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Honouring Healthcare Workers: Heroism & Healing

(Photo courtesy of Healy Communications)

Heroes’ Retreats at Kylemore

Iconic Camino - an Irish company offering retreats to some of Ireland’s most iconic locations - has announced a plan to offer frontline workers and their partners a free three day retreat at The University of Notre Dame's Global Centre at Kylemore in Connemara, County Galway. The focus of these specific retreats will be to give frontline workers a really special thank you to help acknowledge all they have done, as well as to help them process what they have been through and to rest and recuperate.

Applications for the “Heroes’ Retreat'' are being accepted from workers who staffed the frontline at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, and their partners. The retreat will mirror the existing “Connemino Wellness Programme'' at the magical Kylemore estate, a perfect place to escape to and be nourished by locally-sourced nutritious food prepared by local chef, explore the majestic countryside with gentle hikes, and enjoy the unique nature. The Notre Dame Global Centre at Kylemore provides a unique location and is committed to a holistic experience that nourishes mind, body and spirit.

Alan Kerins says that, “For some time now I have been trying to work out a way to reward the incredible effort of our doctors, our nurses and care home staff who all stepped forward as the rest of the world stepped back. At Kylemore Abbey, we are surrounded by the most beautiful scenery to be found anywhere on earth, and I think it is the perfect place for those frontline workers to pause and reflect on the year that has passed. The great flexibility in using the Notre Dame Education Centre at Kylemore is that they will be able to bring either a partner or a friend to share the experience. I am hugely grateful to Kirby Group for their financial support, and look forward to engaging with other businesses who could match their generosity”.

Success applicants will be chosen at random from applications received online. For the purposes of the competition, “Frontline Worker” is defined as anyone working in direct patient care in the health service during 2020 and 2021. Proof of employment may be required as part of the validation process, and a full list of terms and conditions is available on the website.

Frontline workers and their partners will be accommodated on the Heroes’ Retreat following support from Kirby Group, who donated €50,000 to cover the cost. It’s hoped that other Irish businesses will match that donation, to facilitate further retreats in the months ahead. If you are an Irish business who would like to support these weekends, or if you are interested in contributing to a Heroes Weekend Retreat in some way, please email: kylemore@nd.edu. 

To nominate a Healthcare Hero, you can fill out the form here.

Who is Alan Kerins?

Alan Kerins of County Galway, Ireland is no stranger to team-building, mental growth, leadership mindsets, innovation, and the Notre Dame name. Having grown up in Clarinbridge, Co. Galway, Alan has won multiple trophies in both Gaelic Football and Hurling at the club and county level, received a degree in physiotherapy from Trinity College Dublin, travelled to Zambia for charity work, started up his own grassroots project The Alan Kerins Project, and so much more. So how did Alan become involved with the Notre Dame Kylemore Global Centre?

Alan had travelled to West Zambia in 2005 to assist Sister Cathy Crawford, an Irish nun from Co. Laois who was there running a home for disabled children and needed a physiotherapist. While there, Alan helped Sr. Crawford with providing physiotherapy and rehab services and assisting in fundraising with businesses and partnerships back in Galway which began with a goal of €5,000 to help kick-start the building of wells and farming in the community to provide self-sustainable food. This number quickly snowballed organically to the point where Alan had to form his organisation, the Alan Kerins Projects which merged with Self-Help Africa in 2015 to form a “really successful partnership” (Alan).

After the success of his charitable work in Africa, Alan was approached by Kevin Whelan of the Dublin Global Gateway both to discuss his charitable work and to explain the Irish Gaelic sports to the Notre Dame study abroad students. From this connection to the Dublin Global Gateway, Alan got to know Lisa Caulfield, Director of the Kylemore Global Centre, who later attended one of his programmes at Ballynahinch Castle in Connemara with Notre Dame colleague Paul Slaggert. Not only did the three become friends, but they proceeded to create what became the Inspirational Leadership at Kylemore programme. The Kylemore Global Centre is where the Notre Dame family and the wider Irish community can engage in meaningful and authentic ways. Together with local partners, we strive to provide multi-disciplinary programming for leaders, thinkers, and creators with a focus on nourishing mind, body, and spirit.

"I just love Connemara, it’s such a special place. And Kylemore is magic"

Alan’s Programmes at Kylemore

Inspirational Leadership at Kylemore, which launched in the summer of 2018, is a four-day fully immersive residential programme at the Kylemore Global Centre aimed at the experienced, successful executive leader seeking a new perspective on the challenges of a highly competitive and complex environment. “I just love Connemara, it’s such a special place. And Kylemore is magic,” says Alan. “People have to be committed enough to be going there—you’re giving yourself enough time because the location is spectacular for that kind of thing. You feel like you’re away even though you’re still in the country, and you’re challenged with really good content in terms of self-awareness and working from within out”. Topics during the days range from The Leadership Circle to Immunity for Change to Resilience with the aim of strengthening and sharpening the individual to help strengthen the business.

