By Jamie Funamura, MD, MPH
Department of Otolaryngology-Head & Neck Surgery
One can hardly attend an academic meeting or open one’s email these days without tripping over some mention of wellness or the dire consequences of its absence in the health care workforce. But really, I’ve wondered – and I don’t think I am alone – what is wellness? Is it just being able to see the sun from outside the hospital walls once in a while? Having “golden” weekends and eating dinner every night with your family? Or simply being free of murderous intentions to your EMR/email/pager? Sometimes it feels like we are just equating wellness to being able to live the way other, “normal”, non-health care professionals live their lives. But is that realistic when our jobs, by their very nature, cannot be confined to just weekdays and daylight hours or be free of messy human feelings as we grapple with disease and outcomes that are not always under our control?
The Mentoring Innovation Award offered this year by The Mentoring Academy and Faculty Development and Diversity presented the perfect opportunity to explore what a departmental-level foray into wellness night look like. In building our proposal, we found that a series seemed most fitting, starting from a discussion of wellness in the work place in a familiar environment (our grand rounds conference room), taking our team out to a local venue (the TEAMRide East Sac spin studio) and at last, well beyond Sacramento into the great Tahoe outdoors. Our goal was to learn more about finding and sustaining wellness at all levels of training and professional practice, while bringing our department closer together in the shared experience.
Our pre-series survey identified within our department that the most common definitions for wellness from our residents, fellows, and faculty were: 1) personal and professional fulfillment (83.9%), 2) feeling like your work is meaningful and purpose-driven (77.4%), and 3) work-life balance (64.5%). These were over other options such as daily workouts and healthy diet, or not feeling burned out. Our guest speaker, Dr. Wendy Lau, led our department in a discussion of mindfulness in the work place, culminating a patient encounter-focused meditation session. She then sat with our residents to discuss mindfulness in the operating room akin to performance visualization for muay thai boxers and breathing exercises for microsurgery (similar to that required of Olympic archers). We then ventured off campus for a group spin session where instructor Sadye Reish challenged our group – from intern to chair – to sweat off our stress and build resilience in individual effort with team spirit. Lastly, our residents and their families hiked, kayaked, and played board games, hosted by Dr. Hil Brodie and Dr. Craig Senders at the beautiful Serene Lakes.
The road to #OtoWellness was not without its bumps. Our building’s annual fire alarm test could not be rescheduled, resulting in a rude finale to our meditation session. (Wellness ear plugs were provided.) A third of our would-be spin class riders ended up being detained in the operating room that evening. And in our residency program, no weekend escape can ever be had without leaving behind at least a fifth of our residents and one faculty member. But these same hold-ups are what we deal with, in some form or fashion, day in and out with our chosen profession. And if there is one definition that our series taught me, it is that wellness is not necessarily being free of our work. Rather, wellness can be found in having the resilience and joy to continue our work while remaining whole, bouncing back from adversity and adverse outcomes. Kind of like holding on to the relaxation of a meditation after the fire drill is over.
The Department of Otolaryngology-Head & Neck Surgery would like to thank The Mentoring Academy and Faculty Development and Diversity for the 2019 Mentoring Innovation Award in support of our program.