Balance, Boundaries and Burnout

February 12, 2015 at 12:26 pm

For the second time in as many months, UGME Student Affairs hosted, by all accounts, a well-received wellness fair on Feb. 11 – this time for Med II students. “Teaching” wellness is clearly an important responsibility of our undergrad medical curriculum and can have lasting, long-term impact on the health and well-being of our future physicians.

Dr. Jillian Horton, associate dean (Student Affairs, UGME) launched the innovative idea of consolidating the series of voluntary wellness sessions into a one-day mandatory event to de-stigmatize  -and increase- attendance. An optional session on stress management may be dropped from a med student’s demanding schedule, or avoided because they feel they may be viewed as struggling to cope if they show up.

Not so when it’s part of the curriculum. First-year med students attended the afternoon-long event on January 16 and had the opportunity to hear a keynote address from well-known Canadian sports psychologist Cal Botterill, PhD.

Botterill has helped a number of top Canadian athletes achieve successes, including seven of the 14 athletes who won Olympic gold medals in the Sochi 2014 Olympic Games. During the course of his career Botterill realized the principles he was teaching athletes could be applied to the medical field.

Eight years ago Botterill and his colleagues Dr. Jason Brooks and doctoral candidate Aman Hussain were invited to design a “High Performance Physician” program for a research study supported by the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority, the College of Medicine, the Patient Safety Organization, and the universities of Manitoba and Winnipeg.

In 2014 the trio launched their book: Sustainable high performance, sharing strategies for “sustainability” thought to be critical in medicine, demanding occupations, and life in today’s world. Until now, the trio has presented the program to residents (in several specializations), attending physicians and doctors working in a rural setting. The two wellness events are the first instances the program was presented to undergrad medical students.

Traditionally, topics related to stress or health management are addressed during residency, but Horton felt “by then it’s too late. The feeling is if we start scripting their approach now or give them scripts that they can use, the hope is they’ll never get to the point where so many physicians end up — and we know physician stress is a growing epidemic.”

During his hour-long presentation, Botterill offered the audience – made up of students, instructors and professors in the College – examples of improving perspective, recovery, and efficiency.

Wellness Fair

Dr. Derek Fewer, assistant professor (neurosurgery, College of Medicine), presents a session on the “Slippery Slope of Addictions in Professionals.”

Rather than intervening with individuals who have reached a state of burnout, the intent is to teach the next generation of doctors ways in which they can handle acute stress from the very beginning of their careers.

And as Horton pointed out, “it has to be about talking to them in the moment, or in the environment, and how they can deal with potential conflict or rehearse for some of the toughest situations that they’re going to have to deal with.”

Students self-registered for three 45-minute breakout sessions on a variety of pertinent wellness topics, including addiction in health professionals; work-life balance; palliative care; journaling; time management; conflict resolution and coping with grief.

“I just wanted to express to you how valuable I thought today was,” was one student’s feedback. “This morning when you [Dr. Horton] spoke about determining what you’re good at, versus what you wish you were good at, I felt like that was something I could definitely relate to.”

Another medical student wrote, “It was so satisfying to have a day to do a little bit of reflecting on the journey so far, to develop some skills for continuing to do so, and hear some realistic and thoughtful perspectives on how to do this sort of work.”

What do you think of mandatory wellness sessions?