Peer support in hospitals | Association of Anaesthetists

Peer support in hospitals

Peer support in hospitals

Training in any field of medicine causes stress from a number of areas, whether through exams, emotionally or challenging cases, frequently moving around the country, or being separated from close friends and family. You are doing a job that you may not feel comfortable with, and as soon as you find your feet you move specialty, role or trust.

As a group of juniors, we felt that we could do more to support our colleagues and each other. We have organised a time for junior doctors from across the hospital to meet and share experiences and discuss problems. The aim of the monthly meetings is to provide an informal setting for support, acknowledgement and reassurance, as well as share ideas and provide a space for reflection. Additionally, we aim to signpost sources of support such as a supervisor, counsellor or general practitioner. The basic starting point for the meetings is that quite often the things that cause stress and anxiety are common to us all. The uncertainty inherent to our job and the feeling that we can’t live up to what’s expected of us can weigh heavily. It’s easy to feel that everyone else is managing brilliantly and excelling, when in reality they are as stressed as you are and aren’t quite sure how you are doing it all so well.

The meetings are open to all junior doctors and held at lunchtime to make attendance easier. We introduce the purpose of the meeting as a reminder for people who have been before and as an explanation to new attendees; we also remind people to respect each other’s confidentiality (but adding that we will break confidence if we feel anyone is at risk of coming to harm). People are then free to talk about things that are causing them stress and we discuss the surrounding points. Practical advice can be offered by anyone, as none of us are experts, and side discussions are encouraged as people are likely to feel more comfortable talking in smaller groups. Sources of help are signposted and coffee is drunk. Sometimes the conversation is serious throughout and at other times less so. Feedback from attendees has been positive over the course of a year and has encouraged us to continue with the project.

The qualitative feedback from junior doctors attending the sessions includes:
“Good to hear other people’s experiences”
“Relieves stress”
“Interesting discussions.”

We know we aren’t the only people who have set up meetings like this. The Association of Anaesthetists Coffee and a Gas is based on the same concept, but why stop with anaesthetists? Meeting up with colleagues from around the hospital can give a different perspective and helps tackle isolation. This ‘all juniors welcome’ approach can also help increase cohesion between teams, which in turn must be good for patients.

At the end of July 2017, a colleague one of us knew well took his own life while ‘on shift’. Within the last two years we have become aware of similar tragedies in every other trust in the region, including where one of us currently works in North Devon. The majority of us will have been affected by suicide, whether it is a friend, colleague or acquaintance. It happens to good people too often for us to stand back and remain inactive.

One year on from starting these meetings they are still well attended, and feedback has been very positive. These groups take only a small amount of effort to organise and a little more effort to promote, but all in all are easy to set up. They can reach a lot of people directly and hopefully help those attending to find like-minded people to talk to or provide signposting for more formal help.

Peter Rogers
Anaesthetic ACCS CT3
North Devon District Hospital

Elisabeth Wilson
Musgrove Park Hospital

Some tips:

  • Run the sessions as a group; it’s difficult to attend sessions regularly as a single person with rota constraints
  • Recruit from all over the hospital for different opinions 
  • Promote sessions via the medical education centre, the mess and word of mouth 
  • Encourage people to feel free to submit subjects/themes they’d like to discuss ahead of time if they would like things raised anonymously 
  • Choose a private room that is accessible to all 
  • Set a regular time to hold the meetings so people know when to expect them 
  • Establish confidentiality limits/rules at the start of the sessions 
  • Use frequent signposting and provide leaflets/information for local counselling/deanery support sources 
  • Provide lots of coffee and cake (our Trust supplies it)!