​​​​​​​Dignity Health has a strategy to prevent nurse burnout: Promote a culture of resilience

Nurses across the country face high rates of burnout and stress, but at Dignity Health, leaders are supporting their clinical staff before they reach that point by promoting a culture of resilience. Page West, R.N., senior vice president and chief nursing executive officer at San Francisco-based Dignity Health, told FierceHealthcare in an interview that “resilience is the antidote to burnout.”

The system has partnered with Arizona State University, HopeLab and Stanford University's Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education on the program, with each coming at the idea of resilience from a different angle.

“I think what most people think about right now ... is burnout,” she said, “and I want us to turn that equation to focus on resilience to prevent burnout.”

It’s a simple approach. Clinicians are offered resilience training to support other staff members in dealing with negative emotions, and nurses and other team members are encouraged to take a moment when they need it to center themselves, take a deep breath and then continue to go about their work.

Even just a quick breather allows a clinician to step back, release negative energy and refocus, West said. HopeLab developed (PDF) several tools, including a “weather report” that offers a quick snapshot of patient data on a ward, to also take some of pressure off.

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An example of this in practice, West said, would be in the case of a patient death. Clinical leaders should encourage their teams to take a moment to reflect and “honor the life that just left,” even if that’s just a quick huddle with the rest of the team to breathe.

“It’s those moments where you need, as a leader, to allow them to center themselves,” West said. “I think in the c-suite we need to remember it’s our people who make us.”

She said sometimes healthcare leaders get absorbed in concerns about patient care that they forget about the needs of their team. And nurses at Dignity are responding positively to the program, West said—though there is no such thing as a one-size fits all response to stress and burnout.

The young program has no hard metrics yet—research that also studies patient satisfaction and other metrics are scheduled down the road—but anecdotally the nurses she works with said they've seen the benefits.

“This is my mantra for nurses: If you can connect your heart and mind to why you became a nurse in the first place ... if you just stop and center on that very core value and focus on the patient, it really does help reconnect them and give them energy,” West said.