Submitted by Daniel Lakoff, MD, FACEP (Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai) and Christina Shenvi MD, PhD (University of North Carolina)
Every year we warn our residents about the winter blues that can set in during the darker and colder months. The thrill of starting residency or of filling new roles in a PGY2 or PGY3 position has started to wear off. Meanwhile graduation or promotion to the next year is far away. As the hours of daylight shrink, the months can seem to drag on. Here are five simple ways to help improve your residents’ wellness this season.
1) Resident scheduling at the holidays
If you control the residents’ schedule, you control their lives! Never minimize the control you have over their lives and always be considerate. For the big holidays during the months of November and December that are commonly celebrated in North America; Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hannukah, and New Year’s eve; solicit schedule requests to see which one the definitively need off and schedule accordingly. It is important that whatever you do you are consistent and fair for all the residents. This may mean alternating which holidays they have off, or doing a lottery system where they place priority points for each holiday. Do your best to schedule them off for two full days off and avoid the fake day-off if possible by not putting them on the overnight into the holiday. Your residents will appreciate it!
Take the time to schedule a mentor-mentee outing, dinner, or at least a meeting. At my (Lakoff) program, we have labelled the groups “resident families” and are constituted by a resident from each PGY level and an attending; reframing the group to a “family” warms up the relationships; which can be important at this time of year. My (Shenvi) program has an assistant program director advisor for each class. The advisor meets individually with each resident. However, it is also a good idea to encourage the mentor to get together with their mentees to talk and check in as a group. Mentors can help keep track of the pulse of a class or of the program to make sure there are no major, systemic concerns.
3) Holiday Dinners
Some residents may not have enough time off to travel to see their families depending on their schedule. If someone in the program leadership or faculty is willing, make sure there is an open invitation to someone’s house for the major holiday dinners. While working on the holidays can be painful, it’s even worse to be not working, sitting at home alone with nowhere to go and no family in the area.
The winter can be a dark time for many residents, with dwindling daylight hours, the program leadership tied up in applicant interviews, and the prospect of the the in-training exam around the corner. Consider planning your Wellness month of activities for mid-late January into February with an event every pre-conference night (for most of us that is every Tuesday night); and then another event after post-conference. What your group finds fun will be individual, but some evening plan ideas are pot-luck dinners, karaoke bar, live music; and day-time plan ideas are trips to a basketball game, ice skating, trampoline park, and kid- or puppy-play dates. Also be sure to include a wellness lecture or group session at each conference!
5) Encourage the Residents to Take Care of Each Other
In a healthy program, the residents should be looking out for each other. Sometimes it’s good to remind them that they are in this together and that they may be the one to notice when someone else is struggling. Encourage them to help each other, and to go to the chiefs or the leadership if they notice someone is struggling and may need some extra help, resources, or encouragement.
What has worked for your program and what hasn’t; we’d love to hear your ideas on Winter Wellness!