Stony Brook University recently received support to expand and evaluate multiple programs to help healthcare providers at Stony Brook Medicine build resilience: One by improving communication skills, and another by providing free, brief mental healthcare via a new walk-in center.
Designed by the multidisciplinary team at the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science, the communication program combines applied improvisational theater techniques with social science research to help professionals, across professions and career levels, communicate better with each other. Better communication improves team functionality and can reduce stress and burnout among healthcare providers.
“We know increasingly that healthcare is a team sport. Everyone needs to be able to function at the top of their license,” said Dr. Susmita Pati, division chief of Primary Care Pediatrics at Stony Brook Children’s Hospital and the Alda Center’s chief medical program advisor. “People need to feel like they are seen and heard, and they need to be able to speak up and hear down. That is where the Alda program is essential. Those are the skills that we’re trying to build so that everyone can feel heard and seen and comfortable speaking up.”
Five hundred healthcare professionals across Stony Brook will participate in the Alda Healthcare Experience over three years. At the same time, Stony Brook researchers will evaluate the program’s effectiveness and impact on communication skills.
“This is drug-to-market for Alda Healthcare,” said Pati. “We started piloting it way back in 2017 here at SBM with the Children’s Hospital — child life specialists, respiratory therapists, nursing professionals and faculty.”
Already, there is evidence that the program has made an impact. Pati, along with several other researchers from Stony Brook and beyond, recently published two papers about a pilot program offered in 2020. The papers found that participants who engaged at high levels with the training found it to be a positive experience, and that participants reported improvements in their communication skills after the program. The papers were published in the Journal of Communication in Healthcare and the Communication Center Journal, respectively. In another study, a team of researchers, including Pati, analyzed other programs that aim to improve communication. That paper, published in Health Communication, found that though communication skills programs exist in the U.S., their effectiveness seems to be limited.
The grant is from the Health Resources and Services Administration, a department of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
The funding will also be used to establish and evaluate a new Walk-In Single Session Support Center (S3 Center) that will provide short, free mental health programs to at least 250 healthcare workers and trainees at Stony Brook Medicine.
Jessica Schleider, assistant professor of clinical psychology in the College of Arts and Sciences Department of Psychology, developed two interventions: one that is digital and self-guided and another that is delivered by a healthcare provider. The S3 Center programs are backed by current research and best practices that have garnered international recognition.
Healthcare workers and students will be able to access the digital program from anywhere at any time. The second program is solution-focused and will enable workers and students to meet with a mental healthcare provider during drop-in hours.
Both mental health programs will be assessed to ensure they are effectively and sustainably meeting the needs of working professionals. Schleider’s team previously published papers about the effectiveness of these types of interventions in Nature Human Behaviour, The Behavior Therapist and Journal of Medical Internet Research.
“Healthcare workers are facing significant needs for mental health support, particularly in the context of COVID-19,” said Schleider. “But existing treatment options are difficult for providers to access due to long waitlists, high costs and demanding schedules. Using best practices and the latest research, we are excited to build and evaluate a walk-in Single-Session Support Center to offer healthcare professionals accessible, evidence-based mental health programs exactly when they need it most.”
The grant will also support existing resources designed to promote and expand the resiliency of healthcare providers at Stony Brook.
“Just like you get herd immunity by vaccinating a certain number, you get the same impact by offering these experiences more widely,” said Pati. “We want everyone to feel that they are being given the opportunity to function at the top of their game, to bring their best self, their whole self and really their full capacity of what they’re licensed to do.”