The Well-Being of Peer Supporters in a Pandemic: A Mixed-Methods Study

Published:April 21, 2022DOI:



      Peer support is an effective, well-received approach to caring for health care professionals who face stress, challenges, and reduced well-being. Peer supporters may be at risk for emotional exhaustion and secondary traumatic stress due to their primary roles and involvement as peer supporters during the COVID-19 pandemic.


      Peer supporters from five well-established peer support programs completed surveys (ProQOL and a five-item emotional exhaustion measure) to assess secondary traumatic stress, compassion satisfaction, and burnout during the pandemic. Analysis of variance models analyzed differences in these well-being outcomes by role, age, years in health care, and working in high-risk areas. Qualitative content analysis was performed for open-response questions about challenges, needs, and successful well-being strategies using Braun and Clarke's six-phase thematic analysis.


      A total of 375 peer supporters completed the survey between spring and summer 2021 for a response rate of about 38%. Most participants had low secondary traumatic stress and moderate to high compassion satisfaction; nearly 44% had concerning levels of emotional exhaustion. Compassion satisfaction was significantly lower (p = 0.003) and emotional exhaustion significantly higher (p < 0.001) among the youngest cohort, and both compassion satisfaction and emotional exhaustion differed across career stages (p = 0.003 and p = 0.04, respectively). Emotional exhaustion was significantly higher in peer supporters working in COVID units than in non-COVID units (p = 0.021). Peer supporters identified numerous protective and risk factors associated with serving as a peer supporter.


      Despite having moderate to high levels of compassion satisfaction, peer supporters report high levels of burnout and numerous challenges and needs to sustain their well-being. To maintain effective peer support programs during the ongoing pandemic, health care organizations must study and support the well-being of health care professional peer supporters.
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