By Irina B. Grafova, Jennifer Polakowski, Jessica Anderson and Pamela B. de Cordova

The World Health Organization recognizes burnout as a major workplace problem exacerbated by unrelieved stress. In the U.S., the National Academy of Medicine (NAM) has recognized the impact of burnout on the U.S. health care workforce. The capacity and well-being of the U.S. health workforce have been under threat for years by an epidemic of burnout, and the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated this systems issue. As a result, NAM supports that the U.S. “must acknowledge the toll of the crisis on the well-being of clinicians,” and developed the National Plan for Health Workforce Well-Being. Likewise, it is well-documented that the U.S. health care workforce need support to reduce the intent to leave their jobs and to deal with complications that arose from the prolonged effect of working during the pandemic.

Similarly, the International Council of Nurses predicted that the “COVID-19 Effect” posed damaging risks to the nursing workforce due to an aging workforce and an exodus from the nursing profession. In response, countries worldwide mobilized efforts to reduce the impact of burnout on the nurse workforce. Additionally, organizations created ways to improve their healthcare workforce aimed at improving well-being. The National Institute of Nursing Research recognizes that efforts are being made to address burnout and well-being, but little research evidence is available.

The New Jersey Nursing Emotional Well-Being Institute (NJ-NEW), a program of the New Jersey Collaborating Center for Nursing, initiated Virtual Schwartz Rounds, (VSR) in early 2020 to allow for health care providers, specifically nurses to improve their well-being. Led by two trained nurse facilitators, the focus of the VSR is to provide a forum for nurses to openly discuss social and emotional issues they face in caring for patients and families. The VSR are not organization- or specialty-based which provides nurses a safe space to share and reflect, connect with one another about difficult or uplifting experiences, to offer and to receive support, and to decrease a sense of isolation.

This commitment to nurses’ well-being remains vital in the post-pandemic era. Healthcare leaders recognize the dire need to improve nurses’ well-being and prevent nurses from leaving their jobs. The need to evaluate well-being interventions is the focus of a new pilot study supported by the New Jersey State Policy Lab (NJSPL) and being led by interdisciplinary researchers at Bloustein and Rutgers School of Nursing working with NJ-NEW. The study includes a cross-sectional survey of VSR participants to evaluate equity in accessing an emotional support program aimed at improving well-being for NJ nurses.

We intend to examine demographic characteristics of nurses who previously and continually participate in VSR and examine their perceptions of facilitators and barriers to access this specific well-being intervention. Some nurses may have trouble in accessing VSR because of various concerns, such as feeling embarrassed, concerns regarding anonymity, time scheduling difficulty, workload, and others. Additionally, we will examine the extent to which nurses who used VSR accessed and utilized other emotional support programs. This study will result in evidence on how to improve well-being interventions, determine what types of nurses are accessing these programs and whether more organizations should offer similar programs beyond the nurse employment-based services.