A new student support system in the nursing school will help students develop strategies to physically and emotionally care for themselves even as they learn to care for others.
The Professional Well-Being Initiative, launched this fall, is hosting a series of nine seminars this academic year on mental health and stress management for students in the School of Nursing. The program will teach future nurses how to cope with the emotional and physical strain of their profession, which faculty said was often worse than in other areas of medicine.
Pamela Jeffries, the school’s dean, said the program was designed to help students develop the knowledge and skills needed to proactively cope with stress and adversity they face both in their profession and in the classroom.
The program started as a collaboration with the Colonial Health Center and was led in the nursing school by JoAnn Conroy, a clinical assistant professor of nursing, she said.
“Nursing students complete a rigorous curriculum that may be difficult for some students to cope with,” Jeffries said in an email. “Through the initiative, students learn to manage the many tasks and deadlines of our program, then carry that knowledge and awareness with them beyond their studies and into professional practice.”
The program has already hosted three hour-long voluntary seminars on topics including mindfulness and self care, balancing multiple tasks, and grit and resilience. It will host six more sessions on similar areas this semester at the school’s home on the Virginia Science and Technology Campus, according to the school’s website.
“We’re preparing our students to take on not only the challenges of providing high-quality care in different clinical settings, but also to tackle the issues of burnout and work-related stress that are causing so many nurses to exit the profession,” she said.
Students who complete at least six of the nine sessions offered will receive a notation on their transcript stating that they have completed the program, according to the website.
Diana Mason, a professor of senior policy service and co-director of the school’s Center for Health Policy and Media Engagement, said most workplaces for nurses currently lack substantial mental health resources for their employees.
She said the demands of the job, which often require nurses to stand on their feet for long hours and do heavy lifting for their patients, often take a physical and emotional toll on nurses that is overlooked both by the general public and nurses themselves.
“People don’t have a clue about the challenges of becoming a nurse,” Mason said. “We’re so used to taking care of others, that we’re not very good at taking care of ourselves.”
Mason added that nurses have to be ready to provide emotional support to patients who are in pain and family members experiencing loss, which adds on to the stress of dealing with medical emergencies.
“You are the person on the front line who’s making the difference between a person living and dying,” Mason said. “If there’s an error that happens, you are the last person often before that error can happen, and so you have to be very vigilant and very sharp throughout your shift.”
She said in recent years the American Nurses Association has worked to address specific wellness issues pertaining to the nursing workforce through educational programs and online initiatives.
The ANA made 2017 the “Year of the Healthy Nurse” and will focus on a different issue of mental or physical health each month through events, seminars and online resources, according to the organization’s website.
Jean Johnson, the former dean of the nursing school and a professor of nursing, said the new program will help students have both successful academic and professional careers by learning stress management skills early on.
Faculty within the nursing school saw a need for additional resources to help students balance the stress of their personal lives with the academic rigor of their curriculum and training, Johnson said.
“Clinical experiences can be very emotionally stressful and the systems of care students work in are very complex,” Johnson said. “In addition, students always have personal life issues. All of these factors have led to faculty wanting to give students the tools to manage all of this.”