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Mayo Clinic-ASU program helps mothers in medical professions lower stress, beat burnout

ASU study focuses on reducing stress levels in mothers who work in health care.
April 12, 2017

Mothers who work as health care professionals — such as physicians, physician assistants and nurse practitioners — can reduce their stress levels and burnout significantly by participating in close supportive groups at work, according to a new study by researchers at Arizona State University and Mayo Clinic.

According to the study, “Fostering Resilience Among Mothers Under Stress: ‘Authentic Connections Groups’ for Medical Professionals,” the shared experiences in these support groups provide a wealth of nurturance for the women. The study results are published in the current issue of Women’s Health Issues.

Groups in the intervention provided “comfort, solace and advice, as needed, building what some called a ‘secret sisterhood’ of shared experiences with genuineness and reciprocity in the relationship,” said Suniya Luthar, a Foundation Professor of psychology at ASU and the lead author of the study. “These factors help build resilience for professional mothers who are under great daily stress, with substantial dual demands at work and at home.” 

Dr. Cynthia Stonnington, associate professor, Mayo Clinic College of Medicine and Science, and chair of psychiatry at Mayo Clinic’s Arizona campus, is senior co-author and collaborator on the project. Other authors are Alexandria Curlee, an ASU graduate student; Susannah Tye, Department of Psychiatry and Psychology, Mayo Clinic; and Dr. Judith Engelman, a psychiatrist in private practice.

“Women medical professionals who are mothers often face the dual role of being the primary caregiver both for their patients and their children,” Stonnington said. “This puts them at higher risk for burnout than their male counterparts. Our study investigated how this supportive program might help mitigate stresses and promote their day-to-day health and well-being.”

The Authentic Connections Groups intervention involved weekly sessions at work over a three-month period. The researchers randomly assigned 40 women at Mayo to one of two groups ─ either the 12 weekly one-hour sessions of the Authentic Connections Groups or 12 weekly hours of protected time to be used as desired. The study was supported by seed funds from ASU to Luthar, and the Mayo Clinic contributed time to participate.

The study showed that those who participated in the Authentic Connections Groups significantly reduced their depression and other global symptoms of stress over those given free time (the control group). Secondly, relative gains were still more pronounced three months after the program ended. Follow-up assessments showed significant differences between the groups ─ not only on depression and stress, but also on almost all other central variables, including parenting stress, self-compassion, feeling loved and physical affection. Participants in the Authentic Connections Groups also showed more reductions in cortisol levels (a biochemical indicator of stress) than control moms after the intervention and at a three-month follow-up.

"Those who serve as first responders and offer so much tending for many others, must themselves be tended."

— Suniya Luthar, Foundation Professor of psychology at ASU 

In explaining why this program worked, Luthar said the Authentic Connections Groups actively and continually fostered development of close, mutually supportive relationships, and the resulting shared experiences and bonding helped to lower participants’ stress levels.

“Resilience research clearly shows the critical protective power of reliable close relationships,” Luthar said. “In this program, our focus was on developing and strengthening what we called go-to committees for each woman. As topics were shared in the weekly group sessions over time, the moms each also shared them with their respective go-tos. By the end of three months, each woman had developed great closeness not only with other moms in their work setting, but also with at least two or three other women in their personal lives.”

A critical factor in enabling this effort was the institutional commitment to wellness. Stonnington reported that the Authentic Connections Groups program was implemented as part of an initiative begun in 2015 at Mayo Clinic’s Arizona campus to address burnout and turnover among female physicians. 

“Another major reason for the success of this program is that the groups were implemented in the women’s everyday settings, during their regular workdays,” Luthar said. “That the Mayo administration gave them the one hour per week free time to participate was a critical consideration, given how very packed these women’s schedules can be.”

The U.S. surgeon general recently stated that efforts to promote the well-being of medical professionals must become a major priority among health care organizations. This study demonstrates that facilitated colleague support groups can provide a viable, low-cost preventive way to mitigate burnout among female medical professionals who also are mothers.

