Kerry Appleton always wanted to be a nurse but her dream job in the pediatric ICU became a nightmare because of the added stress. She eventually quit after 16 years in the industry to take care of her health. Her life came full circle when she got a job at North Memorial Health in Minnesota as one of the country’s first resiliency coaches in the healthcare industry.
“It can be really hard to come back again” after losing a patient or suffering anxiety over tough medical decisions, she said. “The woulda, coulda, shoulda’s really stick in your mind.”
The hospital created the position during COVID-19 to help the staff deal with the personal risks and emotional despair related to the pandemic.
More nurses in Minnesota say they are thinking about quitting in the next five years due to burnout compared to previous years.
But research shows talking to a resiliency coach can make a difference. A Canadian study found that hospital workers who received coaching during the pandemic were less likely to experience disrupted sleep, post-traumatic symptoms, and burnout.
Shannon Sloan, the hospital’s vice president of human resources, says that many nurses will stay on the job after talking with Appleton even after being exposed to injuries or assaults.
“We’re able to retain them. We don’t lose them,” said Sloan, who predicted that “if it weren’t for Kerry, they wouldn’t be back.”
North Memorial Health encourages nurses to use resiliency coaching by paying them to meet with Appleton, even after hours. The Minnesota Hospital Association recently honored Appleton and the hospital for creating the program at a time when so many nurses are thinking about quitting.
Appleton trained nurses in the pediatric ICU before becoming a resiliency coach. She says her frontline experience makes her more relatable in session, but she admits times have changed since she worked as a nurse.
“Society has changed,” she said. “We are now post-pandemic, and a lot has happened in the last three years.”
And all that extra stress is having a detrimental effect on their overall health. Appleton says most people need three to five sleeps to recover from highly stressful events, but nurses tend to blame themselves for not bouncing back the next day.
“I lean a lot on the physiology of stress response to help people understand what is actually happening within them,” she said.
She will often meet with nurses outside of work at public places that don’t remind them of the hospital, such as libraries. Each session includes one-on-one counseling. She also advises them on deep breathing exercises and self-care tips.
“You don’t need a yoga mat. You don’t need a 30-minute break,” she said. “You can do it anywhere and no one will even know that you are doing it.”
The program is advertised to incoming nurses and other hospital staff. It’s a way of encouraging them to stay on after the company spent weeks training them.
Bridget Peppin, the hospital’s operations director for specialty care, was skeptical when she first sought Appleton’s help, but the stress of the job was affecting her time with her family.
“I was struggling with letting go of the last fire that I was trying to put out,” Peppin said. She was surprised when the breathing exercises actually worked. Appleton helped her practice the routine over the phone. Peppin learned how to take five-minute breaks in between tasks as a way of coping with the stress. She even started doing them with her twin toddlers at home.
“I have this breathing ball that I hand to them,” Peppin added, “and they take deep breaths now when they get really mad.”