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Three Ulster University Occupational Therapy students have developed a new programme for compassion fatigue, with the aim of supporting healthcare workers in caring roles. For the three final year students, Gena Hycha-Paul, Leanne Cook and Kevin McManus, inspiration stemmed from their summer work experiences, where they witnessed first-hand just how strained workers became in these difficult settings, and the impact on both staff and service users.

Whilst on placement with Age NI, the students developed an easily accessible online training programme for staff to avail of. Taking into consideration the long hours and pressures frontline staff are facing, the sessions can be completed by staff virtually at their own convenience.

Compassion fatigue is a term used for the physical and emotional exhaustion that healthcare professionals may experience, which has been heightened due to the pandemic. Symptoms of compassion fatigue can include feelings of anger, anxiety or sadness, reduced empathy and increased absenteeism.

Speaking about the programme, the three students commented:

“This programme is not designed as an answer to a problem but rather a first step in helping to mitigate and reduce the consequences of compassion fatigue through identifying the signs and symptoms and providing proven resilience and coping strategies outlined in the latest research. As final year occupational therapy students, the programme has an OT twist, integrating an array of mindful self-care tools aimed at providing compassionate, person-centred care.

“The programme is being developed through application of OT theory to address the needs of carers, especially in light of the Covid pandemic. It is our hope that as a result, our programme will enable participants to show the same generosity of spirit and compassion to themselves that they show to the people they care for.”

When the programme was in the first stages of development, Age NI was identified as an instrumental partner in the implementation of this tool. The students worked with the charity to implement a pre-recorded session that caring staff could access via the Age NI e-learning portal.

Catherine Wells, Lecturer in Occupational Therapy, commended the students for their resourceful programme, saying:

“I am extremely proud that three of our final year students have developed this programme in order to help healthcare workers and showcase the breadth of how occupational therapy can support individuals. Our students recognise the tremendous efforts made by those currently working in healthcare settings and are aware how vital it is that healthcare workers look after their own wellbeing in order to do their job successfully. I would like to congratulate the students for using their initiative and trying to tackle a very prominent issue within healthcare roles, with the huge pressures they are currently facing.”

Commenting on the students initiative Patricia Doyle, Head of Care at Age NI commented:

“The three students were excellent , they quickly became part of our well-established team. They communicated well and were empathetic towards the needs of the organisation.

“Evaluation of the placement evidenced extremely positive outcomes and a very useful training session for staff that will be rolled out across the organisation and become part of induction moving forward.”

The recorded session will be provided to Age NI managers, who can deliver it to their staff. In the future, the students hope the programme can be used for staff induction purposes.