Northern Ontario School of Medicine offering course in self-care
It's a common problem that one might find in the medical field. Doctors who are good at taking care of patients, but maybe not the best at taking care of themselves.
Recognizing the issue -- and the need for a culture change in medicine -- the Northern Ontario School of Medicine (NOSM) is offering a six-week course titled 'Self-Compassion for Healthcare Communities.'
"The evidence shows that about 80 per cent of people have challenges with self-compassion," said Dr. Bryan MacLeod. "They maybe have a critical voice that denigrates them in their own head, images in their own head that tells them they are not enough. It drives shame and feelings of inadequacy.
MacLeod, a former family doctor, NOSM associate professor and medical director of chronic pain at St. Joseph's Health Centre in Thunder Bay, had been taking a course in self-compassion at the time.
Recognizing this is a serious issue facing the medical field and after some discussion, the school brought in Monique Mercier, a psychological associate with the Centre for Mindful Compassion.
The two have been working together to develop a more concise program.
"What we're doing is holding six sessions over lunch hours, over six consecutive weeks, and we're … trying to get some of the pearls of this across in a way that's palatable for the busy healthcare professional," said MacLeod.
"It's shown that there has been benefit," he added. "The course material, which is a set of pragmatic tools -- nothing like where you have to sit on a pillow and face the wall for 45 minutes. Not to put down traditional meditation, but this is something you can do at the nursing desk, at the bedside. Very simple tools to help us get through our days."
More than 100 students, residents and faculty members have already taken the course. It's all part of the school's plan to advocate for wellness and change the current culture.
MacLeod said they've already seen some benefits -- students reported decreased incidents of depression and anxiety.
"So a lot of them appreciated having access to this training, to sort of bring them together and to sort of have this shared support around their experiences -- to feel less alone," said Mercier.
"We do have some preliminary research that says students were struggling -- because of the COVID year and a lot of their training's online -- so a lot of them appreciated having access to have this training together and to sort of have this shared support."
According to the Canadian Journal of Emergency Medicine, before the pandemic, 86 per cent of emergency room doctors reported having burnout, while six per cent said they actively considered suicide in the past year.
MacLeod said all medical schools need to consider making the training a top priority and he's hoping others will following NOSM's lead.
He's worried the issue of burnout will continue unless the field starts a systemic change.
"I'm hoping participants come out of this with more awareness about their own emotional, mental and physical state, moment-to-moment, and to have some skills around recognizing that as valuable," MacLeod said. "To recognize that they are not alone I think is one of the most fundamental experiences of this course."
One of the participants in the course was Dr. Jilayne Jolicoeur, a resident who's currently doing her placement in Fort Frances, Ont.
"I really enjoyed it," Jolicoeur said.
"I had heard that it had been offered to the earlier years because of the new wellness curriculum that was rolling out at NOSM and I was a member of the wellness committee, so when we were trying to figure out how to spend our funds, I along with my colleagues was advocating to have it offered to the later years."
Jolicoeur said every week, they focused on a different topic and it was interesting how it intersected with both her personal and professional life.
She specifically liked the area of burnout in medicine.
"I think when we look at rural shortages, one of the main causes for doctors leaving these communities is burnout, so I was thankful they were teaching us the skills that will allow us to focus on wellness," she said.
"It gave me a way to reflect on how I was feeling and to use the tools in my tool box to sort of provide that self-comfort."
The study from the Canadian Journal of Emergency Medicine also found the "collective state of physician health remains a significant threat to the viability of Canada's health system."