College of Nursing to Build Healthcare Provider Resilience with $2 Million Federal Grant

By Talya Sanders, SMU News

SMU’s College of Nursing is launching the Stronger Together: Partnered Resilience and Trauma Recovery Project to build resilience among student nurses, faculty, and staff who face burnout from the COVID-19 pandemic. The project will also include select community clinic partners. Stronger Together is funded by a three-year, $2 million federal grant from the Health Resources and Services Administration.

“Prolonged stress can compromise the functioning of even those specially trained to manage critical and emergency conditions, like so many healthcare providers are,” says Associate Professor and Associate Dean of Operations and Scholarship Adrienne Martinez-Hollingsworth, who is leading the grant. “We want our nurses, faculty, and staff to feel supported and engaged in their work and to get back to dreaming about all they can accomplish with their skills. The Stronger Together project will give them the time and resources to grow, heal, and encourage them to stay in the field for years to come.”

The pandemic has dramatically strained healthcare providers over the past two years, research shows. A survey by the American Nurses Foundation found that burnout increased by 350% compared to 2020. And a full 50% of nurses said they intend to or may leave their positions in the next six months.

Part of culture shift

Fifteen years worth of SMU nurse graduate survey data, including new questions about barriers to education during the pandemic, framed Stronger Together so that it directly responds to student needs. The initiative focuses on targeted, supportive programming and training, changes to University and healthcare workplace culture, and improvement to healthcare curriculum.

Each year of Stronger Together builds on the preceding:

  • First year: Build individual’s personal resilience, reconnecting them to their sense of purpose and helping them recover from negative experiences. Participants will be encouraged to make use of the many mental health resources available on campus and through local partnerships, including access to licensed therapists with training in trauma therapy.
  • Second year: Recognize stress and burnout in peers. The project will leverage group-based activities to re-inspire and encourage the participants as a collective.
  • Third year: Learn advocacy skills, so participants can become changemakers inside and outside of academia.

Over the course of the initiative, SMU will measure the mental, emotional, and physical wellbeing of the participants. They will evaluate their quality of life, depression and anxiety levels, and scores on a holistic wellbeing index.

Clinic nurse partners left short staffed

In addition to SMU students, faculty, and staff, participants will include employees of Brighter Beginnings, a long-standing community partner where SMU nursing students frequently have clinical experiences. Brighter Beginning’s three clinics in Contra Costa County primarily serve low-income and minority community members. Since the pandemic, Brighter Beginnings employees faced a multitude of stressors, and a significant portion burned out and left their jobs, leaving Brighter Beginnings severely short staffed.

Martinez-Hollingsworth is optimistic that this grant will improve the lives of the people in SMU’s community and extend more broadly in healthcare. “By addressing how we react to stress,” she says, “participants can be made whole again after this rare and unprecedented phenomenon of a pandemic where they were pushed to their limits for managing crises. The SMU community and our greater society will be stronger as a result.”

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