Virtual Peer Support Program: A Novel Community-Building Platform in an Emergency Medicine Residency Program
Learning Objectives: Our Virtual Peer Support Program aimed to enhance residents’ comfort engaging in discussions about their workplace challenges and foster a sense of community within the residency program.
Introduction: Burnout is highly prevalent in resident physicians and is associated with depression, substance use, and suicide. While residents’ social networks are integral in supporting wellness, the recent pandemic has limited in-person social support, potentially exacerbating residents’ existing burnout and increasing barriers to communication. As such, we sought to implement a Virtual Peer Support Program (VPSP) within our residency program to provide a safe space for residents to discuss the work and life challenges they encounter during residency training. Our VPSP aimed to enhance residents’ comfort engaging in discussions about workplace challenges and foster a sense of community within the residency program.
Design: During the 2020-2021 academic year, all residents at our Emergency Medicine Residency Program were invited to attend virtual peer support sessions scheduled during protected educational time. These 90-minute small group sessions were hosted semesterly on a video conferencing platform. To promote psychologically safe discussions, we engaged recent alumni of the program as group facilitators, ensuring that none evaluated residents. Discussions were freeform but guided by prompts generated by the resident wellness committee and distributed to group facilitators. At the conclusion of the sessions, all attendees were invited to complete a voluntary anonymous electronic survey consisting of Likert scale questions. Results are illustrated in Figure 1.
Impact: VPSP is a sustainable, low-cost intervention that may augment residents’ existing social networks and encourage vulnerable discussions about residency. Program alumni are underutilized, non-evaluatory individuals who can empathize with the challenges of training and may serve as effective group facilitators. Given the importance of social support in promoting resident wellness, it may be useful for residency program leaders to integrate VPSPs into existing residency curricula.