On a daily basis, nurses witness the personal tragedy of others and provide ongoing care to highly vulnerable populations. Because of this stressful work, nurses may experience feelings of grief and sorrow. Such emotions can lead to personal problems or affect job performance if not properly addressed.
Thankfully, as nurses, we have access to a wide variety of support networks either through support groups, use of social media, or membership in professional associations. The benefits provided by peer support should not be underestimated.
Nursing support networks offer invaluable opportunities for nursing professionals to connect with colleagues, share stories, and receive support following stressful or adverse events.
Peer Support Groups
A lack of support in the workplace following a stressful event may lead to additional adverse events and to further patient harm. Traditional support groups provide a venue for grieving nurses to bond and share. It may be difficult for staff to participate in these groups during their working hours but groups and/or workshops offered during alternate times may have better attendance rates.
Other on-site workplace interventions can address the emotional strain on nurses and help to reduce compassion fatigue. For example, the RISE (Resilience in Stressful Events) program was developed at the Johns Hopkins Hospital to provide peer support to healthcare providers who experience emotional distress following patient adverse events.
With RISE, a peer responder provides psychological first aid and emotional support on a confidential basis. They also offer a list of organizational resources that may be helpful for continued healing.
Numerous states now offer nurse peer support networks for those who have experienced substance use disorders. Research indicates that active participation in a peer support group increases the likelihood that members will abstain from alcohol and drugs. Greater group participation leads to an increase in abstinence rates.
Many nurses use social media outlets such as Facebook or Twitter to connect with other nursing professionals. Nurses may build relationships and a support network at their own organization when “friended” on an online social networking site by a colleague. Nurses may also receive support by participating in online forums targeted at addressing a specific issue.
Online participation in nurse support networks allows flexibility in when and where participants access these resources. Peer interactions occur in a private, non-threatening environment with an avatar (an image representing a person) serving as a pseudo disguise that may encourage the sharing of deeper emotions.
For example, a study of Second Life explored how, within a virtual environment, oncology nurses express and process grief surrounding patients' deaths. Second Life provided a venue for participants to share their stories and innermost feelings. The study found participants felt supported by other group members and supported them in return during their own storytelling.
Membership in a professional nursing association can provide social interaction at national, state, or local conventions and peer support through online chats or forums. In addition to gaining networking opportunities, you can hear how peers are navigating some of the same situations you face. For new grads or those nurses new to a specialty, associations are where you can find a mentor who can advance your knowledge base and offer vital support in your transition into your chosen field.
There are numerous organizations that provide an online venue for nurses to connect with one another.
Benefits of Peer Support
Peer support is effective, economically viable, and sustainable. Peer support networks serve to promote an organizational culture of resiliency and mutual support before, during and after adverse events. Such programs help support nurses thus preventing burnout and improving job satisfaction/retention.
It is essential for nurses to be able to repeatedly generate the compassion necessary to care for vulnerable populations. Nurses that can effectively communicate and manage their grief and sadness are better equipped to provide therapeutic, quality patient care. When nurses share stories about their personal grief experiences and those of their peers, other healthcare professionals, patients, and families experiencing grief may benefit.
Research has shown that most nursing professionals would prefer to speak with a colleague or peer about stressful events. Nurses appreciate a peer’s understanding of clinical issues. Engagement in professional organizations and online social networking sites provide another outlet for meeting this need if no formal support network is available through your employer.
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