Nurse researcher hosts resiliency podcast, welcomes messages to frontline health care workers

April 01, 2020
Teresa "Tese" Stephens
Teresa "Tese" Stephens, R.N., Ph.D., in her office. Photo provided

When Teresa “Tese” Stephens, R.N., Ph.D., began planning a podcast several months ago, she intended it to become the main outlet for her work on RN P.R.E.P., a personal resilience project originally aimed at nurses but one that would also be helpful to all health care providers.

Stephens has worked on RN P.R.E.P. since before arriving at the College of Nursing at the Medical University of South Carolina as an associate professor, and she’s continued working on it on the side. Her research looks at burnout and resilience in health care and the factors that help to make people mentally resilient in tough times. She defines resilience as a positive attribute that’s valuable during and after adversity, crisis or transition – one that actually promotes positive personal growth and enhanced well-being.

In today’s demanding health care environment, she wanted to reach as many people on the front line as possible and thought a podcast would be the easiest way to accomplish that.

But when the COVID-19 pandemic erupted in the U.S., she began getting messages from people who follow her work, asking if she would share her podcasts earlier than the announced April 1 launch date.

That didn’t surprise her. Stephens said the stress and emotional impact of the novel coronavirus on frontline health care workers is immense.

“It's overwhelming, what they’re experiencing,” she said.

"One of the most important lessons I’ve learned in the past 12 years via this in-depth exploration of resilience is the critical importance of human connection and emotional support during times of adversity. I feel the urgency in this current pandemic to not only respond to those diagnosed or exhibiting symptoms of the virus, but to reach out to the caregivers who are serving and sacrificing on the frontlines."

Dr. Tese Stephens

Stephens quickly pivoted and began recording new podcasts that better relate to the situations people now find themselves in. In one already-released podcast, she talks to Melanie Cason, R.N., Ph.D., the director of the College of Nursing’s simulation program, about using virtual simulation for nursing students to meet prelicensure requirements. That episode was released on March 27, and already she’s gotten messages from faculty across the country thanking her as they seek ways to help their students meet those requirements, she said. In fact, the podcast was shared by The International Association for Clinical Simulation and Learning, which responded on March 30 with a position statement supporting these efforts. 

She’ll be recording episodes talking about how full-time students juggle this new world of distance learning while also attempting to homeschool or care for young children. She’ll also talk to a former student who’s now a nurse in New York City, one of the virus’ worst hotspots.

Another episode will talk about protective factors that promote resiliency, and she will help listeners assess their own situations.

When Stephens first planned the podcast, she intended for it to be interactive – a way for people to be able to send in questions. Now, she’s using that communication feature so that people can send in messages of thanks, encouragement or prayer for health care workers.

She’s sprinkling these messages throughout the episodes, but if she receives enough, she intends to release an entire podcast composed solely of these uplifting messages.

“One of the most important lessons I’ve learned in the past 12 years via this in-depth exploration of resilience is the critical importance of human connection and emotional support during times of adversity. I feel the urgency in this current pandemic to not only respond to those diagnosed or exhibiting symptoms of the virus, but to reach out to the caregivers who are serving and sacrificing on the frontlines,” she said.

Stephens said she always planned for the series to be a long-term project, so she will continue to focus on the COVID-19 pandemic as long as necessary. For her, this effort is a personal mission – one that will get these mental health tools into the hands of as many nurses and health care workers as possible.

About the Author

Leslie Cantu

Keywords: COVID-19