Uniting communities of nursing and practice through Parkrun

General practice nurse Heather Jones is showing how becoming a Parkrun practice can be led by nurses at her university practice in Sheffield, and can even be a tool to bring the nursing community together.

When a GP practice signs up to be a Parkrun practice, it is often a GP who champions the initiative. However, when the University of Sheffield Health Service (UHS) considered joining the RCGP-backed campaign last autumn, it was practice nurse Heather Jones who volunteered to take the lead.

Parkrun is a free, volunteer-run event that takes place at 9 a.m. nearly every Saturday at 1,166 parks and open spaces across the country. Anyone can participate and walk, jog or run the established 5K route, as well as volunteer or spectator, with no obligation to attend every week or complete the entire route, and while participants can log their time, there is no time limit .

In partnership with RCGP, Parkrun launched the Parkrun Practice initiative in 2018 to raise awareness among Parkrun GPs and practice staff and encourage them to participate and point patients to local events. 1,500 practices have registered to be a Parkrun Clinic, pledging to promote local events, which can be posters, a web presence for the practice or signage to patients in the practice. Some practices have gone as far as hosting a local event, but this is not a requirement to register.

Promote the well-being of patients and staff

Ms Jones, who has been a practicum nurse since graduating four years ago, works as a practicum nurse at Sheffield UHS and as a nurse educator for the South Yorkshire primary care workforce training centre.

“At first I thought you can sell something much better if you’ve tried it yourself,” he explains. So towards the end of last year, during a series of Saturdays, the team was encouraged to attend the local events the practice had been associated with at Endcliffe and Hillsborough Parks. Employees also attended one of Sheffield’s Youth Parkruns, a 2km run for children aged 4-14 and their families on Sundays.

Sheffield UHS has around 80 staff members and so far six nurses, four GPs and a physiotherapist have participated in or marshaled a Parkrun event, some of whom also brought their children and dogs. “In hindsight, having different people test each week allowed people to talk to colleagues they might not know very well,” says Ms. Jones.

‘Of course, our ultimate intent for this is to promote physical activity in our patient population, but increasingly I saw the potential to benefit staff wellbeing. There is a real danger of general practice staff spending most of the day at desks and in isolation, just seeing patients. The main interaction between the team can become the electronic tasks that we send back and forth about patient care. That is very transactional and the people you work with can become more like a list of names on a screen than individuals on a team.”

Ms. Jones’ goal for the team this year is simply to maintain participation. ‘I don’t want it to be onerous; I am aware that family life can make weekends hectic and that time away from work is valuable,” she says.

“If we can support our partner events with a group of attendees once a quarter and gradually expand the portion of the team that Parkrun has experienced, then I’ll be happy.”

As a reminder, the UHS put together a personalized calendar with images of Parkrun events in Sheffield. ‘Every desk space in practice has one, I wanted something visual, useful and visible to people. A calendar seemed like an obvious choice,” says Ms. Jones.

Social and physical benefits

To raise Parkrun’s profile with patients, promotional videos are played on screens in the waiting room and posters are displayed with a QR code linking to the website where people can sign up for a Parkrun barcode. Participants only need to register once, free of charge, and can then attend any event in the UK. This barcode is scanned last, which is how times are recorded.

‘I think most patients understand that we promote physical activity because it reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes. But there is less awareness of the many other health benefits it has, such as helping people manage stress, boosting mood, improving sleep quality, keeping bones strong, and stimulating vitamin D production. But more than that, physical activity that is sociable and outdoors can enhance people’s sense of connection to others, the community and nature.’

Ms Jones sees a real role for this in student health services: ‘A student can suffer from loneliness just like an older person. I suspect this is often due in part to homesickness, feeling disconnected from their college town, and having less contact with people in other age groups. I hope we can promote Parkrun as a way for students to feel at home in Sheffield and get past the university bubble.”

The next step is to work with the University to explore how they can promote Parkrun throughout the organization to students, staff and their families. The practice hopes to meet with human resources to discuss encouraging staff to get involved after having met with athletic and student volunteer services.

“Before I took on the project, I have to admit that I completed 15 Parkruns, but I never volunteered,” explains Ms. Jones. ‘I have organized five times for our partner events and really appreciate the time and effort that the central organizing team puts in, week after week. They rely on enough occasional volunteers to show up to fill the qualifying spots and some weeks that’s a struggle. If there aren’t enough of them to make it a safe and enjoyable event, you can’t go ahead. But the reality is that organizing is one of the easiest and least commitment forms of volunteering you can imagine. It takes about an hour to do, and you get a lot of smiles and thanks in exchange for clapping or taking the time.’

She adds: “When you stand on the field and watch the contestants go by, you realize there are a variety of motivations for showing up on a Saturday. Yes, some people want to get in shape and improve their personal brand. Others are there for the Parkrun sightseeing, doing a few training miles, jogging with friends, a solo run to enjoy the seasons, part of a recovery, holding events, exercising the dog, or taking babies and toddlers for a run in a buggy. At the beginning of the year, I was timing and we had a woman complete all three laps walking for the first time since she had major surgery, and it was a significant step in her recovery.’

Strengthening the community of practice

Almost inevitably, the project has transitioned into Ms Jones’s educator role with the Workforce Training Hub, which runs a program of training, mentoring, peer support and clinical supervision for nurses new to general practice in South Yorkshire.

“We are aware that a particular threat to nurse retention in primary care is being isolated,” he says. ‘Many work in small practice teams and opportunities to meet and build connections with nurses in other practices are limited.’

With this in mind, Practice Nurses from across South Yorkshire were invited to join their local Parkrun event on Saturday 13th May to mark the day after International Nurses Day and walk the 5km with their colleagues.

Despite the name, it is not only acceptable but common for people to walk in Parkrun, and many events now have a volunteer designated as ‘Parkwalker’. Ms. Jones hopes it will be an opportunity for some to give their local event a try, meet other nurses and celebrate the work they do, and may even inspire some to sign up for their own practice.

Later in the summer Parkrun UK also launched an invitation to celebrate 75 years of the NHS on Saturday 8th July or Junior Parkruns on Sunday 9th July at events across the country, in which Jones and his practice will take part.

“We all know that the workload and pressure can be exhausting and relentless,” he says.

“The pandemic has given me a real appreciation for the dedication and resilience of the people I work with, which makes it all the more concerning to see the personal toll it has taken. It’s ironic that in a workplace where health and wellness is the core business, we often give little more than kind words and compassion to ourselves and our teams. I don’t think Parkrun can solve all of this, but I do know about the personal connections and restorative conversations that can happen when you walk or jog with another person.

Nurses interested in signing up their practice to become a Parkrun practice can find more information, including a resource toolkit here. http://rcgp.org.uk/parkrun.


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