How to Welcome Incoming Residents: Learning from Tragedy

July 30, 2015

About a year ago, I wrote a piece on my blog called “How to Welcome Incoming Residents”. It was about my struggle with getting the right messaging, messaging about the reality of stress during residency and the necessity of incorporating self-care and outreach to others. This year at orientation, in addition to adding the great suggestions posted by readers of the article, I took a different tack. It was imperative. There was a huge elephant in the room.

As most residents and fellows—and their educators—know, the medical community of New York City was rocked by the suicide deaths of two interns in the same week last August. These young men have not been forgotten. Most training programs in all five  boroughs held strategic planning meetings within days in order to come up with a plan of action to make sure that their own trainees felt valued and were safe.

Memos went out to residents and fellows re-emphasizing the ubiquity of stress and the importance of taking care of themselves and each other—and with a reminder of the various resources set up locally for them to get confidential and cost-free help. In January of this year, the Greater New York Hospital Association hosted a forum on resident and fellow mental health issues. It was well attended by training directors, associate deans of post-graduate education, and designated institutional officials (DIOs).

Most important, we heard from three chief residents from different sites and specialties about unique stressors, prevention, and suggestions for change. At a national level, the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education is sponsoring an invitational symposium this November to examine well-being in residents and fellows and to chart a new course in ensuring that their educational journey is out of harm's way.

When I spoke to our incoming residents and fellows two weeks ago, I cut my talk in half and invited our SUNY Downstate Resident Well-Being Committee to chime in. These three residents were terrific.

As I scanned the auditorium, I don’t think I saw anyone texting or reading emails on their iPhones. They gave this team of residents—their peers—their rapt attention. They shared many survival strategies for day-to-day coping in residency, tips for recharging oneself when not at work, and ways of letting off steam in groups.

All three gave out their email addresses and urged anyone to reach out any time for a chat or advice. When the plenary was over and everyone assembled for lunch, these same three residents circulated from table to table to welcome everyone and convey good wishes. Their sincerity and authenticity were palpable.

As we approach the one year anniversary of the interns’ deaths, August 18, 2015 and August 22, 2015, respectively, I want their families to know that their sons did not die in vain. 

Michael Myers, MD

Dr. Myers is Professor of Clinical Psychiatry and immediate past Vice-Chair of Education and Director of Training in the Department of Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences at SUNY-Downstate Medical Center in Brooklyn, NY. He is the author of seven books the most recent of which are “Touched by Suicide: Hope and Healing After Loss” (with Carla Fine) and “The Physician as Patient: A Clinical Handbook for Mental Health Professionals” (with Glen Gabbard, MD). He is a specialist in physician health and has written extensively on that subject. Currently, Dr Myers serves on the Advisory Board to the Committee for Physician Health of the Medical Society of the State of New York. He is a recent past president (and emeritus board member) of the New York City Chapter of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.  

The views expressed on this blog are solely those of the blog post author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Psych Congress Network or other Psych Congress Network authors. Blog entries are not medical advice.