PEER SUPPORT PROGRAM
A strong need for a formal peer support program was reinforced by results from our Physician Wellness Survey, a literature review, and repeated input from committee members and other physicians. We designed our program with input from Dr. Jo Shapiro, founder of a similar program at Harvard. Peer supporters were recruited from our committee or were recommended by clinical department leaders, and we developed a training program with a manual and a support system for the peer supporters.
The program has been expanded to include litigation support. In addition, parallel programs by and for residents, fellows, and UHA (University Healthcare Alliance) members have been created. Medical Students have a separate peer support program called Ears 4 Peers.
How is a Physician Identified?
After a difficult clinical event or after a malpractice suit or other legal process is begun, a manager, residency director, faculty member or individual physician can send an email and ask that certain physicians or themselves be contacted. Physicians and peer supporters are matched by their hospital/organization, medicine vs. surgery, their position within the organization, and not from their own department.
How is the Physician Contacted?
A designated peer supporter, who will only be given contact information and no clinical details, will contact the physician either by:
- phone or pager
- email with the subject line "Touching base".
Peer supporters identify themselves as a member of the peer support program.
What Happens Next?
The physician and peer supporter can make arrangements to speak on the phone or meet in person. This is usually a one time event or with an occasional follow-up. All contacted physicians are offered a basic information and resource sheet.
What is the Role of the Peer Supporter?
The peer supporter's role is to informally listen, to help guide the physician through the experience, and to provide perspective. They focus on practical coping and can refer to therapists if needed. No notes are kept. Because this program is part of the proceedings of the medical staff of the hospital, responsible for the evaluation and improvement of the quality of care rendered in the hospital, it is legally protected from discovery.
The peer supporters also maintain strict confidentiality (unless the physician is in danger), and report to no one except for statistical data on number of encounters, etc.
Peer supporters are unpaid volunteers who believe that our faculty and trainees deserve to be encouraged during the difficult clinical experiences all physicians face at times in their medical careers.