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A nurse is helping Maryland’s front line health care workers cope with the coronavirus pandemic

Tara Ryan is a nurse and an instructor at Towson University who, outside of her work at Towson, started a project called Heal the Healers, which helps front-line nurses cope with the trauma of the pandemic. She sends out text messages of encouragement to nurses prior to their shifts to help them cope with the day ahead. In addition, she reaches out to them via phone/zoom and also send them floral arrangements to brighten their day.
Tara Ryan is a nurse and an instructor at Towson University who, outside of her work at Towson, started a project called Heal the Healers, which helps front-line nurses cope with the trauma of the pandemic. She sends out text messages of encouragement to nurses prior to their shifts to help them cope with the day ahead. In addition, she reaches out to them via phone/zoom and also send them floral arrangements to brighten their day. (Jerry Jackson/Baltimore Sun)

One day in late March, Tara Ryan, a clinical assistant professor at Towson University and licensed nurse, was conducting online courses from home with concerning interruptions.

Via texts, phone calls and e-mails, the 36-year-old Towson resident was hearing from past colleagues and past nursing students seeking her out for support.

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She counted 15 interactions that day alone and that’s when the reality of COVID-19 completely set in.

“I thought, this is profound, like 15 people in my circle need emotional support,” she said. “What can I do?”

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Tara Ryan, a nursing instructor at Towson University, separately started a project called Heal the Healers, which helps front-line health workers cope with the trauma of the coronavirus pandemic.
Tara Ryan, a nursing instructor at Towson University, separately started a project called Heal the Healers, which helps front-line health workers cope with the trauma of the coronavirus pandemic. (Nicholas Kosmas)

Two days later, Ryan, a certified debriefing specialist, founded the Heal the Healers Communication Initiative, a service to aid front-line workers coping with the daily trauma that comes with handling the coronavirus pandemic.

Debriefing consists of creating a psychologically safe space to express emotion without fear of judgement. Heal the Healers does just that.

On Facebook, Ryan posted a form that invited front-line health workers to sign up anonymously for a daily message of encouragement. The passages originally came via text — personally written by Ryan each night and sent the next day before recipients started their shifts.

Ryan has added phone and video conferencing calls along with occasional care packages that include flower arrangements from Ryan’s own small floral business.

With the program mostly a one-person operation, Ryan volunteers up to 50 hours a week reaching the 200 participants who have signed up. The text messages have proven to be most far-reaching.

“I write the messages the night before usually based on my experiences with the debriefing that day,” Ryan said. "So if I’m getting a lot of responses relating to exhaustion or nurses feeling betrayed that people aren’t wearing masks, whatever [they may be] is the overall theme of that day. Then I formulate that into an inspirational type message to send the next day.”

Tara Ryan, a nursing instructor at Towson University and founder of the Heal the Healers Communication Initiative, sends out text messages of encouragement to health care workers prior to their shifts to help them cope with the day ahead. In addition, she reaches out to them via phone or video calls and sends them floral arrangements to brighten their day.
Tara Ryan, a nursing instructor at Towson University and founder of the Heal the Healers Communication Initiative, sends out text messages of encouragement to health care workers prior to their shifts to help them cope with the day ahead. In addition, she reaches out to them via phone or video calls and sends them floral arrangements to brighten their day. (Jerry Jackson/Baltimore Sun)

Niki Simpers, a registered nurse at Mercy Medical Center who Ryan taught at Towson, counts on the daily support.

“I get a text every day and it’s an original thought of her own on healing and encouragement,” Simpers said. “Every now and then, when you’re kind of dreading going to work because you just know in your heart it’s going to be a difficult night, it really helps. It’s an amazing program.”

During her childhood, Ryan sustained a burn injury and the caring support she received from nurses had a profound effect.

“This is meaningful work to me because I share the perspective of both patient, being grateful for the nurses that helped me, as well as the perspective as a registered nurse,” she said.

“It’s my life’s greatest work.”

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