“Do I know enough to care for this patient?” “I feel so out of touch with the rest of the world.”
These thoughts are likely to pass through the mind of the typical intern during the first year of residency, a whirlwind time that has a component of self-doubt accompanying rapid learning and maturation. In the past, interns kept such worries to themselves. But at the Waterbury Hospital Health Center, 20 miles north of New Haven, first-year residents gather at noon each Friday to compare notes on the challenges and rigors of training.
The lunchtime talkfest is led by Seth R. Segall, Ph.D., director of psychology at Waterbury Hospital, and Auguste H. Fortin VI, M.D., M.P.H., director of the psychosocial curriculum at Yale’s Primary Care Residency Program. Fortin, who said he was “concerned that the house staff didn’t have a forum to share the feelings and the stresses of being an intern,” began holding the weekly meetings with Segall three years ago.
What is said in the room stays in the room. Over pizza and Pepsi, the interns talk about the issues that affect them on the ward—the death of a patient, the fear of an accidental needle stick, the grueling schedule that can lead to marital stress. “This is not a regular life,” said intern Juanita Smith, M.D., “so if you have other people around you who say, ‘Yes I feel that too,’ it makes you realize that your feelings are normal for the context that you are in.”
Segall starts each session with a few moments of meditation. “We’re training physicians to listen to themselves,” he said, “and I think that will help them to be more compassionate doctors.” Fortin would like to expand the program to Yale’s other primary care residency training hospitals, St. Mary’s in Waterbury and Yale-New Haven.