Wellness sessions will reinforce high performance and battling burnout, emphasize self-care

Alex Niven, MD, FCCP
Alex Niven, MD, FCCP

CHEST launches Wellness Center, the focus of ‘Wellness Wednesday’ at the annual meeting

As a retired military physician who served tours of duty in both Iraq and Afghanistan, Alex Niven, MD, FCCP, has witnessed firsthand the challenges of managing stress, maintaining wellness, and avoiding burnout in demanding and high-stress environments. As he and many other CHEST members continue to serve on the front line of the COVID-19 pandemic, Dr. Niven sees many parallels between his deployments overseas and the “battlefield” here at home.

“Everybody’s lives across the world have been disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic, and because of the respiratory symptoms and infection control issues associated with the SARS-CoV-2 virus, the CHEST community and the health-care teams we work with in the intensive care unit, pulmonary clinic, and sleep lab have been particularly affected,” said Dr. Niven, an associate professor of medicine and medical codirector of the Pulmonary Function Laboratory at the Mayo Clinic College of Medicine and Science.

“Very early in the pandemic, I began to recognize the similarities between the degree of personal and professional disruption that I was experiencing in my life and what I felt during my military deployments,” he said. “Working with medical teams in those environments, I learned that the degree of our success was based very heavily on how well the team members coped with the toll of chronic stress, how well they supported each other, and how well leadership supported the team.”

Those dynamics apply equally to the very new and often high-stress practice environment that medical professionals find themselves in today. To help medical professionals take care of themselves in these challenging times, Dr. Niven said that CHEST launched a web-based Wellness Center, featuring professional development tools and wellness resources to help CHEST members recover at the end of a challenging day, and to maintain the high performance demanded of clinicians—especially when times are extraordinarily tough.

Along with these website resources, CHEST members also have the opportunity to participate in a series of monthly wellness webinars featuring experts who share the best available strategies for high performance, coping strategies, and ways for medical teams to support each other.

“We felt it was important to put together an initiative to help people and give them tools to ensure that they can maintain the high level of performance that we all want to bring to the bedside during this unique and challenging time,” Dr. Niven said.

In addition to the resources available at the Wellness Center, he said, the CHEST 2020 virtual meeting will feature programming devoted to addressing burnout and raising awareness of the signs and symptoms of stress, anxiety, and depression, including a session about finding joy in medicine, on Monday, October 19, and a session on how to recognize distressed physician colleagues on Tuesday, October 20.

“We’re also developing a special ‘Wellness Wednesday’ program on the final day of the meeting that will focus on best practices to take care of ourselves so we can keep delivering the best care to our patients during this pandemic.” Dr. Niven said. “There is good evidence that people who take deliberate time for rest and maintain a positive mindset and a sense of optimism are more able to readily adapt to rapidly changing stressful environments. As we all struggle to figure out the best way to care for our patients with chronic respiratory conditions in a time that carries risks for both patients and providers, it’s important for people to know that there are resources available to help.”

Visit chestmeeting.chestnet.org for up-to-date session and meeting information.

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