The GI buddy network for mental strength and health during the COVID-19 pandemic
July 13, 2020 | Marten A. Lantinga
Marten A. Lantinga is a young Gastroenterology & Hepatology resident and PhD in the Department of Gastroenterology & Hepatology of Radboud university medical center, Nijmegen, the Netherlands. To make sure that the mental health of all employees is stable and taken care of during and after the COVID-19 crisis, Marten designed a buddy system for his department.
The current COVID-19 pandemic has had a detrimental effect on the inner workings of clinical gastrointestinal (GI) practice. We, as ‘young GI’, are as a result confronted with a rapidly changing (working) environment and need to adapt ourselves accordingly. This requires a high level of flexibility and adaptivity. As a consequence, this forms a potential for the development of psychological and physical stress during work, at home or both.
To pre-emptively combat this, we implemented a GI buddy network in our GI department to stay mentally strong and healthy during and following this period. Caring for colleagues and yourself is central in order to stay fit for practice.
The idea for this GI buddy network was facilitated by a report by the Dutch Ministry, which focused on mental health for health care professionals. Based on this, we developed a GI-specific buddy network, to be implemented department-wide at our institution. In short, the buddy network intends to early detect visibly stressed colleagues and facilitate the buddy of this specific colleague to openly discuss this and help.
We divided our department in seven subgroups (registrars, residents, physician researchers, nurse practitioners/physicians assistants, dieticians, endoscopy nurses and supporting staff). Each subgroup was appointed a so-called ‘super buddy’ to coordinate each subgroup, with regular digital meetings with all super buddies to evaluate the network.
In short, each employee was asked to read the report on mental health. This was followed by choosing a buddy (a colleague that person relies on and trusts). Each buddy network of two individuals predefined criteria to what extent and frequency they would (digitally) meet, what was expected if different behavior was observed by one of the buddies and how they would like to be confronted with this.
Although its implementation and individual participation was variable across the subgroups, with some subgroups more drawn to this concept than others, we observed that our buddy network filled a need during this COVID-19 pandemic. Even at this time, when we are confronted with a (partial) release of lockdown measures in the Netherlands, we believe this buddy network is still of help as we try to adapt ourselves to a changed reality.