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Sharing experiences through Schwartz rounds improves wellbeing of healthcare staff

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Healthcare staff who regularly share the emotional, social or ethical challenges they face in the workplace experience less psychological distress, according to a UK study.

They also experience improved teamwork and increased empathy and compassion for patients and colleagues, found the study commissioned by the National Institute for Health Research.

“They are better able to cope with the issues they face and have more empathy”

Jill Maben

In the first in-depth study in the UK (see Word document attached below), researchers examined the impact of Schwartz Center Rounds, on both clinical and non-clinical staff.

The rounds are monthly forums that are intended to offer a safe space for staff to share experiences with colleagues and to discuss the challenges they face in their work and its impact on them.

The idea was developed by the Schwartz Center for Compassionate Care in Boston in memory of cancer patient Kenneth Schwartz and are run in over 400 organisational in the US. They were first introduced to the UK in 2009 and are now run in over 160 healthcare organisations.

There was a spike in their popularity after the Francis report into Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust highlighted Schwartz rounds as a way of fostering good teamwork and improving staff morale.

For the new study, the psychological wellbeing of around 500 staff was measured over an eight-month period. The study participants attended rounds regularly, irregularly or not all.

“We hope that organisations that are not doing rounds will pay attention to the research findings”

Jocelyn Cornwell

The researchers found that the wellbeing of staff who attended rounds regularly significantly improved, with the proportion of those with psychological distress halving- down from 25% to 12%.

In contrast, the researchers found there was little change in the psychological wellbeing of staff that did not attend rounds over this period.

Participants noted that attending the rounds led to greater understanding, empathy and tolerance towards colleagues and patients and positive changes in practice, said the study authors.

However, the research found that rounds were implemented variably, with challenges cited as ward staff attendance, and the workload and resources required for planning and running them.

The study involved researchers from the University of Surrey, Kings College London, the University of Sheffield and the King’s Fund think-tank.

Jill Maben, professor of nursing at Surrey University, said: “Delivering care to patients at some of the most challenging times in their lives has an emotional impact on staff, which undoubtedly impacts on their own wellbeing and on their work.

cropped maben jill

cropped maben jill

Jill Maben

“Our study is the first in the UK to demonstrate that those who regularly attend rounds see significant benefits,” she said.

“Their symptoms of anxiety and depression are reduced, they are better able to cope with the issues they face and have more empathy towards patients and colleagues, which undeniably has a positive impact on those in their care,” she added.

But she noted that the “challenge” was for organisations to continue to invest in the initiative during “resource-constrained environments”.

Professor Jo Rycroft-Malone, director of the NIHR’s health services and delivery research programme, said: “We feel this was an important area to research.”

“Hospital and hospice staff work incredibly hard to care for patients and it is crucial that they can ease the physical and emotional demands they face while also helping to boost colleagues’ teamwork and morale and improve care, compassion and empathy for patients,” she said.

jocelyn cornwell

jocelyn cornwell

Jocelyn Cornwell

Jocelyn Cornwell, chief executive of the Point of Care Foundation, which oversees and promotes the Schwartz scheme in the UK, welcomed the findings.

“We hope that organisations that are not doing rounds will pay attention to the research findings, and organisations that are doing them, will re-double their efforts to sustain them,” she said.

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