In 22 years as a physician’s assistant, Chanel Copeland has seen how stressful the role of caregiver can be. Now part of the team at the Duke Orthopedics Heritage Clinic in Wake Forest, Copeland previously served in urgent care and emergency medicine.
She understands how, when the stakes are high for patients, the mental toll it takes on caregivers can be overlooked.
In the summer of 2022, Copeland learned a new way to support her well-being and her colleagues by participating in a “Stress First Aid” training program offered by a team from the Duke University School of Nursing and School or Medicine. The program helped her use the bonds between team members to prevent stress from compromising caregivers’ mental well-being.
“One of the things I learned was the importance of paying more attention to the people around me,” says Copeland, who now spends more time checking in with colleagues. “We are so centered on patient care, which is very important, but if we don’t take care of each other, we can’t take care of patients.”
The concept of Stress First Aid was initially developed by the National Centers for PTSD in collaboration with the US Department of Defense as a way to support service members with challenging deployments. It serves as a framework for identifying stress responses in yourself and those around you, with the goal of preventing harm, preserving life, and promoting recovery.
At the heart of Stress First Aid is a continuum that uses four color-coded levels to assess your stress level, or that of a colleague, and offer possible actions.
“The vision of Stress First Aid is to give someone a set of skills to assess a peer in crisis, ask them questions, get more information and make a decision about whether to escalate care, or whether they can support the person with basic peer support behaviors,” said School of Nursing Associate Clinical Professor Sean Convoy, who designed the content for Duke’s Stress First Aid training.
Funded by a Health Resources and Services Administration grant, the Duke University School of Nursing and School of Medicine in partnership with the College of Health and Sciences at North Carolina Central University have launched a four-hour stress first aid launched training program for students, faculty and staff. earlier this year in healthcare fields.
Register for an upcoming session of Stress First Aid Training. The next two sessions will be virtual and synchronous and are scheduled for Friday, December 2 and Thursday, December 15. There are also sessions planned for 24 March 2023 and 9 June 2023.
“It’s been on our radar for a long time, but everything picked up with COVID and we saw that we can’t just rely on our health system to care for people who are experiencing severe stress reactions,” said Duke University School of Medicine Professor Dr. Mitchell Heflin, who helps organize the training. “Part of doing the work we need to do is establishing mutual recognition and responsibility for each other.”
After the initial training sessions, the Stress First Aid program organizers enlisted the help of health professionals in units across Duke and NCCU to review the program’s content and help adapt it to the needs of their specific areas. Their input will help shape the next round of training sessions, giving health professionals and students at both institutions even more effective tools to care for each other during stressful times.
“Many people have felt helpless when dealing with stress,” says Dr. Bernice Alston, director of the Duke University School of Nursing’s Student Success Center and one of the organizers of the Stress First Aid Training Program. “This training equips people with the tools to make them jump in and do something.”
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