Developing a curriculum that promotes self-compassion among healthcare providers



  • Alexa Garrey
    Vancouver Island University

Healthcare workers experience high rates of stress leave and attrition due to unaddressed mental health needs. While some providers leave the workplace because of burnout, many stay, which compounds the issue and contributes to toxic workplaces and higher patient mortality rates.

New research shows that self-compassion — defined as unconditional positive regard turned inward — is a significant contributor to healthy communities of practice, and promotes the ability to manage workplace stressors (Dames, 2018). The project team will:

  1. Co-develop an evidence-based curriculum and tools that will inform and improve practice by promoting self-compassion among healthcare providers within Island Health and Vancouver Island University.
  2. Build capacity for knowledge translation and future research to study curriculum outcomes.

The curriculum will help providers develop an ability to learn of, articulate, and digest emotions in a safe environment of unconditional positive regard for self. When providers lack self-compassion, they are at a higher risk of mental and physical ailments, emotional exhaustion, and burnout. Rather than turning to substances/activities that lead to dissociation or avoidance, this curriculum will enable participants to cultivate a habit of self-soothing by nurturing themselves with loving kindness.

At the end of the Reach award, the research team will have completed a literature review, curriculum, and submitted a grant application to fund a pilot study on Vancouver Island. The curriculum is expected to improve stress resilience among providers, decrease the use of substances to cope with stress or distress, reduce attrition rates due to burnout, and promote relationally healthy communities of practice (CoP, defined by Wenger as a “group of people who share a concern or a passion for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly”). The proposed curriculum will enhance the mental health and well-being of providers; instilling self-compassion in providers is shown to improve experience and outcomes for patients. Those who direct compassion inwardly naturally extend compassion to others.

This Reach award will cover the costs of bringing stakeholders together to develop the curriculum and to draft an application for the pilot study. This project's potential impact on patient and provider outcomes is enormous and well aligned with health authority and provincial priorities.