Skip to Content

New VA program uses power of respectful conversation

Dr. Dominique Boone has served as an organizational health psychologist at Central Virginia VA Health Care System for the past four years.
Dr. Dominique Boone has served as an organizational health psychologist at Central Virginia VA Health Care System for the past four years. Currently, she works in the Engagement and Experience Office where she manages several special programs. One of her latest ventures is the Strategic Partnerships program, which works with teams in the hospital who may be experiencing increased strain or interpersonal concerns within their workgroup. (Photo by David Hodge)

Over the past few weeks, a new employee engagement program has caught the attention of staff at the Central Virginia VA Health Care System (CVHCS).

The program, named Strategic Partnerships (SP), started in early September and offers help to staff who experience increased strain or interpersonal concerns within their workgroup.

“After the first few workgroups found Strategic Partnerships beneficial, word-of-mouth advertising has Dr. Boone partnering with a workgroup nearly every day,” said Dr. Tabitha Sierra, chief of the Engagement and Experience Office at CVHCS. “No marketing or advertising has been needed.”

At the center of SP is Dr. Dominique Boone, an organizational health psychologist who has worked at the facility for the past four years.

“These presentations are leveraging the power of respectful and authentic conversations in a team where there is a difference of perspective” Boone explained. “All topics are meaningful, worthwhile and help the team perform at its best.”

According to Boone, the program seeks to enhance workgroup performance through team building exercises based on two main strategies: psychological safety and conflict resolution.

Boone has offered 20 interactive seminars to 12 workgroups in the facility, which has impacted more than 250 employees.

SP in practice

During the pandemic, health care workers have faced several hardships, including increased workload, staffing shortages in certain occupations, and stress due to layers of COVID precautions over the past 20-plus months. Boone believes these are some of the factors that can lead to burnout and compassion fatigue among employees.

In one example, a new employee joined a team at the hospital. Over the course of weeks, it became apparent the new staff member wasn’t fitting in with the existing workgroup. When the situation began to have a negative impact on the team they turned to Boone. Through the SP sessions, both sides were able to voice their concerns to each other, and they acknowledged their differences.

By the end, the language, tone, and demeanor between them all had changed to be more respectful of each other, said Boone.

“There’s been so many times where people are able to have a great conversation,” Boone said. “Ultimately, there may not be a fix for the problem, but they can find a respectful way forward, which is important.”

The process

Every workgroup Boone helps is comprised of a team leader, which is most often the team’s supervisor, and a number of staff who make up the team members. Through a virtual meeting platform, Boone leads the group through two interactive sessions. There is at least one month between the two sessions to allow the workgroup the opportunity to use the new information and lessons learned.

The participants are asked to answer a series of questions prior to starting the program. Everyone remains anonymous during the process, and the responses allow Boone to determine the level of psychological safety in the group. She then uses this information to tailor the program to meet any specific needs.

“The response to the new program has been phenomenal,” Boone said.

According to Boone, the ideal workgroup size is about one dozen people, although she has worked with anywhere between six and 25 participants. 

The future

Boone said she is already looking ahead to Phase II of this initiative. Current plans include having a dedicated transformational coach to check in periodically with the workgroups for extended follow up and have a team-building expert work to keep workgroups engaged.

Other items in the works to strengthen this program: quarterly presentations to help team leaders, open office hours for consultations, and informational videos that address frequently asked questions.

“All of these additions are meant to help continue the work we have started,” Boone stated.


Since 1944, our primary mission has been to care for Veterans and their caregivers. As Virginia’s largest Veteran’s hospital network, CVHCS delivers high-quality health care using state-of-the-art-technology to our Nation’s Heroes, every day. We are honored to offer health care services at our main hospital in south Richmond, or at one of our five community clinics in Charlottesville, Fredericksburg, Spotsylvania County, Emporia and Henrico. For more information, or to register for VA health care services, please visit

See all stories