Over the next three years, the Tulane School of Social Work (TSSW) will team up with Access Health Louisiana, a network of community health clinics, to develop, implement, and disseminate innovative, evidence-based self-care models that address retention, burnout, and overall wellbeing and resiliency of the healthcare workforce.

The program is called Project RETAIN (Resilient, Empowered, Trained and Invested Network). Initially, it will target healthcare workers in rural, medically underserved communities in the Gulf South, with longer-term goals of taking the program regionally and nationally.

“Tulane School of Social Work has well-regarded experts who have significantly contributed to the knowledge base around burnout, compassion fatigue and resilience,” says TSSW Dean Patrick Bordnick, PhD, MPH. “This grant enables us to apply this expertise to assisting the helping professions in the here and now so that they can better care for the broader community and fill the emerging needs to come.”

The study will be led by Tonya Hansel, PhD, director of TSSW’s doctorate program, and include numerous faculty members. “Workforce retention and healthcare provider shortages are concerning, and an increase in current deficits is estimated through 2030,” Hansel says. “The COVID-19 pandemic made many existing burnout prevention and job satisfaction efforts challenging. The pandemic caused people to work even longer hours in high stress situations increasing pre-existing burnout.”

“We need to understand how chronic slow burn stressors impact these workers’ lives,” Hansel adds. “There’s so much more about what we don’t know that can support those in these fields stay committed in a healthy way.”

Project RETAIN will employ a multi-component, evidence-driven strategy to achieve its goals. It will begin with a series of surveys and interviews with healthcare workers and agencies to reduce gaps in knowledge regarding self-care needs and barriers. Based on those responses, the team will implement short-term resilience trainings to foster compassion fatigue resilience and reduce burnout.

Healthcare workers will participate in three self-care service models—routine self-care training, or standard care; innovative engagement in activities selected by healthcare workers; and access to virtual reality mindfulness approaches.

“Evaluation of these approaches will increase understanding of how well and for whom different approaches work,” Hansel says. “This information is critical to the development of sustainable, cost-efficient interventions that can be tailored to a diverse, multi-setting healthcare workforce.”

Based on ongoing evaluations, the team will develop and implement a training-the-trainer toolkit aimed at expanding the reach of the program to approximately 6,500 healthcare workers. “Everyone will benefit,” Hansel adds. “People will have access to help when they need it, and services improve when those who stay in the profession longer can become better trainers and mentors to those newer to the profession.”