Each Friday, nurses working in the Emergency Department at Flinders Medical Centre in South Australia don vibrant scrubs to uplift the mood in the consistently hectic and high-stress ward. This uncomplicated gesture to boost morale is just one of numerous initiatives led by ED nurses to enhance the overall health and wellbeing of staff members.
The Flinders Medical Centre ED Wellbeing Group was established nearly three years ago when the COVID-19 pandemic hit Australia.
“Leading up to COVID, there was a lot of movement towards focusing on wellness and wellbeing in workplaces, within hospital settings, but also more broadly,” explains ED nurse Lexie Aplin, one of the group’s founders.
“Then within the world of COVID, healthcare services worldwide, and nurses and everyone involved, was suffering from care fatigue and burnout. So [with the group] we were aiming to try and help staff get through on a daily basis and just feel a bit better about themselves and what they’re doing.”
Although South Australia didn’t suffer the severe consequences of COVID-19 to the extent as some other states, Lexie says the constantly changing landscape, rising cases, and ongoing uncertainty during the early period took its toll.
The Wellbeing Group meets monthly to discuss various projects and strategies to improve the physical and mental wellbeing of emergency department staff, especially increasing numbers of early career nurses. These include encouraging mindfulness and reflective practice. Leading cultural change is also a priority.
“There’s been quite a big push towards improving our debriefing after critical events,” says Lexie.
“We’ve implemented the Stop 5, which allows us to stop and quickly discuss a case and decompress, before moving onto the next one.”
Every area of nursing brings its own unique challenges, says Lexie, and the emergency department is no different.
“The variety of patients that we see can be challenging, along with mental health or drug related presentations, which can be confronting, and patient deterioration.”
Earlier this year (2023), the Flinders Medical Centre ED Wellbeing Group was awarded the group Australasian College for Emergency Medicine (ACEM) Wellbeing Award for its efforts to improve staff wellbeing, spark conversations around wellbeing, and encourage a culture of positivity across the ED.
Lexie says her own passion for driving wellness in the workplace has increased as the group has evolved, and more and more staff members have become invested in it and its goals.
A challenging speciality, she encouraged ED nurses, and the professions more broadly, to prioritise self-care and promote wellbeing.
“My message, within the context of emergency nursing, is that you can only do what you can do. Each of us is only one person. In emergency nursing, there’s always going to be something that you might not have gotten to, that might have been delayed, but that’s not a reflection on your as a nurse. That’s just on the environment.”