Picture an emergency department and ‘fun’ is probably not the first descriptor that comes to mind.
At times there is pain and uncertainty. Clinicians do the best they can with limited resources, moving from one patient to the next on what, at times, must seem like a never-ending list.
But in December 2017, with a backdrop of burnout and retention challenges within the NHS, Dr Heidi Edmundson decided that fun was exactly the antidote that her department needed.
She introduced weekly 10-minute games sessions, with activities ranging from origami and silk painting to improvisation.
“We discovered that another doctor in the hospital was a member of the magic circle so he came down and did a 10-minute magic show,” Dr Edmundson said.
On another occasion, a nurse within the department devised a treasure hunt, with staff taking group selfies once they had answered each clue.
The voluntary games sessions had between 12 and 25 participants, depending on how many staff could be released.
“In an environment like the emergency department, if you want to do something like this you have to realise that there is never going to be the perfect time”
Dr Edmundson noted that although some staff were surprised the first time the games were organised, they have become a valuable part of the department’s weekly routine.
“It probably seemed like a bizarre thing to do but then afterwards they got used to the games and really enjoyed them,” she shared.
“Some people really loved the opportunity just to sit for 10 minutes,” Dr Edmundson added.
While it was difficult to find time when all staff could take part, Dr Edmundson explained that the department already had a policy of delivering10 minutes of teaching at 10am each day.
“We had this ten-minute window of opportunity. In an environment like the emergency department, if you want to do something like this you have to realise that there is never going to be the perfect time. You just have to do it,” she emphasised.
Staff were asked to rate how they were feeling before and after the games sessions, with scores generally increasing, Dr Edmundson said.
The impact of the activities was also measured through questionnaires, with 80% of participants rating themselves highly on the Warwick-Edinburgh wellbeing scale.
“Staff wellness is something that is a big issue. People who feel they don’t have time for wellness would be surprised by the impact that making time for it has on themselves, others and the team”
Dr Edmundson highlighted that having fun and being creative have similar effects to mindfulness.
“They get people to stop fretting about the past and worrying about the future by becoming engrossed in the present. Fun is under-rated,” she emphasised.
Turning to the reasoning behind prioritising wellbeing in the workplace, Dr Edmundson highlighted that the recruitment and retention of staff is a high priority within the NHS.
She added that there are several studies showing that burnout is a problem within the medical profession and particularly in emergency medicine.
“Staff wellness is something that is a big issue. People who feel they don’t have time for wellness would be surprised by the impact that making time for it has on themselves, others and the team,” Dr Edmundson said.
For optometry practices considering a similar scheme, she highlighted that it was relatively straightforward to implement.
“If you are in a practice, you need to consider how many staff you have and if there is a time where you can get all of your staff to take 10 minutes out,” Dr Edmundson shared.
She added that organising fun activities can be a way of learning about the hidden talents within a team.
“What I discovered in the emergency department is that people are more than their jobs; if you asked your staff, you might be quite surprised at the range of talents within your department,” she said.
“If you have someone who likes to bake, they could bake cupcakes and you could spend 10 minutes icing them and all eat them together with a cup of tea,” Dr Edmundson elaborated.
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