Feature: Strengthening peer support for clinical faculty

By Emily Leighton, MA'13

A peer support program developed at Schulich Medicine & Dentistry continues to strengthen faculty well-being and is now making an impact nationally as the pandemic wears on.

Unique in Canada, the Peers for Peers program provides one-on-one peer support for clinical faculty, building on mounting evidence that one-on-one conversations with peers enhance wellness and build resilience. The program engages Well-Being Leads – clinical faculty members who are trained to provide emotional support and resources to their peers.

“We are the first academic centre in Canada to implement a program like this, so it was about being brave in order to meet an urgent need at the start of the pandemic,” said Dr. Andrea Lum, Vice Dean, Clinical Faculty Affairs. “Now, we’re being recognized as a national leader in faculty well-being.”

Since its launch in early 2020, about one-third of clinical faculty have accessed the Peers for Peers program. There are currently 55 Well-Being Leads, expanded from an initial group of 17, representing every clinical department including Dentistry and the Windsor Campus.

Several developments during the past year have further strengthened the support offered through Peers for Peers, ensuring faculty are receiving help how and when they need it.  

With provider burnout reaching new levels in the pandemic’s second and third waves, faculty were not engaging with the Well-Being Leads as frequently.

To address this, Clinical Faculty Affairs refocused the program and retrained the Well-Being Leads to follow a ‘Check One, Check Two’ process – encouraging them to check in with themselves first and then to check in with two of their colleagues.

“Through this process, the Well-Being Leads were able to identify higher-risk individuals or situations,” explained Dr. Laura Foxcroft, Assistant Dean, Faculty Wellbeing. “And for the Leads, providing this much-needed support also helped them get through a difficult time.” 

Foxcroft also started hosting monthly sessions for the Well-Being Leads, providing space to meet, provide updates and celebrate successes. In addition, the sessions offer an opportunity to share current issues or situations that may be impacting clinical faculty on a larger scale. For example, the flooding that occurred at the London Regional Cancer Program in August 2021 significantly impacted patient care, causing additional stress for physicians there.

Individual departments are also tailoring the program to their unique environments and experiences. The Department of Medicine is piloting a one-hour well-being check with its faculty members, and there are plans to expand this to other departments at the School within the year. Oncology, Surgery and Paediatrics are also putting in place unique initiatives and activities.

As part of the Peers for Peers program, the Clinical Faculty Affairs team developed a training curriculum for Well-Being Leads accredited by the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada and the College of Family Physicians of Canada. Tapping into local expertise within the Department of Psychiatry, they put together an asynchronous, online training module.

There is now growing interest in this curriculum from health care organizations and academic institutions across Canada. To better support these organizations, the Clinical Faculty Affairs team registered the training module through the School’s Continuing Professional Development office. They have recently established two partnership agreements with the Northern Ontario School of Medicine and the Richmond Hospital Physician Society in Vancouver, with more in the planning stages.

“Since the training was developed by clinicians for clinicians, it captures the unique contexts and challenges of the health care environment,” said Dr. Andrea Lum. “We’re now sharing what we’ve learned with other organizations to support provider well-being more broadly across the country.”

From the early days of the pandemic to the latest challenges brought on by the Omicron variant, the Peers for Peers program continues to provide a safe space for faculty to talk about their concerns, seek resources and empower themselves and their peers. The Clinical Faculty Affairs team has implemented a sustainable peer support resource at the School, one that will live beyond the pandemic. 

“I’ve been inspired by how freely everyone gives of their time to support this program, it’s really created a sense of belonging that has tied us all together,” said Dr. Lum. 

“We’ve all come through this together,” added Foxcroft. “We were put into a situation that continues to be really challenging, and we’ve rallied together to support one another. We understand and value the connection between a provider’s well-being and excellent patient care.”

For more information about the Peers for Peers program and the training module, please contact faculty.wellbeing@schulich.uwo.ca.