Peer Support for Clinicians: A Programmatic Approach

From Academic Medicine, Vol. 91, No. 9 / September 2016
Jo Shapiro, MD, and Pamela Galowitz


Burnout is plaguing the culture of medicine and is linked to several primary causes including long work hours, increasingly burdensome documentation, and resource constraints. Beyond these, additional emotional stressors for physicians are involvement in an adverse event, especially one that involves a medical error, and malpractice litigation. The authors argue that it is imperative that health care institutions devote resources to programs that support physician well-being and resilience. Doing so after adverse and other emotionally stressful events, such as the death of a colleague or caring for victims of a mass trauma, is crucial as clinicians are often at their most vulnerable during such times. To this end, the Center for Professionalism and Peer Support at Brigham and Women’s Hospital redesigned the peer support program in 2009 to provide one-on-one peer support. The peer support program was one of the first of its kind; over 25 national and international programs have been modeled off of it. This Perspective describes the origin, structure, and basic workings of the peer support program, including important components for the peer support conversation (outreach call, invitation/opening, listening, reflecting, reframing, sense-making, coping, closing, and resources/referrals). The authors argue that creating a peer support program is one way forward, away from a culture of invulnerability, isolation, and shame and toward a culture that truly values a sense of shared organizational responsibility for clinician well-being and patient safety.

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