Improving Faculty Wellness

Supporting wellness — emotional and physical — is essential to foster the high performing, respectful and sustainable community we seek in the Temerty Faculty of Medicine. This imperative has been further underscored during the pandemic – whether its faculty experiencing burnout while working on the frontlines or those feeling sidelined in order to prevent community spread. Delivering the support faculty need is a critical goal identified in the Academic Strategic Plan. The Temerty Faculty of Medicine has established a number of goals intended to achieve this objective. They include:

  • Fostering a culture where health, wellbeing and resilience are promoted across our enterprise.

  • Developing a comprehensive Faculty Wellness Program that engages our clinical, rehabilitation science and basic science sectors, and collaborates with our TAHSN partners. In addition, we will develop a Faculty Professional Values Program that relates to faculty wellness.

  • Reviewing and updating current policies and procedures relevant to promoting faculty wellness and professional values. We will utilize technology to ensure access to wellness and professional values resources for faculty. Technology will also enable us to collect data and adopt a QI approach to these endeavours.

2020 Highlights

  • The Faculty Wellness Webinar Series was launched with the support of the Continuing Professional Development team.

  • Julie Maggi was appointed the COVID Faculty Wellness Coordinator and chair of the COVID Clinical Faculty Wellness Working Group.

  • Bonnie Kirsh was appointed chair of the Basic/Rehabilitation Science Wellness Working Group.

Julie Maggi and Samah Alkhawashki

Julie Maggi [left] is the Director of Postgraduate Wellness Office. Shortly after the pandemic began, she was also named U of T Medicine’s COVID Faculty Wellness Coordinator. Samah Alkhawashki [right] is a sixth-year resident in child and adolescent psychiatry who is an international medical graduate from Saudi Arabia.

Q: Why is it so important that faculty are well? 

Maggi: There are multiple reasons, but a big one is that faculty who are not well won’t be at their best for trainees, patients and colleagues. Burnout is pervasive in clinical environments and can affect all interpersonal relationships. Conversely, when faculty are well and supports are in place to maintain their wellbeing, it helps expand the culture of wellness right across the Temerty Faculty of Medicine.

Alkhawashki: It’s great when supervisors can model healthy behaviours and work-life balance, but it’s also important that they are real and relatable, and willing to discuss their own wellness challenges. Nobody is perfect. It’s helpful to see that even faculty who are well still struggle, especially during the pandemic, which has been an incredibly difficult time.

Q: Is the ‘soldier on’ culture of medicine changing?

Maggi: It’s starting to change, and we’re doing what we need to do to change it. The next essential step is to re-focus our collective efforts with the clinical sites to improve work and learning environments. Much of the focus on wellness to date has put the onus on individuals, but we saw during the pandemic and we knew before that if the environment does not support wellness, then faculty and trainees will have a hard time being well.

Alkhawashki: I think the culture is changing among University and Faculty leadership, but it’s still quite variable at the clinical program level. I’ve found that when residents feel supported in their program, they are more likely to address challenging situations and interpersonal issues. There is still a big power differential between faculty and trainees, especially in the earlier years of training, which can limit a trainee’s ability to speak up. So, it’s vital that faculty are transparent about their own wellbeing and can enable and inspire honest conversations when they’re needed most.

– Jim Oldfield