No matter the specialty or discipline, healthcare providers face inherent job stress which has the potential to threaten their own health and wellness.

“Healthcare workers focus on caring for others. This is what draws them to their respective disciplines. As a result, they often put their own needs last,” says Ariel Botta, PhD, MSW, LICSW, who practices at Boston Children’s Hospital. To help shift the tides a little, she recently developed a one-day training for her colleagues on the evidence-based practice of mindfulness, that is, “developing purposeful present moment awareness without judgment.”

Mindfulness can help reduce stress and build resilience. In a Q&A with Psycom Pro, Dr. Botta explains how her workshop came about and how it can provide essential support for clinicians during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond.

What prompted you to explore mindfulness interventions for health care workers?

Dr Arial BottaDr. Botta: I’ve always been interested in creating healthy workplaces and decreasing on-the-job stress, including burnout and compassion fatigue; these issues were highly prevalent prior to the COVID-19 pandemic and have since become magnified. Burnout can contribute to healthcare worker substance abuse,1 depression and suicidality,2 higher rates of psychological and physical illness, absenteeism,3 medical errors,4 and higher rates of patient dissatisfaction.5 While there is agreement in the literature that burnout and compassion fatigue are occupational hazards, there are very few interventions to address this serious problem. I responded to the call to action by developing a mindfulness training that is easily accessible to healthcare workers.

With support from the Social Work Department at Boston Children’s, I ran a research study in the form of a single-day mindfulness training for hospital-based healthcare workers.6 Within 48 hours of starting recruitment, 73 participants were assigned to the study and recruitment was closed. This spoke to the critical need for interventions to decrease healthcare worker stress.

 

How did you get your colleagues to participate?

Dr. Botta: Healthcare workers are extremely busy, so I provided the training in a way that would be easy and convenient for them to access. I kept the commitment to one day, offered it in multiple locations, and provided it at different times (including evenings and weekends) so those on different shifts could attend. A meal was provided and participants earned continuing education credits after completing the training. Additionally, a $30 gift card was provided. Interestingly, a number of participants donated their gift cards to patient care in the Social Work Department to express their gratitude to the department for making the training possible.

 

What were your findings?

Dr. Botta: The aim of the study was to reduce stress, burnout, and compassion fatigue, as well as increase mindfulness in hospital-based healthcare workers. The training introduced participants to everyday mindfulness skills, such as mindful eating, drinking, walking, sitting, listening, and breathing. There were three data collection points (pre-, post-, and 4-week follow-up) with a 95% completion rate by participants.

Results indicated a statistically significant decrease in stress after completing the course, as well as improvements in emotional exhaustion – a key component of burnout. Additionally, results indicated a significant increase in mindfulness maintained at 4-week follow-up. Exploratory analyses showed significant increases in perceived susceptibility to burnout and compassion fatigue, benefits of mindfulness to cope with stress, self-confidence in using mindfulness, and a decrease in perceived barriers to practicing mindfulness to cope with work-related stress.

I held four training sessions in 2019, prior to COVID-19. In the spring of 2020, I adapted the training to offer it virtually. This session also filled up quickly. Participant feedback indicated that delivering the information in a virtual format was effective. Participants also felt a sense of community using this platform.

Knowing the virtual training was well-received is promising in terms of making it even more accessible to healthcare workers since finding space for trainings is one of the greatest barriers.

Other organizations and practices can benefit from providing similar programs. For more information, contact Dr. Botta at ariel.botta@childrens.harvard.edu. More on mental health for mental health professionals from two residents and in our report.

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Last Updated: Jun 16, 2021