Overworked doctors turn to the fine arts to deal with stress


Each branch of medicine has its challenges. In palliative care, it is the burden of bad news that weighs heavily on doctors.

“We often sit at the table when people hear the most devastating news they will ever hear in their life,” says Dr. Warren Lewin, Toronto Western Hospital site manager for palliative care on the University Health Network.

Other medical specialties are fortunate enough to confirm pregnancy or announce a disease in remission. Palliative care professionals deal with people in their last, most vulnerable moments.

It is important to help practitioners in this area develop burnout resilience.

When Lewin found out about a program at the Harvard Museums that gave doctors an in-depth look at the fine arts as a means of coping with stress, he turned to the Art Gallery of Ontario.

This practice is sometimes referred to as “looking closely,” and involves spending more time looking at a work of art than the average three to ten seconds that is the norm for most people walking through a museum. It involves sitting quietly with a piece, looking at it as a whole and in its parts, talking about the thoughts, ideas and emotions that inspire the work.

It’s not about knowing which school it belongs to or what year it was painted – although that information is available to participants. It’s about experiencing the work of art fully, in a way that pushes everyday worries aside and sharpens the understanding of beauty in general.

The goal is to help doctors relax with art and think new and more creatively.

Lewin contacted the AGO in January 2020. Melissa Smith, assistant curator for community programs, put together a program for doctors to enter the museum just before the COVID-19 outbreak. It was carried out via Zoom in June 2020.

It was so popular that Smith held three more.

“It was overwhelming even though it was on Zoom. It was just a great experience, ”says Dr. Shahar Geva Robinson, who is in the second year of her international fellowship at the University of Toronto in palliative care.

Visiting from Israel, Robinson went to a few art galleries in high school but not as an adult. Medical school left little room for appreciation of the fine arts.

“I never really got it. What should I do with art? How am I supposed to enjoy it? ”Says Robinson.

She says participating in the program helped her pause and reflect.

“It helped me get more thoughtful about things.”

The original idea was the idea of ​​Dr. Hyewon Hyun, a radiologist and nuclear medicine doctor at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston.

Hyun is also the director of the nuclear medicine joint program that trains future doctors in nuclear medicine and molecular imaging, and she is interested in the arts.

She began to think about the similarities and differences between studying medical imagery and studying art.

“In both cases, I’m trying to understand what I’m seeing,” says Hyun.

In 2018, she reached out to David Odo, Director of Academic and Public Programs at Harvard Art Museums, to develop a curriculum for trainee imaging medicine. It is still used today.

In addition to providing training, the sessions create a quieter, safer environment, away from the life and death of medical work, where health professionals can investigate and discuss difficult problems as they arise, says Odo.

AGO’s Smith uses a variety of artworks to stimulate discussion. The first track in the first session that she put together was Tom Thomson’s “The West Wind”. Smith said she wanted to start with something that the attendees might be familiar with. Later, when they’re more comfortable, she throws in works that could be viewed as less representational and more sophisticated, such as Kazuo Nakamura’s “Blue Reflections,” 1962.

Burnout among doctors has worsened due to the demands of COVID-19 on the job, says Lewin.

During the pandemic, his workload increased so much that he felt he was working around the clock. He fell asleep at his desk. Any semblance of equilibrium was gone from his life. It took his partner to point it out.

“I think a lot of people do. It crawls towards you, ”says Lewin.

Dr. Daphna Grossman, palliative care practitioner at North York General Hospital, has been leading the palliative care and resilience course for palliative care practitioners and fellows at the University of Toronto since 2015 and invited Lewin to co-lead in 2019.

“We know that building resilience and well-being is important to curb burnout,” says Grossman, who has worked grueling hours caring for COVID patients.

She remembers that she burned out eight years ago. She became irritable. She lost interest in going out with friends. She was tired all the time.

Her youngest daughter, then 12, was the one who brought it all together.

“Do you have to stop working and take some time off?” She asked her mother.

Grossman said she was shocked to realize she did.

Lewin and Grossman say preventing burnout among palliative care professionals is critical because the field is understaffed, a problem that is likely to worsen as the population ages.

Both doctors attended the Zoom event.

“I loved it. And when I say I loved it, I hope you see that in capital letters and bold,” says Grossman.

“We focus so much on our work all the time. We often miss these beautiful moments and it has raised awareness for them. “

Lewin says he started incorporating art into some of his lectures and hung art in his office. When residents come in unsettled or overwhelmed, he sometimes invites them to watch the play and talk about something else in order to have time to start over.

The program also inspired doctors to get involved in the museums, says Odo. He’s now doing a number of shorter, more informal art breaks on Zoom for doctors. They tell him that they now visit museums more often, sometimes with their families and friends.

After participating in the program, Robinson bought an annual pass for the AGO and visited it several times. She loves the Monets and has also been inspired by more modern art, such as the Andy Warhol exhibition.

“I was really inspired by his general approach to experimenting with everything.”

Francine Kopun is a Toronto reporter who covers city hall and local politics for the star. Follow her on Twitter: @KopunF


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