Wellness is not the sole responsibility of each individual physician, rather it is something we have to foster as a community. Many if not most of the things that contribute to burnout or detract from wellness are systems-level problems. Therefore the solutions also need to be systems-based, which inspired us to launch this series on how to promote wellness in EM. The goal is to share ideas, practices, and programs that have worked at different institutions to promote wellness. Our hope is that in reading these posts, you will be inspired to take some of the ideas and implement them in your own program. In this way we can slowly change the system that has produced a 70% burnout rate among Emergency Physicians and start to build programs and systems that promote wellness, resiliency, and career longevity. In this post, Dr. Pilarski discusses how she founded the Medical College of Wisconsin Wellness Committee, the challenges she overcame, and what the committee has accomplished.
Dr. Alicia Pilarski is the Associate Residency Director, and Assistant Professor at the Medical College of Wisconsin. She has been interested in wellness and resilience since residency during which she was involved in the development of a Wellness Committee. That interest continued as faculty where she established a Wellness Committee for the MCW Emergency Medicine Residency Program.
Name: Alicia Pilarski, DO
Location: Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Current Job(s): Associate Program Director, Department of Emergency Medicine; Assistant Professor; Wellness Committee Faculty Chair; Mom
Resilience and Wellness Program/Initiative: Founded the Wellness Committee for the EM Residency and currently working on creating a Second Victim Peer Support Team for the EM Department and the Trauma Surgery Department
Length of Time: Our EM Residency Wellness Committee has been going strong for over 5 years!
How did you become interested in wellness and resilience?
When I was a chief resident back in Las Vegas, my Program Director at the time (Dr. Michael Epter), agreed to let us create subcommittees and one of those committees was Wellness. My co-residents benefited so much from having dedicated wellness activities and planned events as a group. It brought us closer as a group and positively impacted our work-life balance. Having a dedicated Wellness Committee that is consistently evaluating and adjusting to the needs of the program keeps residents’ well-being on the forefront of their training experience. It contributes to building resilience among the residents both on an individual level and as a group.
What resilience and wellness initiative have you started?
I founded the Medical College of Wisconsin Wellness Committee, and I serve as the Wellness Committee Faculty Chair. Our Wellness Committee is responsible for planning both the Fall and Spring Resident retreats (organizing the events, picking a location, etc), coordinating social events for recruitment season such as pre-interview dinners), organizing the Intern Welcome, which is typically an outing to the Brewer’s Game, hosting/organizing/recruiting for the Big Brothers Big Sister’s of Milwaukee “Medical Explorer Day” (our yearly community outreach event) and other community outreach events throughout the year. We also send out monthly to bi-monthly wellness-related articles and updates about events on campus related to wellness. These have included mindfulness sessions on campus, or articles about improving wellness/resiliency, etc.
All of these events and efforts have made our residents closer as a group and provide a balance for spending time with their colleagues outside of the hospital. Also, we have been able to make the retreats more meaningful and enjoyable since the Wellness Committee took over the planning. Not only do residents get involved, but we have included others from our department (nurses, techs, APPs, etc) to participate in social events and our community outreach events. This helps create a better sense of community within our department and has made a big difference in the workplace.
What hurdles have you had to overcome?
Faculty buy-in. Initially, it was looked at as a ‘social group’ and not very important to the department. However, year after year, the committee has grown in size and our activities now encompass retreat planning, social activities, community outreach, wellness initiatives, and organizing peer support groups as needed. Our committee was integral during a tragedy that occurred in our program. One of our 2nd year residents, Carrie Falk, passed away from melanoma within 6 months of her diagnosis. Her passing was extraordinarily difficulty for residents, faculty, nursing, administration, and other departments in the hospital who knew her. The Wellness Committee organized peer support sessions (both group and individual), a memorial service, and each year we participate as a team in the Block Melanoma 5K Run/3K Walk to help support the cause of finding a cure for melanoma and also in memory of her.
Where have you found support?
Our former Program Director, Dr. Ed Callahan, was extremely supportive of me in starting the Wellness Committee. We were able to find funding to improve our Fall Retreat and also to create a mid-year retreat for the residents. Our residents have been the backbone to the committee and continue to make it better year after year. Each year, our Resident Chair (a 3rd year resident) helps coordinate our various activities, and also adds their own unique spin on the committee. We have bi-monthly meetings where we discuss upcoming events and brainstorm on how to improve the well-being of our residents, faculty, nursing and staff in the ED.
How could others promote wellness at their programs?
I would recommend a program to have the following: Program Director and Chairperson support, a wellness champion (ideally a faculty member with Wellness as an interest and who has time to devote to creating and maintaining the committee), a senior resident wellness committee chair (who is NOT a chief resident), and involvement of the residents (volunteers who meet bi-monthly with the wellness faulty and resident chairs). Our committee has 14 members including the faculty and resident chairs, and we have 28 residents in our program, so there is adequate representation from each class.