Like many teams, the Sonography team at Mayo Clinic in Arizona has felt extra pressure from the COVID-19 pandemic. Staff are managing high numbers of patients, and they perform ultrasound scans under strict pandemic guidelines to keep everyone safe.
Nirvikar Dahiya, M.D., chair of the Division of Ultrasonography, says that his team of 40 sonographers has stepped up to the challenge. He's also noticed, though, that they are under a lot of stress.
"As our scanning volumes kept increasing, it seemed logical that we needed to come up with some sort of mechanism that would allow our staff to decompress for a few minutes between the scans," he says.
One form of decompression came by way of a large coloring poster Dr. Dahiya posted in the break room. It's an idea he had seen on the internet.
"It struck me that this would be the perfect mechanism to insert microbreaks in a sonographer's daily routine and may let them take a few minutes off," he says.
Little did Dr. Dahiya know how popular his initiative would become.
Stephany Conner, a procedural support assistant, says she was excited when she heard about the coloring project and has picked up a crayon a couple of times each week.
"Taking a break throughout the day or making use of a few extra minutes was very helpful to take a mental break," she says.
Adding her creative touch to the poster had the same effect on Diana Cooke, an ultrasound technologist on the team.
"Consciously taking five minutes here and there to let my brain do something else was refreshing," she says.
The opportunity for team members to get a quick mental break wasn't the only benefit. The coloring poster also provided much entertainment and team bonding.
Dr. Dahiya says that whenever he came across someone coloring the poster, there was an exchange of smiles and a discussion on what color should go where.
"At one point, the team noticed I was overusing the brown color, so the sonographers collaborated and removed the brown crayon from the box. It provided quite a mirth for a few days as I searched for my missing crayon," he says. "It was all in good spirits and humor, and I think it helps the entire team to bond and function better."
Cooke adds that it has been fun to see everyone's personalities come out in the poster.
"It's also been the center of running jokes and text message threads and a major source of entertainment," she says.
Even patients have picked up on the colorful activity. Conner says they are watching the team's progress on the poster.
"I overheard a couple of them mention that they were happy to be in the room they were in, so they could see the coloring poster," she says.
That also lead the team to post a new, larger poster in a more central location to let patients catch a glimpse as they come and go. And it doesn't end there.
The team coloring activity has become so popular that other divisions in Radiology have incorporated it, as well, according to Dr. Dahiya. He says it's all about acknowledging that even small ideas can have a big impact.
"As leaders, we need to consistently have empathy towards our teams and be aware of stressors in their day-to-day routine. It's important to come up with ideas to help them cope. Small, incremental changes can start the process," he says.
Dr. Dahiya also gives credit to Dyan DeYoung, and Charles Utecht, who he says embraced his idea, as well as team leads Roger Ellstrom, Tawny Hernandez and Kaylee Kellogg, who selected the poster, crayons and location for the coloring breaks.
The sonographers appreciate the break and the creative outlet.
"As a general rule, we are visual, detail-oriented people, but our work-world is all in grayscale. For once we got to play with color," Cooke says.