Impact Stories – Chinook Regional Hospital Foundation - Dr. Dionne Walsh, Schwartz Rounds

February 1, 2023

As a palliative care physician, compassion is a core virtue that lies at the heart of Dr. Dionne Walsh’s practice. And, like so many of the physicians at the Chinook Regional Hospital, Dr. Walsh knows all too well that without support in place, compassion can take its toll.

“I talk to people about hard things all day, like their fears and suffering, what’s not going well, and what can be done to make a hard situation a little bit better,” she explained. “This naturally transferred over to me talking with other health care providers about their struggles.”

Through these conversations, Dr. Walsh learned that while compassion is an invaluable aspect of patient-centred care, this connection with patients can be the very thing that fuels stress and burnout, a challenge that existed long before the added pressures of the pandemic.

“We want to take extra time to care for patients who feel alone and scared, and we want to spend extra time on the phone updating family members and connecting them to their loved ones, but when we are feeling burned out, we may not have the bandwidth to give patients the extra compassion that they deserve,” Dr. Walsh explained. “Sadly, we sometimes feel like we don’t have any more empathy to give.”

Physicians, by trade, work to promote, restore and maintain the mental and physical wellbeing of their patients. They also need to recognize and care for their own needs so that the weight of caring for others does not become all-consuming.

“We often don’t feel like our problems are ‘big enough’ to seek formal help, as we navigate cumulative day-to-day micro-traumas, rather than a single critical incident,” said Dr. Walsh. “I became really interested in how we can create safe spaces in the hospital community, where we can share our heartaches, learn from one another about how to fill our buckets back up, and have compassion for ourselves, our team members, and our patients.”

The Schwartz Rounds® program offers healthcare workers a regularly scheduled time during their fast-paced day to discuss the social and emotional issues they face in caring for patients and families, to connect with one another, and find respite from the many stressors that challenge the healthcare workforce today.

“Schwartz Rounds can be thought of as Rounds from the heart. Each gathering is focused on a theme, such as The Patient I will Never Forget, The Impact of Unconscious Bias, or Challenging Family Dynamics. Three speakers present a short case that impacted them, and then group members are invited to reflect,” Dr. Walsh explained. “As we listen to others describe their experiences and feelings, we empathize and relate to our own experiences, fostering a sense of community and normalizing the sharing of emotional responses among healthcare providers.”

The program has been shown to enhance compassion, improve teamwork, and reduce caregiver stress and isolation.

“I had the privilege of participating in Schwartz Rounds with healthcare workers at South Health Campus in Calgary and was awed by the speakers who shared their personal stories with vulnerability and emotion, and by the participants who reflected immense gratitude toward those who shared and followed with their own personal experiences as well as tools and suggestions. Their group had held just a few sessions, but it was clear that the team members present were extremely supportive of one another and were grateful for the opportunity to spend time together thinking about the humanity of their common work.”

The Schwartz Rounds program launched at the Chinook Regional Hospital on January 19th, 2023.

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