Spring 2021 Wise Words

It has been just over one year since we first began facing the COVID-19 pandemic in such a tangible and dramatic way. From campus shutdowns to clinic changes, daily screens to vaccinations, virtual recruitment to Zoom conferences – this past year has brought change after unexpected change. Despite these difficulties and the need to reinvent residency training, we have been able to maintain our focus on resident wellness efforts throughout.

In August, 2020, the General Surgery Residency was the grateful recipient of a Peloton bike, one of 100 bikes gifted by Peloton to healthcare workers and hospitals around the country in 2020. Our residency was nominated for the reward by Leisha Elmore, MD, one of our 2020 Chiefs (now completing her Breast Oncology fellowship at MD Anderson and soon to join the faculty at the University of Pennsylvania!), and we were honored to be chosen as one of the recipients. This incredible gift was the first piece of equipment to find its home in our new “Walter F. Ballinger Wellness Center”. The Wellness Center now features a weight bench, treadmill, couch and chairs, yoga mats, fans and storage cubbies, in addition to a new television. All of this equipment for the Wellness Center was made possible by a generous, anonymous WashU faculty donor as well as donations from other faculty (thanks, Dr. Holden!) and efforts by the Office of Surgical Education. The Wellness Center is accessible 24/7/365 to all Department of Surgery trainees, including General Surgery, Vascular, Urology, and Plastic surgery. With a Wellness Center dedicated to them, residents are able to take advantage of the equipment while on call, between shifts, or before or after reporting to duty. This gives them added opportunity and flexibility to prioritize their physical health, especially when other resources like gyms and work-out facilities have been so limited or closed during the pandemic (or when bad weather precluded outdoor exercise).

Another way that we are working to support the wellness of our residents is through regular wellness check-ins. By meeting with each PGY class on a rotating basis, we are able to more immediately address specific questions or concerns that the residents may have. These meetings have become especially important during the pandemic, with the changes and challenges it has brought to our trainees and training program. Holding them virtually has allowed the residents to attend from home or work, and has maintained some semblance of stability as these had been held for years prior to the pandemic. These meetings serve as a perfect adjunct to the annual Resident Retreat (most recently held on March 31st in a hybrid format with both virtual and in-person attendees), another means to keep tabs on the well-being of the residents AND the training program. Our residents also meet quarterly with Dr. Raquel Cabral, staff psychologist with the Office of Graduate Medical Education. These meetings are currently organized by PGY class, giving each class the opportunity to discuss their unique experiences with a professional equipped to work through the personal and interpersonal situations that might arise during residency, much less during such a stressful time as the pandemic has proven to be. Dr. Cabral’s impact was noted when she was awarded the “Friend of Surgery” Award by the General Surgery residents in 2020.

Other popular wellness activities that have been developed and organized by the staff in the Office of Surgical Education include First Friday treat day, such as sundaes, root beer floats, s’mores, and more. This fall, we also added weekly wellness snacks supplied in the Bricker Library and Resident Lounge, including fresh fruits and healthy snacks. By providing special treats as well as regular access to healthy food options, we hope to show appreciation for their hard work as well as help residents stay sharp and refreshed during long days and nights on call.

As Spring arrived, the General Surgery Residency was thrilled about the Match Day results and a wonderful new class of interns slated to join us this Summer. We are also preparing to say goodbye to the 2021 Chief Class at our (likely hybrid) graduation event, unfortunately having to forego a banquet for the second year in a row due to the pandemic. It is my sincerest hope that the wellness opportunities provided by our program have helped our trainees manage what has been an incredibly tough year, and that the incoming interns will benefit from these opportunities as they begin their training. We will continue to take stock of resident wellness through the ACGME survey and other methods (such as APD check-ins, semi-annual one-on-one meetings, mentorship “families”, etc.), we hope that the new academic year will allow for us to return to in-person “After Hours” and other social events that the residents need to maintain stability, sanity, social interactions, and build mentorship relationships with the faculty and other trainees. Here’s to a better 2021-22 and continued wellness for all!

Paul E. Wise, MD
Program Director, General Surgery Residency