“Research has shown that the well-being of professionals has a direct impact on patient health outcomes,” Carolyn Phillips says, “and oncology nurses are at the forefront of cancer care.”
Every year, the Hogg Foundation gives the Frances Fowler Wallace Memorial Award for Mental Health Dissertation Research to eligible doctoral candidates at institutions of higher education in Texas. Awardees receive a $1,500 scholarship to help cover research-related expenses.
Carolyn Phillips, one of the doctoral students to receive the award in 2018, is part of the Nursing Research program at The University of Texas at Austin School of Nursing. We recently talked with Phillips about the aims, methods, and contexts of her research project:
Hogg Foundation: Your study is titled, “A Feasibility Study to Evaluate Storytelling Through Music to Improve Well-Being in Oncology Nurses.” What led you to take a professional interest in this topic?
Carolyn Phillips: There are approximately 15.5 million cancer survivors alive today, and this number is expected to increase to 26.1 million by 2040. As the number of cancer survivors increases, we are also witnessing an increase in rates of compassion fatigue and burnout among oncology professionals. One potential cause of compassion fatigue and burnout in oncology nurses is the grief that occurs with repeated patient loss. Research has shown that the well-being of professionals has a direct impact on patient health outcomes—and oncology nurses are at the forefront of cancer care. Maintaining their well-being will be crucial to decreasing burnout, compassion fatigue and turnover, as well as providing high quality of care to people with cancer.
I have been an oncology nurse for the past 17 years. In that time, I have experienced burnout and witnessed the impact of burnout on my colleagues as well. I created the intervention “Storytelling Through Music” to help address the psychosocial stress experienced by healthcare professionals when caring for others.
Hogg Foundation: What questions did you try to answer with this research?
Phillips: The purpose of this study was to determine the feasibility and effects of “Storytelling Through Music” on a variety of factors: anxiety, depression, insomnia, loneliness, self-compassion, burnout, secondary traumatic stress, compassion satisfaction, and self-reflection and insight.
Specifically, I had two research questions:
- What is the feasibility and acceptability of delivering the “Storytelling Through Music” intervention to oncology nurses over a time period of six-weeks?
- What are the changes over time and between groups on the oncology nurses’ well-being and professional quality of life?
Hogg Foundation: How do you think your research methods and approach helped you answer the questions you posed?
Phillips: My study was a two-group, quasi-experimental design investigating the feasibility and effects of a six-week intervention that combines storytelling, expressive writing and music to address the workplace emotions related to caring for people with cancer. I collected qualitative and quantitative data at four different time points. This allowed me to evaluate the change between groups and across four different time points on each outcome measure.
The feasibility was evaluated by tracking recruitment, retention, number of sessions attended by participants, the most effective means of recruitment, and the percentage of completed stories and songs. The qualitative data provide insight into quantitative findings and the acceptability of the intervention (participant’s perception of intervention delivery and content), as well as the perceived impact.
Hogg Foundation: What, from your perspective, is the biggest area of need—or the greatest opportunity—related to this topic? In other words, how could we really move the needle on this front?
Phillips: The results of this study showed that the “Storytelling Through Music” intervention was feasible and acceptable to this group of participants. Afterwards, participants described how they learned that they need to process their emotions; that they are not alone in their work-related feelings; and that they had new skills to help address these emotions. In addition, those who participated in the intervention had significantly greater improvements in insomnia, loneliness, self-reflection and self-compassion when compared to those who didn’t.
Historically, we have been silent about the mental health and well-being of clinicians. This silence results in collective suffering in isolation. Most healthcare professionals are not taught through formal education how to address their work-related emotions, and there are few interventions available for professionals in the workforce. In addition to being utilized with seasoned professionals, in the future this intervention could be evaluated in pre-licensure educational settings to teach healthcare professionals how to care for themselves while caring for others.
Phillips recommends the following related resources:
- In the Face of Death: Professionals Who Care for the Dying and Bereaved by Danal Papadatou
- Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself by Kristin Neff
- Compassion Fatigue and Burnout in Nursing: Enhancing Professional Quality of Life by Vidette Todaro-Franceschi
- Songs for the Soul, an Austin-based nonprofit
- Professional Quality of Life Self-Test
- Nurse Well-being Index