BT Young Scientist prizewinner Hannah Walsh on her project and experience
Hannah Walsh (working with Eadaoin Whelan inside the School) won the Intermediate Individual Social and Behavioural Category of BT Young Scientist, and the RTE Best Project in Social & Behavioural Sciences for her project, ‘Towards the development of a program of interventions for the reduction of stress among junior doctors’. Hannah has written this article about the project and her overall experience.
My name is Hannah Walsh and earlier this year I won the Intermediate Individual Social and Behavioural Category, and the RTE Best Project in Social & Behavioural Sciences in the BT Young Scientist competition for my project, ‘Towards the development of a program of interventions for the reduction of stress among junior doctors’. This project was a continuation of my 2021 young scientist project in which I investigated stress in the Irish healthcare system. Findings from this project indicated that junior doctors experience the most stress and based on this I decided to conduct a follow-up study to try and alleviate feelings of stress in junior doctors in Ireland. The previous project provided valuable information which helped me design the intervention component of the current study.
The Irish healthcare system faces several workload related challenges which negatively impact upon the wellbeing of healthcare professionals . Due to this, many newly graduated doctors leave Ireland immediately after they graduate and go abroad and continue their training . Those who stay are joining an already understaffed organisation and quickly become stressed and burnt-out . Junior doctors face numerous stressors on a daily basis, ranging from lack of support, working long hours, caring for sick patients, and responding to distressed family members . Many junior doctors have identified these issues within the workplace and actively seek support to manage their workload.
Although system change does not happen overnight , the aim of this project was to try and intervene to alleviate stress in the short-term, while awaiting long-term plans to be implemented. It has been identified that even small changes could dramatically reduce burnout . Practicing self-care could be imperative to young doctors coping with the hours, workload, and demands of their profession, and help health healthcare profession create a better work life balance .
The initial survey measured levels of stress, burnout, and wellbeing in junior doctors. Once the first survey was completed, participants were randomly assigned to either a control or experimental group. Those assigned to the experimental group received information about the four-week intervention programme which was designed to encourage doctors to engage in healthy habits throughout their working week. The programme required doctors to choose a healthy habit and set weekly goals to encourage them to implement their chosen habit into their working day. Following the intervention, all doctors completed the same survey again, reporting on feelings of stress, burnout, and wellbeing.
Findings showed that the programme had a statistically significant effect on levels of wellbeing and burnout. Examples of some of the habits participants in the intervention group undertook included; walking to work, packing a healthy lunch, and reducing their screen time. This study has identified an accessible and efficient program that junior doctors can take part in to reduce their burnout levels and improve wellbeing in as short a time as 4 weeks.
It was very rewarding to see positive effects of the study evidenced in the decrease in burnout and increase in wellbeing reported by doctors who took part in the intervention. However, a limitation of this project was that it was conducted during the pandemic when doctors typically experienced more demands on their time, and as a result, attrition rates were extremely high.
Overall, my experience competing in the BT Young Scientist competition was wholly positive and I hope that the findings from this research can be used to promote positive change in the Irish healthcare system and support the health and wellbeing of Irish doctors. The experience of conducting this research was made all the more enjoyable thanks to the help and mentoring I received from my teacher Ms Joanne Corkery, and Ms Eadaoin Whelan from the School of Applied Psychology, University College Cork. The mentoring we receive as students on our projects teaches us vital research skills and helps us produce a much higher quality project at the end.
- Hannan, E., Breslin, N., Doherty, E., McGreal, M., Moneley, D., & Offiah, G. (2018). Burnout and stress amongst interns in Irish hospitals: contributing factors and potential solutions. Irish Journal of Medical Science (1971-), 187(2), 301-307.
- Niamh Humphries1* , J.C., Joel Negin3 and James Buchan4, Tracking the leavers: towards a better understanding of doctor migration from Ireland to Australia 2008–2018.
- FRCPsych1, E.G.M.M.D.B.M.M.H.B.M.C.S.P.M.M.C.M.F.C.M., Psychological stress and burnout in medical students: a five-year prospective longitudinal study.
- Julia Lohmann1, Denny John3,4 and Aso Dzay1, Prevalence and factors associated with poor mental health among healthcare professionals in low- and lower-middle- income countries: a systematic review protocol. BMC medical education, 2019.
- Grol, R.a.W., M. , Effective implementation of change in healthcare: a systematic approach. In Improving Patient Care (eds R. Grol, M. Wensing, M. Eccles and D. Davis). .
- NOGUCHI, Y., Small Changes May Help Exhausted Health Care Workers Combat Burnout. 2021.
- al, L.E.S.e., Prioritizing the Mental Health and Well-Being of Healthcare Workers: An Urgent Global Public Health Priority. Frontiers in Public Health, 2021.
For more on this story contact: