Harvard Medical School recently held a symposium on learning. The topic of the meeting was “Resiliency and Learning: Implications for Teaching Medical Students and Residents.”
Chronic stress, as experienced by physicians, affects the endocrine and other systems causing immune suppression and metabolic disorders leading to depression, cognitive dysfunction and a lot of other bad things. Similar stress follows in the wake of natural disasters, war and severe abuse (again, pertinent to the practice of medicine).
The researchers found that these problems can be avoided or reversed by training as that undergone by so-called “stress-hardy groups” like the Navy SEALS. The qualities that help make Navy SEALS resilient are “a social support network, [o]ptimism (including faith in a higher cause or power), perseverance (work ethic), responsibility and integrity…”
Medical students and physicians can be taught to be resilient resulting in decreased rates of depression and burnout.
Makes sense to me. Let’s train doctors in the manner of Navy SEALS.
But wait. Not mentioned in the Harvard Medical School Focus article is an important feature of the Navy SEAL culture—Navy SEALS do not work 16 hours per day or 80 hours per week. A major part of their training is centered on performing at a high level even when sleep-deprived.
Navy SEAL Hell Week is described as follows: “In this grueling five-and-a-half day stretch, each candidate sleeps only four total hours but runs more than 200 miles and does physical training for more than 20 hours per day. Hell Week finds those candidates who have the commitment and dedication required of a SEAL. Hell Week is the ultimate test of a man's will and the class's teamwork.” It sounds a lot like a surgical residency training program circa 1972.
Although often skeptical when it comes to research from Harvard, I am all for this. We need to institute Navy SEAL style training for all residents and medical students. Let’s start by making them more resilient. No going home the day after call. No limits on work hours. Let’s do some cases! “OOHRAH!”
[Thanks to Bill Cadigan of the blog “Doctor Parking Only” for tweeting a link to the story.]