From an institutional perspective, as the Associate Dean and Director of GME, I have been concerned about residents and fellows who have matriculated this year. They have moved to our area, potentially without friends and family nearby, and we have had such limitations on being together in community. There are limits to what can be accomplished virtually, either for social reasons, or in patient care. All physicians have had fears about their own health and that of their families, in addition to the challenges of child care and schooling. Early in the pandemic, hearing about events in other parts of the country (e.g. scarce PPE and other resources) created anguish for our team members even though our area was not similarly impacted. I have been impressed with how physicians, including residents, fellows and program directors have been juggling their family obligations and career demands during the pandemic, and I worry about the toll that all of this takes, which will endure beyond the pandemic. Being apart from each other makes it harder to check in with each other and to partake of activities that normally sustain us.
When COVID vaccination started here a few months ago, there was a palpable lift in the mood. I have been volunteering at one of our patient-facing vaccine clinics, and seeing the joy and excitement of the patients is a boost to my own well-being. It feels good to be a part of the solution.
Additionally, we have mild weather here, so safe outdoor gatherings, and exercise options are easier than in some parts of the country. Our anesthesiology department has done a great job of providing resources for faculty and staff well-being. Our institutional GME Office just celebrated our residents, fellows, and program leaders by sponsoring a GME Week. We have converted to a socially-distanced model for sharing appreciation for our colleagues—Grubhub coupons instead of group meals, apps to express appreciation to each other, etc. We’re trying to do what we can safely, until we get back to being together.
What do you think is the role of exercise in mitigating stress? What are your recommendations for prioritizing physical activity in an already overloaded work schedule?
Exercise is an important way to help manage stress. When I exercise, (usually in the early morning) I feel a sense of accomplishment, even before work starts. It boosts my energy and my spirit. Anesthesiologists are superior multi-taskers, and that skill helps me fit exercise into a busy life. I like to listen to podcasts, and so I combine podcasting and exercising. Taking my dogs for a long walk or a hike with my husband is a way to multitask my exercise activity with family time.
What’s your go-to strategy for self-care to deal with work-related stress?
I try to find time to do something for myself every day and dedicate it to myself intentionally. On a crazy day the “gift to self” might be something as simple as savoring a cup of tea, but on less busy days, it might be my time at the gym, or a phone call or a meal with a friend, or planning a vacation. The intentionality of this exercise is what makes it work. It’s a subtle reminder to pay attention to how I’m coping. I am trying to cultivate more formal meditation as a skill, and find that when I practice it consistently, I am more patient, and can assume positive intent in others!
Is there anything you’d like to talk about that we haven’t touched on here?
I’m very grateful to have had a long and satisfying career as an anesthesiologist. I love the yin and yang of academic anesthesiology—busy patient care days mixed with academic and administrative days and trying to make a difference for my patients and for our future doctors!
Catherine Kuhn, MD, is Professor of Anesthesiology, as well as Director and Associate Dean of Graduate Medical Education for Duke University Health System and School of Medicine. She also serves on ASA’s Committee for Physician Well-Being.#MemberSpotlight#PhysicianWellness#Burnout#Self-Care