Physician wellness hits close to home for anesthesiologist Dr. Asim Iqbal. Five years ago, he was experiencing vision loss in his left eye. The cause was high levels of cortisol brought on by stress.
“I actually felt fine; I thought everything was OK,” recalled Dr. Iqbal. “But, as the eye doctor said, physiology doesn’t lie. I’d always thought of myself as a stoic person but that was no defense against what I was dealing with every day. It hit me on a profound level, and I took a deep dive into physician wellness.”
Dr. Iqbal completed training with the Schulich and Harvard Wellness programs, as well as the International Critical Incident Stress Foundation. He now acts as one of his area’s wellness champions. With the support of Department Head Dr. Jens Lohser and Associate Head Dr. Andrea Brovender, the department applied to VPSA for funding for peer-support training and was referred to the Physician Peer Support Program. Eight of Dr. Iqbal’s colleagues have now received training in peer support and are able to provide this for the approximately 80 anesthesiologists who work at VGH and UBCH.
“Critical incidents are significant stressors; suicidal ideation is higher with people who have experienced a recent critical incident,” said Dr. Iqbal. “We are taking a proactive approach and reaching out to colleagues in these situations and asking them if they would like support. A key message we keep sending is that anything anyone tells us remains confidential and any information that is shared is completely anonymized.”
Feedback from those who have received peer support is positive. Anesthesiologists have been thankful; some have commented that the service is long overdue and a great thing to have. There have been many messages of support.
Dr. Iqbal is working to have requests for peer support integrated into incident forms and has created posters promoting the service and listing wellness resources that are available. He has also started a bimonthly wellness newsletter that is sent out to colleagues. His latest goal is to address civility in medicine as incivility can be a significant source of distress.
Dr. Iqbal sees his wellness efforts as tackling three fronts: individuals; organizational; and licensing bodies.
“Some people may hesitate in seeking assistance because they’re worried about the impact on their licensure,” he said. “As long as you’re not a danger to yourself or anyone else, I’d like to see the College stating clearly that seeking psychological or psychiatric help will not having an impact on your licensing.”
Photo: Top row from left: Drs. Cyrus McEachern, Rana Hamidazadeh, Jason Fridfinnson, Cynthia Henderson. Second row from left: Drs. Kathryn Dawson, JeiEung Park, Andrea Brovender, Asim Iqbal. Missing: Drs. Sandy Kisilevsky and William Rieley.