More broadly, the authors note that the Authentic Connections Groups program could be widely used in workplace wellness programs, given the high cost of worker stress and depression in contemporary America. Since completion of the Mayo project, Luthar and colleagues have completed groups with military mothers and now are offering it to women in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics disciplines, with both new projects implemented at ASU.

“It is our hope that, over time, the Authentic Connections Groups program will come to benefit women, mothers and other adults in salient caregiving roles, as they routinely give so much of themselves to others while experiencing high everyday stress,” Luthar said. “It just makes common sense. Those who serve as first responders and offer so much tending for many others, must themselves be tended — with this happening on a reliable and ongoing basis.”

Associate Director , Media Relations & Strategic Communications

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Morrison-Cronkite News poll shows 2 in 5 know someone with painkiller addiction

ASU-released poll shows 1 in 7 adults know someone who overdosed on pain pills.
April 12, 2017

Major survey released by ASU shows sweep of opioid abuse and addiction epidemic

A major poll released by Arizona State University on Wednesday shows 2 in 5 adults in Arizona know someone who has been addicted to prescription painkillers, a finding that shows the sweep of the opioid abuse and addiction epidemic.

The Morrison-Cronkite News Poll, “Arizonans’ Opinions on Opioids and Addiction,” also showed 1 in 7 Arizona adults know someone who has died from an opiate pill overdose.

“Our polls continue to add key insight and data on important and complex issues facing the state and nation including in this case, opioid availability, abuse and addiction,” said Thom Reilly, director of Morrison Institute for Public Policy. “The findings show how widespread this epidemic manifests itself across a variety and multiple demographics. Poll results should help policymakers, medical professionals, community groups and the public better address this serious problem through improved awareness, policies and practices.”

The survey — a joint project between ASU’s Morrison Institute for Public Policy and Cronkite News, the news division of Arizona PBS — builds off the Cronkite News documentary “Hooked Rx: From Prescription to Addiction,” Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication Dean Christopher Callahan said.

“The Morrison-Cronkite News Poll is part of our continued commitment to reporting on this critical health issue that impacts so many people,” Callahan said.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 78 people die every day from opioid-related overdoses in the U.S.

The Cronkite School’s 30-minute, commercial-free documentary on prescription opioid abuse was produced by more than 100 students under the guidance of 15 faculty members. It reached more than 1 million Arizonans in January.

Nearly 60 percent of Arizonans said they believe opioid painkillers are “very easy” or “somewhat easy” to get, despite continual efforts by the state and federal governments to further regulate and restrict the drug’s availability. The poll showed nearly 3 in 5 Arizona adults believe “prescription painkiller abuse makes a person more likely to use heroin or other illegal drugs.”

The poll showed the use of prescription pain relievers among Arizonans with ongoing pain increases with age (18–35 years old: 23 percent; 36–64: 38 percent; 65–plus: 41 percent). Overall, 36 percent of Arizonans in chronic pain use prescription pain relievers.

Throughout the poll report, comparisons were made to the national findings from the Henry I. Kaiser Family Foundation Health Tracking Poll from November 2015. The Morrison-Cronkite News Poll’s findings were similar to the national Kaiser Family Foundation Poll.

The Morrison-Cronkite News Poll, conducted March 11–18, interviewed 800 randomly selected Arizona adults. The sample was quota-selected from 18 strata based on age, gender and race to match the demographic characteristics of Arizona based on the latest Census data. The sampling frame included both landline and cellular telephones, and interviews were conducted in Spanish as needed. The survey’s margin of error was plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.

The complete Morrison-Cronkite News Poll and coverage from Cronkite News can be found at cronkitenews.azpbs.org/2017/04/12/perscription-opioid-addiction-az-poll.

In the past two years, Cronkite News has been committed to providing in-depth and sustained coverage of Arizona’s opioid epidemic.

In addition to the “Hooked Rx” documentary, Cronkite News has produced numerous stories on the opioid epidemic. In 2015, students produced “Hooked: Tracking Heroin’s Hold on Arizona,” which reached more than 1 million Arizonans and won numerous prestigious journalism awards, including the Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Award and Arizona’s top Emmy Award. Both Hooked documentaries were produced in partnership with the Arizona Broadcasters Association.

Communications manager , Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication

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