When I started medical school in New Mexico, one of our first courses was a two-week seminar on public health. Tasked with immersing ourselves in an underserved part of town, our small group learned about social determinants of health. We saw the importance of community and the sense of belonging and support that our patients cherished. We soon found ourselves members of our own, newly formed community.
The seminar set the stage for a medical education focused on prevention, a medical education that promised to disrupt malfunctioning systems and procure positive and sustainable social change. We were medical students, united in our ironed short white coats, coffee-drinking, financially indebted, agents of change. Our community diversified as some developed interests in women’s health and others in infectious disease or wellbeing of the elderly, and at the end of medical school, we exchanged these communities for others.
On the first day of residency, five other interns from five different states, all equally nervous about this new stage of training, and equally passionate about caring for women, became my new community. Other co-residents followed and soon, the warmth of a new support network was noticeable. I joined the community of providers, of unironed long white-coated residents, and I could not be more excited.
It was not long before I started hearing the term “wellness.” At first, it was nothing but a two-syllable word spoken by hospital administrators and well-meaning, rested-appearing attending physicians during residency orientation. However, the importance of this abstract term became clear when I realized it was included in our residency curriculum. The emphasis on physician burnout was noticeable, and attempts were being made to avoid inevitable resident exhaustion.
Over the past year and a half, my co-residents and I have participated in music therapy, pet therapy, yoga, tai chi, and narrative writing. We want to be a community of well residents. We realized the significance of a term at which we initially rolled our eyes and dismissed as a superficial attempt to make residents “well-enough” to work more. There is more to the wellness curriculum that the occasional yoga pose. My sense of wellness comes from my sense of belonging, of unity, of a shared common goal, the ability to pursue my own research and career interests, from the very same community of residents with whom I am working our restricted-hour work weeks.
I had the chance to attend the 2019 SMFM Pregnancy Meeting and experience a new community. When reflecting on the events of the past week in Las Vegas, several sessions stand out. The Resident Forum on Wednesday afternoon, moderated by Dr. Stephanie Ros, provided a group of mostly second- and third-year OB/GYN residents with the opportunity to discuss MFM fellowship. Dr. Christina Han from UCLA, Dr. Erika Werner from Brown University, and Dr. Mary Ashley Cain from the University of South Florida answered questions about fellowship applications, research in residency, and work-life harmony. It was an introduction to the MFM fellowship community. At the Thursday morning Oral Plenary session, I looked around the room as rows of people nodded their heads in unison while thoughtfully designed research danced across the projection screens. A community of not-so-secret admirers. An emphasis on wellness did not go unnoticed—daily yoga sessions were scheduled, and a scientific forum dedicated solely to physician wellness was held on Wednesday afternoon. A community of well physicians or at least a group that acknowledged its importance. At the poster sessions, I talked to practitioners conducting studies on topics ranging from differences in pay in male and female MFM providers, to the diagnosis of sepsis, and complications associated with operative vaginal deliveries. A community of curious scientists.
The SMFM conference offered invaluable research inspiration and the occasionally-difficult-to-find sense of purpose. It was also a chance to connect with mentors, and see what a future career in MFM may be. The resident and physician wellness we are focused on is the human connection, and the conference was a thrilling chance to find a new community, to make new connections and find new places in which to belong.
Aleksandra Polic is a second year Obstetrics & Gynecology resident at the University of South Florida in Tampa.