A pilot study to evaluate the feasibility of storytelling through music to improve well-being in oncology nurses

Phillips, Carolyn Sue
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There are approximately 15.5 million cancer survivors alive today, and this number is expected to increase to 26.1 million by 2040. As the number of cancer survivors increase, there has also been a simultaneous increase in rates of compassion fatigue and burnout among oncology professionals. Research has shown that the well-being of professionals has a direct impact on patient health outcomes. Recently, the National Academy of Medicine stated that the well-being of healthcare professionals must be a national priority because it poses a significant threat to safe, high-quality care.

Oncology nurses are at the forefront of cancer care. Maintaining their well-being will be crucial to decreasing burnout, compassion fatigue, turnover, and providing high quality of care to people with cancer. One potential cause of compassion fatigue and burnout in oncology nurses is the grief that occurs with repeated patient loss. The impact of patient loss is great, and the persistent exposure to patient death can lead to a prolonged sense of grief. The purpose of this study was to determine the feasibility and effects of Storytelling Through Music on anxiety, depression, insomnia, loneliness, self-reflection and insight, self-compassion, burnout, secondary traumatic stress, and compassion satisfaction.

This two-group, quasi-experimental study investigated the effects of a 6-week intervention that combines storytelling, expressive writing, and music to address the workplace emotions related to caring for people with cancer. Participants (N=43) were primarily female (95%) and white (98%), yet 27% self-reported Hispanic ethnicity. The average age was 38.2 years and 65% had at least a bachelor’s degree. The majority of the sample were working full-time, currently in oncology, and in the outpatient setting.

Storytelling Through Music intervention was feasible and acceptable to this group of participants. Qualitatively, the most meaningful aspects of the intervention were: sharing, writing, addressing hard emotions, and the performance of their stories and songs to honor the people about whom they wrote. Quantitatively, there was a significant time by group interaction effect for insomnia, loneliness, self-reflection, self-compassion, and on self-compassion subscales, mindfulness and self-judgement. All outcome measures, except insight, were associated with a small or moderate effect size.