As a nurse working the night shift, Lynette Peterson, RN, BS, said in her five years of providing care while many others are asleep, she has learned how it feels to be forgotten at times.
That’s why she said she and other nurses at Cancer Treatment Centers of America’s Eastern Regional Medical Center in Philadelphia have so heartily embraced the advent of the hospital’s first-ever group counseling and pastoral care session, known as the Sundown Program.
“There are differences between night and day shifts, and that’s probably one of the biggest ones,” Peterson said. “So it’s nice that someone thought of us and considered that, hey, you know, they might need someone, too.”
The Sundown Program launched in July 2012, the result of conversations between nurses and management at Eastern Regional, said the Rev. Wendell Scanterbury, supervisor of pastoral care at Eastern Regional.
He said Eastern Regional has for some time run its Cookies and Conversation program, which invites nurses and other care providers to meet during the morning with Eastern Regional’s pastoral care staff for support and informal counseling.
He said the sessions are in addition to the professional counseling offered through Eastern Regional’s employee assistance program.
“We know there is a lot of compassion fatigue,” Scanterbury said. “Our staff can become close to patients, and we know this can be difficult, particularly for nurses.”
But Scanterbury said Eastern Regional came to recognize the hours of the daytime sessions made attendance difficult for those working the night shift.
So the hospital, enlisting the help of a chaplain working the night shift, began offering the Sundown sessions each Friday from 11:30 p.m. until 1 a.m. on Saturday.
During the sessions, nurses and others working the night shift are invited to take a break for conversation, prayer or counseling, either individually or in a group setting. The sessions are voluntary, and those participating in the sessions may come and go as they wish.
“This is an effort to provide our overnight caregivers a listening ear and a shoulder of support, as they need it,” Scanterbury said. “But we want them to know their needs matter.”
Louise Molz, RN, night nursing supervisor at Eastern Regional, said nurses on the night shift gradually have become aware of the weekly Sundown sessions, as word of the sessions has been spread among the nurses by other nurses or by the pastoral care staff.
And she said participation has grown steadily since the fall.
Scanterbury said the night chaplain regularly meets with 30-40 nurses each week, typically in groups of four to 15 at a time.
Molz said a number of nurses were hesitant at the beginning. Others who went were reluctant to participate fully.
But she said the Sundown program has won over many of even the most skeptical.
“Its a relaxed, comfortable atmosphere,” Molz said. “But nothing ever leaves that room. It’s kind of sacred, now.”
Peterson said that in five years of working as a critical care nurse, including three at Eastern Regional, she, like other nurses, has learned techniques for coping with the stress of dealing with mortality and human suffering on a daily basis.
But she said the Sundown Program has proven particularly helpful for her.
Peterson said she’d like to see the program expanded to more than just one night a week.
“This isn’t like a regular hospital, where patients are treated, they go home, and you never see them again,” Peterson said. “So when you lose [a patient], it can hurt. Going to Sundown, though, I think it helps all of us feel a little bit better, if not a lot better, even if it’s just for 20 minutes a week.”