Unique peer-to-peer support program in medical and dental school aims to tackle burnout

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A unique peer-to-peer program at Western Schulich School of Medicine and Dentistry allows colleagues to learn from each other about their mental health and well-being.

The program was led by Dr. Andrea Lum, who in January 2020 was hired as the school’s vice-dean of clinical faculty affairs, and hoped to implement the program in 2021. Then the COVID pandemic -19 changed everything. The program was operational in March 2020 and is the first of its kind in Canada.

“Doctors tend not to connect. It’s very hard for them to admit that there is a problem, so if you really want to help them then you need something that is meaningful to them. “said Lum. “What we do know is that the well-being of the physicians who treat patients is directly related to the quality of patient care. It is not complex.

The Peers for Peers program provides support through empathetic listening and shared experience. Wellness leaders consult with their colleagues to make sure they are doing well, and faculty members can also contact other faculty members to make sure they are doing well.

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Faculty members teach future doctors and dentists, and are also clinicians at local hospitals and clinics.

“If we believe that the lives of our teachers matter, then we must have a program to take care of ourselves, because the incentive is that health and well-being is linked to quality and safe patient care. . ”

Real burnout

The school has trained 17 “wellness leaders,” people among the faculty who can act as an empathic ear or a resource person. These people can be contacted for informal discussions, but they also contact their colleagues, sometimes when they feel something is wrong, and other times just because.

The issues that preoccupied doctors during the first wave of COVID-19 were such things as a lack of personal protective equipment and worry about bringing the virus home to family members, Lum said.

“In the first wave, there was a lot of the unknown, a lot of worry that we didn’t know what this pandemic would look like, a lot of anxiety about families and their own mental resilience,” Lum said. “The second wave, people a lot more tired.”

Confidentiality was of the utmost importance to the program, so there are safeguards built in to make people feel comfortable talking to their peers, she added.


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