‘Take a Break Club’ Provides Stress Relief for Oncology Nurses

March 1, 2002

SAN DIEGO--Recognizing the stress associated with oncology nursing care, the Regional Cancer Center of Faxton-St. Luke’s Healthcare, Utica, NY, initiated a novel 6-week staff wellness pilot project, dubbed "The Take a Break Club." Karen Miller, RN, OCN, the Center’s cancer program education coordinator, described the program and its benefits in her podium presentation at the 26th Annual Conference of the Oncology Nursing Society (abstract 31). "We all know there is a nursing shortage, and so you can’t forget staff satisfaction," Ms. Miller said. "That’s what I’m looking to accomplish with this particular project."

SAN DIEGO--Recognizing the stress associated with oncology nursing care, the Regional Cancer Center of Faxton-St. Luke’s Healthcare, Utica, NY, initiated a novel 6-week staff wellness pilot project, dubbed "The Take a Break Club." Karen Miller, RN, OCN, the Center’s cancer program education coordinator, described the program and its benefits in her podium presentation at the 26th Annual Conference of the Oncology Nursing Society (abstract 31). "We all know there is a nursing shortage, and so you can’t forget staff satisfaction," Ms. Miller said. "That’s what I’m looking to accomplish with this particular project."

The Regional Cancer Center is an ACOS-accredited cancer program serving a three-county area with treatment available in three locations. The organization recently completed two mergers and opened a new cancer center, which, Ms. Miller pointed out, caused additional stress for its approximately 90 staff members.

Ms. Miller developed a free, 6-week program to teach employees how to relax and relieve stress. "We wanted to increase staff awareness of what stress is; increase their understanding of how it can affect them physically, emotionally, and spiritually; and provide interventions known to decrease stress and promote well being," she said.

To reinforce the positive benefits of the program, Ms. Miller conducted a pre- and post-program stress survey.

The multifaceted program included:

  • A weekly staff education series held on paid time.

  • A 30-minute complimentary massage from a licensed therapist who donated her services.

  • Group yoga exercise led by a certified Kripalu yoga instructor.

  • A 60-minute progressive relaxation lecture and demonstration with a reinforcement tape, conducted by a certified hypnotherapist.

  • A "humor and stress" lecture and dinner, culminating for participants in a grand prize drawing of a $100 gift certificate and program evaluation.

The program cost $1,554. Ms. Miller paid for it through a variety of ways with a Healthy Heart minigrant, pharmaceutical education grants, and cancer program money. Additionally, some professional services were donated.

According to Ms. Miller, 68% of the staff participated in at least one component of the program, and while there were insufficient survey numbers to allow a true analysis and quantification, she believes that there was a downward trend in the participants’ stress level.

"Our evaluation comments support this; 87% of the staff who participated felt the program was excellent and met its objectives. They felt it empowered them to realize they could control their stress and reactions to it. They also loved the massage," Ms. Miller said.

She noted that staff reported that it was sometimes difficult to get to all the sessions they wanted to attend, but she found that participants have been utilizing some of the strategies learned from the sessions, including the relaxation tape, massage, and yoga breathing.

Ms. Miller said the staff are interested in continuing the program, and, based on the feedback, she intends to schedule the components at different times to make it easier for people to attend.

She also sees this kind of program working at other facilities. "Be creative with existing staff," she said. "Use your internal resources, cultivate community relations with service providers, and seek out grant funding. You have to think out of the box; you have to go for it."