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A Pathway to Resilience: A Way to Take Care of Transplant Staff

Updated: May 3, 2021

Written by Jackie Sitkowski - Resilience Coach and Living Organ Donor

The process of organ and tissue donation is not an easy one. Doctors, surgeons, staff at hospitals, rehabilitation centers, and Organ Procurement Organizations are all involved in the strenuous yet life-saving process of organ and tissue transplantation. These people are passionate about the crucial role they play in saving a life. However, this line of work comes with an emotional toll that is difficult to carry. To help these essential workers, Jackie Sitkowski came up with a program called The Resiliency Program. As a licensed counselor, Jackie has worked in collaboration with the staff at Versiti Organ and Tissue to change the way that transplant workers manage their stress while providing the best care they can give. The following is written by Jackie herself, where she describes this program and the hope for OPO's and other transplant staff to prioritize building resilience in their staff.


Organ and tissue donation is an incredible life-saving and life-changing process that would not exist if it were not for the staff who work passionately and tirelessly to make it happen. Working on staff at an OPO can be an incredibly unique and profound experience. Along with the profound aspects of the job, there is also exposure to experiences that can result in acute stress, and other factors that make it challenging at times—unpredictable hours, witnessing trauma and intense grief around death, working in a high stakes environment, adhering to complex rules and regulations, facilitating a multifaceted and ever-changing process, and more.

If you have had the opportunity to meet staff members who work at an OPO, you might already know they tend to be passionate, talented, hard-working, and deeply committed to the mission. And many staff find being in the role of a dedicated helping professional to come quite naturally. This makes for an exceptional group of people, and, at times, it can also create barriers to caring for oneself and prioritizing one’s own needs. And, in additional to the societal stigma of asking for additional support and care, many people are not familiar with the distinctive stressors and basic knowledge of this work, thus creating more barriers for OPO staff to feel comfortable and understood when seeking additional support to navigate the challenging parts of this work.

In 2017, members of Versiti’s OPO leadership team in southeastern Wisconsin were aware that certain aspects of this work were negatively impacting their staff at times, potentially contributing to staff turnover, burnout, and increased stress, and many staff were not receiving or seeking out additional support for some of the reasons previously stated. Conversations began with Jackie Sitkowski, a living organ donor and licensed professional counselor, around offering support for the staff to address these stressors and challenges in a more accessible and tailored way. The Resiliency Program began to take shape with Jackie in a role as an external consultant and Resiliency Coach for the staff.

Over the past 4+ years, in collaboration with the staff at the OPO, Jackie has facilitated over 100 Pathway to Resilience meetings, which are voluntary, supportive meetings for staff focused around topics related to building resilience, self- and community-care practices, stress management, and fostering more cohesive team environments. Beyond that, she offers additional group and one-on-one consultation for staff as needed, critical incident stress management interventions, and has facilitated panel discussions focused on the social and emotional aspects of this work.

In recent years, other OPOs from around the country have also been implementing and enhancing formal and informal resilience and stress management programs for their staff. The need has become clearer for staff at OPOs to have ongoing support, and many OPOs are witnessing the value and importance of this. First and foremost, this support can be crucial to promote increased health and wellbeing among staff. And, it can contribute to fostering more resilient teams and organizations. Ultimately, this can have a positive impact on the ability to facilitate organ and tissue donation with increased skill, knowledge, experience, and efficacy.

As Versiti in Wisconsin and other OPOs continue to prioritize building resilience, caring for staff more intentionally, and having services available when staff inevitably encounter overwhelmingly difficult situations, the field of organ and tissue donation will hopefully continue to grow stronger and more successful, starting with the people at the foundation of it all who make it happen each and every day.

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