Nova Scotia medical residents find strength in community

Three female doctors wearing personal protective equipment wave to the camera.

From left to right: Drs. Yasmeen Mansoor, Courtney Gullickson and Alexis Fong-Leboeuf. Photo credit: Dr. Yasmeen Mansoor

Earlier in December, I had the opportunity to meet dozens of refugees who had recently arrived in Canada from Afghanistan. While a group of fellow residents and I administered vaccines to the children, we learned about the journeys these families had endured to make it to Canada.

Many of the parents had left behind well-established careers and their support networks to provide a safer future for their families. Despite the long journey across many countries, transatlantic flights, and now uncertainty about the next steps, they continued to demonstrate incredible positivity and gratitude.

The resilient spirits of these new Canadians were inspiring, and although few of us can truly understand the hardships and sacrifices they have had to endure, they encouraged me to reflect on the resilience I have seen in my colleagues throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

Medical residents in Nova Scotia have demonstrated their strength over the last two years, during the initial uncertainty and the multiple waves that followed. Residents have stepped up to fill redeployment assignments to COVID-19 units and ICUs without hesitation.

They adapted quickly, developing new skillsets to care for critically ill patients on ventilators and ECMO. This all took place while residents continued to manage the requirements of their own specialties, including research, committee and advocacy positions, and mandatory rotations out of province that, for some, required multiple periods of quarantine.

And like so many Canadians, some residents were unable to see their families for more than a year. Despite this adversity, resident doctors have maintained a willingness to learn and a drive to provide quality care to patients every day.

So, with the challenges of last two years, how have residents maintained their resilience? Some have found community in virtual activities such as trivia or Doctors Nova Scotia cooking nights, while doing their best to overcome oysgezoomt (a new Yiddish word meaning “fatigued or bored by Zoom”).

Others have made fitness an important part of their routine by attending bootcamp, yoga and run club through MarDocs (Maritime Resident Doctors is the professional association that represents the 550 resident physicians who work in the Maritimes).

More importantly, residents as a group have encouraged each other to slow down and be kind to ourselves and our colleagues. Many have acknowledged the need for formal supports through Resident Affairs and counselling services.

The resilience I have seen in my fellow residents and their ability to adapt during what may prove to be one of the most challenging time in their careers has inspired me and reassured me that the future of our health-care system is in excellent hands.

Dr. Courtney Gullickson is a third-year pediatrics resident at the IWK Health Centre in Halifax.

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