Summer and Fall 2021 are full speed ahead for Alan with his involvement in the Inspirational Leadership at Kylemore programme and his own series of shorter retreats at the Kylemore Global Centre called “Conneminos”. These Conneminos run out of the Kylemore Global Centre are “perfect for learning, relaxation and reflection, and giving people a really wonderful experience” and are geared towards resetting post-lockdown. Alan will be running 14 iconic Camino retreats over the summer, a few of which will be dedicated to frontline health workers through corporate sponsorship (see above for more information). The other Connemino weekends will be open to anyone who needs a break from lockdown life and will be run by top-class facilitators and guides.

"At Kylemore Abbey, we are surrounded by the most beautiful scenery to be found anywhere on earth, and I think it is the perfect place for those frontline workers to pause and reflect on the year that has passed"

Building Bridges

The Healthcare Heroes' Retreats and giving back to frontline workers is relevant not just in Ireland, but all over the world. In fact, the idea of the retreats has resonated so fully that Dominic O. Vachon, M.Div., Ph.D., Director of the Ruth M. Hillebrand Center for Compassionate Care in Medicine at the University of Notre Dame, will be partnering with Alan and the Kylemore Global Centre on this initiative.

"In working with frontline clinicians, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, clinicians talk about how it is one of the hardest things they have ever gone through and how they need to recover from it, but many also add that it crystallized in them what is most important in this work in terms of compassion."

At Notre Dame, Dr. Vachon conducts research on the internal mental and emotional process of the clinician compassion mindset in patient care, clinician communication skills, and innovations in medical training applying the science of compassion. Vachon is currently doing a qualitative study with physicians in COVID ICUs and ERs and asking them how they prepared themselves for this work, how they maintained the best mental performance they could during their shifts, and how they restore themselves. "In working with frontline clinicians, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, clinicians talk about how it is one of the hardest things they have ever gone through and how they need to recover from it, but many also add that it crystallized in them what is most important in this work in terms of compassion," says Vachon. For the Healthcare Heroes' Retreats, he is hoping to do sessions on what it means to be balanced in compassionate caring, how we recover from difficult work in helping people who suffer (especially in the last year and a half), and also what is the role of philosophy of life or spirituality in what we go through.

Vachon has dedicated nearly 30 years working with nurses and physicians in terms of how to maintain compassion in constantly working with people who are suffering and how to take care of oneself in this emotionally challenging work. He points out that while compassion draws helping professionals into healthcare, many clinicians feel like they must jettison that compassion in order to survive. Paradoxically, the new field of compassion science has now shown that losing that compassion not only harms the patient, but also harms the health professionals. There is increasing evidence that the experience of providing compassionate and emotionally connected care with patients is actually a buffer against clinician burnout and a source of resilience and fulfilment for clinicians. Using biology, neuroscience, and psychology, we now have a more research-informed and non-sentimental understanding of clinician compassion as well as how to remain balanced in providing this compassionate care. Rather than blaming clinicians for the loss of compassion, Vachon argues that our societies and our healthcare organisations must improve organisational protection and support to clinicians so that they are able to maintain the compassion healthcare professionals desire to give and that benefits patients the most. Vachon recently wrote How Doctors Care: The Science of Compassionate and Balanced Caring in Medicine bringing together all this information on the science of compassion applied to healthcare. While this particular book focuses on physicians, it applies to all helping professions. Rather than compassion being considered a sentimental and emotionally burdensome quality, we are now discovering ways to train our minds and reform our healthcare organisations so that both our patients benefit and we as clinicians can thrive as well.

In terms of what healthcare clinicians have recently gone through in COVID-19, Vachon has found that clinicians need to take time to reflect on what they have experienced in order to grieve the suffering they witnessed but also heal and continue this work. In the face of terrible suffering, it has been the compassion of these health professionals that has kept them going in extreme circumstances. Vachon points out that throughout the world, "our societies have often devalued that compassionate motivation in our helping professionals, even taking it for granted". Now we have seen how precious that compassion is, and our societies are realising we must do everything we can to support that compassion.

Notre Dame’s Kylemore Global Centre

“[The Global Centre] has endeared itself to the locals and has collaborated with them in terms of supporting them”

As a proprietor of culture, nature, creativity, reflection and refocus, Alan fully embodies the Kylemore Global Centre’s values and shows the ways in which the Global Centre and the wider community in the West of Ireland have forged a symbiotic relationship in the past few years. “[The Kylemore Global Centre] is a perfect fit in terms of the values and the ethos and even the activities [the Centre] does involving local communities have been really good,” says Alan. “[The Global Centre] has endeared itself to the locals and has collaborated with them in terms of supporting them”. As one of the Galway locals, Alan can see the benefit of the Notre Dame name in the West of Ireland and expressed how that name is only going to grow in terms of bringing visitors and alumni, boosting the Connemara brand, and providing more educational programming for locals and foreigners alike. “There is huge potential to develop really cool products and experiences that will bring Connemara to the centre of the world in terms of different experiences from spiritual to cultural to educational. So it can only be a win-win. From my viewpoint and experience it’s already a win-win”.

To nominate a Healthcare Hero, you can fill out the form here.

If you are an Irish business who would like to support these weekends, or if you are interested in contributing to a Heroes Weekend Retreat in some way, please email: kylemore@nd.edu.

For more information about the Inspirational Leadership at Kylemore programme, please visit our website.

Find out more about Alan's Conneminos programmes here.

Find out more about Alan’s work with Self Help Africa.