residency wellness programs

Residency Wellness Programs: 15 Great Ideas To Get Spouses, Partners, and Families Involved  

Many physicians had a lifelong dream of becoming a doctor. Even if dreams weren’t lifelong, they started early enough to acquire their prerequisites to get them where they are today: at least 8 years of schooling, exams, interviews, and ultimately matching to a medical training program. Many wouldn’t have gotten through all that time without the support and encouragement of loved ones. To many, family is a foundational part of their success and resident wellness. 

We often hear from physician families about things they wish they had to help them better support their loved one during residency. To help medical programs discover new ways to incorporate spouses, partners, and families in residency wellness, we’re keeping a running list of ideas as they work to improve their programs.  We believe sharing these ideas, and any others that have proven successful, will only benefit physicians and their families in the long run.  

  1. Host an incoming resident welcome party/forum. Welcome your new class of residents and their spouses/partners with a welcome party to kick off the medical new year. Include second, third-year residents, and their families to share tips for survival with incoming families and loved ones. Perhaps extend this offer to parents and siblings since they’re a big part of a resident’s support system, too. Also, ask program leadership to speak about expectations during this time and discuss resources for their support during the year.
  1. Arrange a welcome tour of the hospital. Families love to see where their significant other is spending all of their time. This is an opportunity to explain more about the program, what they can expect during rotations, and get a ‘behind the scenes’ look at how teaching hospitals really work. 
  1. Create an online community for resident spouses/partners. Whether through Group Me, a private Facebook group, or an internal group board, create a place where resident spouses and partners can share information, collaborate, connect, and provide each other with much-needed support.  
  1. Include the physician’s spouse/partner in social communications. In most cases, the spouse/partner is familiar with the physician’s schedule and also manages the family’s social calendar. Be sure to keep them in the loop so they don’t miss out on any social outings or activities. 
  1. Create & provide easy access to a running list of resources and referrals. Getting to know the community is essential to make families feel at home and where to find resources. As early as after Match, provide a list of helpful resources such as local businesses, partners, attractions, realtors, housing information, school districts, and other resources in the community to ease their transition and make them feel at home.
  1. Utilize spouse/partners as resources. Some resident spouses/partners enjoy getting involved by helping organize groups and plan events. Think about putting a system in place to empower these physician spouses/partners, get them involved in their new community, and create a sense of belonging.
  1. Include families on resident wellness day. Residents spend a lot of time at the hospital with other residents and faculty. Adding another day where they’re required to spend more time away from their families may not be everyone’s cup of tea – or the key to physician wellness. Consider including the family on these days to show you appreciate their support and that they truly are an integral part of a physician’s well-being.
  1. Host quarterly information sessions.  Physician spouses, partners, parents, and siblings are an integral part of a physician’s support network; however, rarely do they feel equipped to provide adequate support after the death of a patient or a significantly challenging case. Quarterly information sessions can help loved ones learn more about what physicians go through on a daily basis and how to provide a better support system at home. Whether it’s learning to understand what residency may look like from home during that time or learning how to spot depression, information sessions can help bridge the gap between residency programs and physician families to secure a stronger support network for their physicians.
  1. Encourage and welcome family dinners in the cafeteria. This is an easy win both your residency wellness program and the entire physician family. Encourage and make it possible for families to occasionally meet in the cafeteria to share a meal, especially during those tough rotations. If it’s in the budget, comp one meal per month, per family. This is especially supportive during the holiday season when loneliness is at its peak and families are missing their relatives and friends back home. 
  1. Facilitate holiday parties/potlucks for those without family during the holidays. Holidays away from family are hard on resident spouses and partners, especially if their loved one is working. Facilitating get-togethers during this time can minimize feelings of loneliness, quell feelings of resentment, and help them feel like they’re part of a supportive community. 
  1. Provide free/reduced-rate gym memberships for the whole family. Partnering with the local YMCA or gym with discounted or free memberships is an easy way to improve resident family well-being. Bonus if that gym has free childcare. 
  1. Fund an ‘alliance’ group. If your budget allows, organize and ‘fund’ an alliance group for physician spouses and partners. Many alliance groups only need a small amount of funding to run efficiently, then they can work to secure sponsorships and discounted rates to help fund additional activities. 
  1. Include current and potential spouses/partners in any interview dinners or outings. We know the number of in-person interviews has significantly decreased since the pandemic, but if the opportunity arises for spouses/partners to be included in interview experiences, be sure to include them.  Besides making them feel included, when it comes to selling your program (if you’ve done it right), they can be your biggest cheerleaders. 
  1. Encourage spouses/partners to join The MedCommons Circle. We’ve built a way for spouses and partners to connect with a community of other physician spouses and partners through our proprietary friending web-app, The MedCommons Circle. This is a safe and free way for spouses and partners to find each other within a 5-50 mile radius of their zip code.   
  1. Let your resident families know about The MedCommons. Add our link to your GME Resources page as an additional resource to your medical training program. It’s easy, just highlight The MedCommons site link and add it to your site. 

Other things to consider: 

  • Some residents don’t have spouses/partners/children; however, they probably have at least one loved one who wants to support them in the best way possible. Make it a habit in your residency wellness program to encourage a ‘plus one or two’ to events when any type of family is included in order to build a stronger support system outside the hospital.
  • Social outings can exhaust introverts, and exhaustion is not the goal of these events. Find and encourage ways introverts can connect and interact with others who understand what they’re going through without having to attend a happy hour or other such outings.

If you’ve had a positive experience or feedback with residency wellness,  or know someone who has, please reach out. We believe in the importance of sharing our experiences so others may learn in order to create a more positive medical journey for our physicians and their families.

  • Elizabeth Landry

    Elizabeth is a Physician family advocate, Certified Life Coach for Physician Wives, EM wife of 20+ years, mother, and founder of The MedCommons – a marriage between her tech/business dev background and passion for helping physician families.

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