Resident Retreat: Getting Offline and Making Connections!

Posted on Thursday, September 19, 2019

By Dr. Kate Trebuss

Over 120 Family Medicine residents rose with the dawn to make the hour long drive out to St. Brigid's Summer Camp in Low, QC on September 13, 2019. They formed a caravan navigating the winding roads of western Quebec, driving through the forests and rocky escarpments of Gatineau Park, alongside quarries and riverbeds widened by this year's floods, eventually arriving at the shore of Lake Manitou, where retreat volunteers and St. Brigid's staff were waiting to welcome them. We were graced with spectacular, if slightly windy, weather for most of the day and were chased in by the rain only after dark.

Dr. Kate Trebuss at St. Brigid's Camp

Dr. Kate Trebuss at St. Brigid's Camp (photo by Dr. Doug Dorward)

Although the Resident Retreat has become an annual tradition in the Department of Family Medicine, this year's retreat included many new elements. We decided to try out a different venue, which meant new staff, new facilities, and new food. St. Brigid's, a non-profit camp for kids who might not otherwise be able to afford an overnight camp experience, has been operating on a shoestring budget since 1972 and is staffed by a dedicated team of volunteers (see their website for more about the camp and how to donate to their organization!). They warmly and creatively adapted their facilities and food preparation for our group, both in the planning stages and on the ground during the retreat. The meals they provided were a special highlight for all present: Chef Mark put out breakfast sandwiches in the morning; a beautiful Bolognese pasta with classic Caesar salad and homemade focaccia bread for lunch; and the most spectacularly golden whole roasted chickens with root vegetables, broccoli, and a Caprese salad for dinner. The breakfast buffet on Saturday morning included eggs three ways, bacon, prosciutto, and hash browns. Everyone agreed: this was no ordinary camp food.

We also piloted a new Academic Day curriculum, and expanded the protected academic time allotted to residents both on and off service on September 13-14th. Instead of core curriculum content, we invited speakers with expertise in health and wellness to present to the group in the morning. Dr. Yoni Freedhoff, Associate Professor at the University of Ottawa and Director of the Bariatric Medical Institute, spoke about nutrition, exercise, sleep, healthy relationships and the importance of targeting a sustainable "B" rather than the elusive "A+" in wellness, especially during residency and early practice. Adam Kingsbury, doctoral candidate in Clinical Psychology at the University of Ottawa, member of the Ottawa River Psychology Group, and Head Coach of the Canadian Women's Olympic Curling Team in Pyeong Chang, South Korea, presented residents with an approach to mindfulness, attention, and high performance through the lens of competitive sport. Last, Dr. Jon Novick, Psychiatrist, Addictions Medicine Specialist, Psychoanalyst, and representative of the OMA's Physician Health Program discussed the signs and symptoms of physician burnout, and how to prevent and address burnout from within a system over which residents and physicians have relatively little control. A handout on resources for residents who may be struggling with wellness related issues was created by Dr. Muggah's Team in the Wellness Program and will be distributed to residents by email this week.

Family medicine campers create a human pyramid

Photo by Dr. Doug Dorward

The afternoon featured another new initiative: a "Fake/Fun OSCE," organized and executed by the DFM Site Chiefs and a small but mighty group of resident volunteers, designed to get residents outside, active, and bonding with their peers from other years and other sites within the program. Residents moved from station to station and performed 12 ridiculous "medicine themed" tasks for points, earning bonus points for spiritedness, sportsmanship, and teamwork. Stations included "Catch the Baby," where residents "delivered" lubed up decuplets (aka water balloons) from one end of a field to another; "Urine for a Treat," where residents had to mix food colouring to match the colours of different medical conditions or medications; and "PPE Fashion Show," which required residents to dress up in PPE and perform a dance number for their evaluator (if you are presenting at our next Academic Day, you are in for a treat -- video footage of the winning team's dance number will be screened after lunch!). Residents reported that "there was something for everyone" in the event, and that it brought them closer together with their team mates. The photos speak for themselves!

The majority of residents stayed at camp into the early evening to enjoy free time on the water, dinner, and a campfire, and then a smaller group stayed overnight to relax, listen to music, roast marshmallows, and rock out to 90's hits in the dining hall.

Events like this are a challenge to plan and orchestrate, and I and many of our volunteers lived and breathed the retreat in the weeks leading up to it. But it is so important for our community to protect and support opportunities like this for residents to come together and get away from the hospital. It is sometimes difficult for residents to justify spending time away from their families and friends when they already spend so much of their time working and learning; and yet, residency in Family Medicine is short, and the relationships we establish during our training are vital to our success both in and beyond our 2 year program. This event provided concrete reminders of some options for enhancing their own wellness, and also allowed residents to be loose, silly and connected with one another and with nature for a day. Additionally, DFM staff and faculty support for the event functioned as a means of recognizing and rewarding resident contributions to our program and our communities at home in and around Ottawa, which residents truly appreciated. A note from one of the residents after the event reads, "Thanks so much for organizing an excellent retreat. It was very recharging as a PGY2 and I like that it set an expectation and promoted a culture of wellness for the PGY1s."

Family medicine residents on the dock at St. Brigid's Camp

Photo by Dr. Doug Dorward

This event required some creative thinking to get off the ground, as its objectives, activities, and funding sources are still evolving. I'm so thrilled that so many residents were able to participate, and that the day was such a good one for so many. One of my goals as Program Chief is to help further establish the retreat as a core element of our community and curriculum, and in particular to identify a stable source of funding for its mandate. This is an event that truly is about and for resident wellness -- and I'm so proud to be part of a program that supports resident wellness materially through events like this one. 

Many thanks to all the staff and volunteers at St. Brigid's Summer Camp; our corporate sponsors GGFL and RBC; Dr. Ed Seale, Program Director; Kim Rozon, Program Manager; Dr. David Tobin, Academic Day Director; the faculty and off service residents who cared for our patients while our residents were at the retreat; Chandra Landry, PGY2 Coordinator, and the other members of the DFM Administrative Team, as well as to the Site Chiefs and resident volunteers who made this day possible. It was a great one.

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