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Peer support group for physicians helps ease distress during COVID-19 pandemic

29-May-2020 2:35 PM EDT, by Virginia Tech

The COVID-19 pandemic has placed enormous distress on medical staff and physicians. Dr. Mark H. Greenawald, a professor at the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine and a family and community medicine physician for Carilion Clinic, says that having a buddy on whom to rely for guidance is vitally important not only in times of ‘crisis,’ but throughout our professional journey.

To prevent fellow physicians and other health care professionals from feeling alone or isolated, Dr. Greenawald developed a free program – PeerRx - that piloted with 50 fellow medical professionals last year. It’s gained energy and grown in size, with more doctors and health care workers contacting PeerRx to participate.

Quoting Greenawald

“From my perspective, support from colleagues is our lifeblood. If I didn’t have a colleague with whom I had developed trust to be able to talk about some of the tough conversations and very challenging emotions many of us are experiencing in healthcare, I would just be consumed on the inside at this moment.”

“We all need someone – a confidante with the same experiences, faced with having to overcome the same challenges in practicing medicine. The way the COVID-19 pandemic has evolved has presented just those kinds of challenges.”

“Doctors have been more receptive to PeerRx because they recognize it as an outlet for them at a time when they need it the most. And whether it’s done formally or informally, having a buddy to share the professional journey with is vital to sustainability.”

“It’s also a way for physicians to process the moments from their day without bringing it all home to family members or trusted friends outside work. Taking all the heaviness home isn’t the foundation for long-term healthy relationships. Being able to process it with a trusted colleague – even to be able to talk about the processing itself – provides much-needed relief.”

“Once you establish a connection, you don’t have to connect for extended periods. Strive for even a few minutes, which is more than most of are doing during this hectic time. You’ll realize checking in with a buddy regularly during challenging times like these is a boost for resilience.”

PeerRx was created as a virtual outlet. “Every Monday, we send a brief newsletter with two questions to consider. It’s a gentle nudge, but it’s flexible at a time when we’ve rapidly adapted to using virtual mediums to come together. A text to check in on a buddy goes a long way to let them know you’re interested in what they’re doing, how they’re feeling.”

“Feeling like we’re being heard is very important. I firmly believe if we had a professional buddy to turn to, to check in with on a regular schedule, we would do so much to impact the clinical distress and burnout that poses the most challenges to each of us right now.”

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