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Peer-to-Peer Support Circles help nurses share COVID experiences


In response to the extraordinary challenges nurses have faced during COVID-19, Jackie Galeno, RN, (center) and Marissa DeCola, RN (right) recently started Nursing Peer-to-Peer Support Circles, with help from Catherine Alvarez, RN. The peer-to-peer, virtual gatherings provide a safe place for nurses to share their experiences and feelings, and realize they’re not alone.

Nurses’ ability to put their personal feelings aside can help them focus on providing the best clinical care during even the most difficult situations. It can also prevent nurses from caring for themselves – a problem exacerbated by the COVID-19 crisis.

Jacqueline Galeno, RN, Medical Oncology, and Marissa DeCola, RN, Pediatric ICU/CICU, recently launched Nursing Peer-to-Peer Support Circles to help nurses acknowledge their feelings and realize they’re not alone. The virtual gatherings provide a safe place where nurses can share their COVID-19 experiences with peers.

“As nurses, we’re good at putting our emotions on the back burner for 12 hours during our shifts,” Galeno said. “We’re not always good at saying, ‘I’m not OK, and I need to do something about it.’” 

The Circles idea came out of a meeting of the Nursing Professional Governance Quality and Safety Council, which Galeno co-chairs. Cathy Alvarez, RN, nursing professional development specialist, serves as project mentor.

“The hospital has done a good job of providing support with Spiritual Care, Social Work and employee wellness programs,” DeCola said. “But we felt we needed a peer-to-peer program.” 

Nursing can be physically, mentally and emotionally challenging under any circumstances, but during COVID-19, nurses cared for patients critically ill with a new disease that has no confirmed treatment protocols and no cure. 

“Nurses like to be the fixers,” DeCola said. “When a patient doesn’t do well, we wonder, ‘Are we doing everything we can?’”

Outside of work, many nurses afraid of spreading COVID-19 to loved ones self-quarantined, prompting feelings of isolation, and guilt about not fully participating in home life, Alvarez said. 

While the summertime decline in COVID-19 patients has been encouraging, nurses’ sudden return to their pre-COVID roles and patients can be jarring. COVID-19 is still on their minds. 

“Nurses are very anxious right now. We don’t know what the second wave will look like,” Galeno said. “We survived the first wave, but can we do it again?”

Galeno and DeCola have begun conducting the one-hour Support Circles via Zoom and are scheduling more (nurses should check the employee intranet for upcoming dates and times). Each session is limited to 20 participants to allow for sharing. Information from the Circles is confidential.

“The whole intent is to have peer-to-peer conversations to make nurses feel like they’re not alone,” Alvarez said. 

Added DeCola, “This is something that is very much needed right now.”

Upcoming Nursing Peer-to-Peer Support Circles are scheduled for the dates below. Check the YNHH employee intranet for future dates.

  • 3 pm Monday, Oct. 12
  • 8 pm Tuesday, Oct. 13
  • 3 pm Tuesday, Oct. 20
  • 4 pm Wednesday, Oct. 28