and high stress jobs. Nurses often face similar challenges.
Peer Support is something that has been integrated into the practice of First Responders. Nursing is lagging behind. However, some nurses have taken it upon themselves to help build a grassroots network in which nurses are able to provide support for other nurses. The Peer Support model is intended to support nurses in all areas of healthcare, from direct care nurses to those in leadership roles, nurses who are in clinical areas and those who are in non-clinical areas. The Peer Support model is a system in which nurses are trained to support their work peers who are in emotional distress. Within a Peer Support model, nurses learn to empathise, normalise and witness the distress of nursing peers in a respectful and present-oriented way that is not focused on solving the problem, rather it is focused on building a connection in those moments of suffering and distress. Peer Support is also about helping peers identify when they need help and normalising seeking help when in distress.
In this month’s episode of The Shift Change our special guest is Katrina Stephenson from Nurses 2 Nurse Peer Support. Katrina is a nurse who saw the need for Peer Support within her nurse community and did something about it. Over the past two years she, along with a small and dedicated team of nurses, has built an organisation aimed at building peer support communities for nurses to help keep us in the profession that we love.
Godfrey, K. M., & Scott, S. D. (2021). At the Heart of the Pandemic:: Nursing Peer Support. Nurse Leader, 19(2), 188-193.
Hu, Y. Y., Fix, M. L., Hevelone, N. D., Lipsitz, S. R., Greenberg, C. C., Weissman, J. S., & Shapiro, J. (2012). Physicians' needs in coping with emotional stressors: the case for peer support. Archives of Surgery, 147(3), 212-217.