The heart of resilient health systems: individuals. A research study

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“Health system resilience is reliant on a lot of factors, but at the heart of any system are individuals. Many health professionals were already struggling from burn-out, compassion fatigue and vicarious trauma prior to COVID-19,” Megan Brydon, PACS application specialist, Diagnostic Imaging says. “It is not a stretch to think that there will be lasting effects on a person’s emotional wellbeing and mental health. Building the factors such as resilience and empathy will help in the aftermath of COVID as well as empowering professionals wellbeing and self-care into the future.”

Brydon is one of the successful grant applicants to Nova Scotia COVID-19 Health Research Coalition funding competition; one of only 40 recipients out of 262 applications from across the province.

The study’s working title is “Health System Resilience: A study of readiness among medical radiation and imaging professionals in Nova Scotia during the COVID-19 response” and will look at resilience, compassion, empathy among these professionals and their ability to persevere and adapt in times of crisis. Collectively, this evidence will support interventions aimed at enhancing these traits in the workforce and therefore health system resilience.

This study is one of the first to look specifically at frontline medical radiation technologists (MRTs – magnetic resonance imaging technologists, nuclear medicine technologists, radiation therapists, and radiological technologists) and sonographers (DMS) working in medical radiation and imaging departments throughout the pandemic.

Brydon is the principal investigator on a multi-disciplinary, multi-institutional team including Melissa Sponagle (NSHA and Dalhousie School of Health Sciences), Julie Avery (NSAMRT), Dr. Robert Gilbert (Dalhousie School of Health Sciences) and Dr. Nancy Ross (Dalhousie School of Social Work).

“These frontline health providers are managing both routine clinical demands with various levels of acuity, and the additional care required in the triage and management of COVID-19 cases,” Brydon says. “In addition, these professionals are expected to adapt their ongoing care for Nova Scotians to the pandemic response setting.”

The majority of literature and evidence based practice considerations for MRTs has focused on the highly sophisticated equipment and technological advancements in the field. However, a tremendous amount of care is provided by these professionals, 24/7, 365 in a variety of situations and not a lot of research has been done in this realm.

Brydon says the biggest advantage of this research is the ability to inform and adapt learning opportunities to address any gaps around resilience and readiness. Essential intrapersonal traits of empathy, compassion and resilience are learnable and can be developed.

“As a profession, we’ve had to extrapolate the lessons from other health provider research to inform our own caring practice. Recently, with growing awareness of the personal impact of care provider burden such as compassion fatigue and vicarious trauma, discussions around the unique aspects of care provision in those medical radiation and imaging professions has generated a lot of interest,” Brydon says. “Not only do we share in the collective burden of working through the COVID-19 crisis, but we bear the burden of being the professional providing care, as well as being the person who is the first one to see the results of the imaging (growth, fracture, abnormality at the bedside) or treatment in real-time which is challenging.”

Brydon explains what this research study will mean for IWK patients and families.

“At the IWK especially, we are so accustomed to patient and family centred care, and trauma informed care, that the infection-control practices limiting the number of support persons able to accompany a patient has put a lot of stress on families,” Brydon says. “Understanding the intrapersonal traits of the medical radiation and imaging professionals will inform best-practice, and enable the continued provision of best care in this unprecedented time. At the end of the day, best patient care is the keystone for all of the care provided by medical radiation and imaging professionals.”