Why resilience training should be compulsory for all healthcare undergraduates

Guest blogger Shirley O’Keeffe, expert in employee wellness, stress management and resilience with 20 years’ experience working in healthcare, explains why resilience training should be compulsory for all health and social care undergraduates.

When I was a student nurse back in the 90’s, I had a clinical placement in a busy emergency department in a London hospital. I was working on a Friday evening and the ED was busy. A young boy had been brought in who had been badly beaten. He was brought into one of the resus bays and I was told to go and make myself busy elsewhere because the scene was considered too much for a young student nurse to see. After a long period of resuscitation and every available doctor and nurse looking after this boy, he died. I was told afterwards that his had father inflicted the wounds that killed him.

Sometime later I was asked to go and clean up the bay he had been in, restock, and make sure it was ready to take the next emergency. A photograph taken by the police of the young boy had been left behind – this was the first traumatic experience in my long career in healthcare. 

I cleaned up the bay and got on with the rest of my shift, went home, and spoke to nobody about what had happened that day. When I encountered this traumatic experience I was only 19 and really had no life skills. Since that evening shift back in the 90’s, I have experienced hundreds of traumatic events through the patients I have looked after, cases friends and colleagues have shared, and as a manager through the people who have worked in my teams.

As a nurse you are expected to deal with significant trauma frequently and just get on with your job and keep caring. For many this is not possible, and they leave nursing/ social care/health jobs for less demanding jobs, or for some they stay but are so stressed that they become disengaged and extremely unhappy in the workplace.

Our defence, emergency service, correctional, journalist, and humanitarian (the list could go on) colleagues are also expected to deal with trauma as part of their day-to-day work and are given little to no support or education to prevent and manage the many adverse effects this can cause.

Resilience training can help reduce the impact of stressful and traumatic occupations and decrease the risk of vicarious trauma. Resilience should be taught to all undergraduates and ongoing resilience training should be provided in all health and social care workplaces as part of compulsory training. In most healthcare organisations, you have to complete annual manual handling training. I suggest that resilience should be treated the same.

The risk of going on sick leave because you are stressed is much higher these days than risk of leave due to a manual handling incident. Things need to change if we want to recruit and retain nurses, doctors, social workers, and other health and social care staff in our system.

The health, social care, police, defence, and education industries have been faced with extreme staff shortages for years and this is now compounded by the terrifying fact that these industries also have the highest rates of leave due to stress, anxiety, and depression in the UK (HSE, Health and safety at work Summary statistics for Great Britain 2018).

We need to do things differently, we need to look after the people that do the most difficult and challenging jobs for the communities benefit. We need to start caring for the carers.


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