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“My care team felt as unsupported as my family and I did” — Making the Case for Clinician Support Programs

By Jameson Case | Thursday, April 17, 2014

By Linda Kenney (pictured below), Executive Director and President of Medically Induced Trauma Support Services, Inc. (MITSS)

Linda Kenney

Today, when I see all the genuine interest in clinician support programs, I couldn’t be happier. But, I remember a time not too long ago when things were very different. In 1999, I almost lost my life as the result of an adverse event. A local anesthetic administered to my ankle entered my bloodstream and caused a cardiac arrest. Were it not for the heroic efforts of a code team, I would not be here today. 

The emotional impact that my family and I experienced was life changing. But, the healthcare culture at the time didn’t lend itself to open and honest conversations about these events. I was told I had an allergic reaction by one person, and no one else referenced “the event” again during my hospital stay.

A few months after this incident, I went to my orthopedic surgeon for a cortisone shot. There, I witnessed the emotional impact my event had on a member of my health care team. He cried when he talked about it and referred to me as a “miracle from God.” The anesthesiologist who was involved reached out to me right after my event. Eventually, when I was ready, I was able to sit down with him to discuss our common experience. I kept thinking, “If I’m feeling this badly, how is he feeling?”  After all, he was the one with the needle that day.

Six months after that, at my check up with the cardiac surgeon, I met a nurse who had been on my code team at “the event.” She cried when we met and said, “We were praying for you that day.” I came to realize that the providers on my care team felt as unsupported as my family and I did.  In order to fill this void in the healthcare system, I founded Medically Induced Trauma Support Services (MITSS) in June 2002.

MITSS's mission, then and now, is “To support healing and restore hope” to patients, families, and clinicians following adverse medical events. 

In May of 2012, MITSS and the Institute for Healthcare Improvement (IHI) hosted attendees from across the United States and three European countries for a two-day seminar on implementing a clinician support program. As we plan for our next seminar this July, I can’t help but think: We’ve come a long way, baby!

One example of how far we have come has been revealed to me as I speak at local and national meetings. At the end of my talks, clinicians are often waiting to speak with me privately. They want to share stories from 10, 15, even 20 years ago that they still carry with them. Some confess that I’m the first person they have ever shared their experiences with. They were suffering in silence. Many believed, until they heard me speak, that showing their feelings indicated weakness. This has only served to strengthen my resolve to support clinicians following adverse events. 

Today, health care is finally seeing what MITSS recognized 12 years ago — clinicians need support. This support can be especially important following adverse medical events, when people are at their most vulnerable. 

If your organization needs to help in this area, I hope you’ll join me for
Building a Clinician Peer Support Program, a two-day workshop to be held at the IHI offices in Cambridge, MA, on July 15 and 16, 2014.

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