The Department of Surgery at Massachusetts General Hospital knows that mental well-being is critical for residents to be successful in their training. Several years ago, under the supervision of John Mullen, MD, residency program director, and Motaz Qadan, MD, PhD, faculty advisor for the Mass General Brigham Resident/Fellow Wellbeing Council, a departmental committee of representatives comprised of individuals from each of the surgical residency classes came together to discuss issues and initiatives to support residents’ mental health.

Over the years, the committee has evolved to form an organized entity called the Department of Surgery Resident Wellbeing Council, which exists to support all residents—junior and senior—in achieving optimal mental well-being during their training at Mass General and beyond.

About the Department of Surgery Residency Wellbeing Council

The council’s mission consists of several goals. It aims to:

  • Identify and address issues affecting residents’ ability to live healthy and balanced lives. This includes ensuring access to adequate time for health care needs, personal appointments and family/parental leave
  • Initiate and sustain programmatic changes that will support residents throughout the entirety of their training. For example, the council hosts weekly process group sessions where each resident class meets with a licensed therapist to discuss work-related and personal topics
  • Offer an advocacy platform and a voice for residents to connect with department leadership. The council regularly solicits residents’ input about frustrations and shares them anonymously with leadership in the department
Meet the members

The council currently includes one resident per class as well as several faculty members. Each year, a new member from the intern class is invited to ensure equal representation. The current council members include:

  • Danielle Ellis, MD, MTS, PGY-1
  • Sarah Marx, MD, PGY-2
  • Alyssa Mazurek, MD, PGY-3
  • Alli Letica-Kriegel, MD, Research-1
  • Maggie Connolly, MD, Research-2
  • Laura Boitano, MD, PGY-5

Next year, the council will be led by two well-being chiefs—Maggie Westfal, MD, MPH, and Morgan Hennessy, MD, PhD—who will act as direct lines of support for junior residents to feel safe, protected and part of the community from the moment they match into the program until they graduate, as well as providing access important resources.

The council has led many efforts to help residents in the department achieve mental well-being.

Learn about its initiatives

The council has led many efforts to help residents in the department achieve mental wellbeing. Notable initiatives include the:

  • Instatement of two half-days off per intern per year to allow easier access to important personal appointments
  • Development of mental health process groups with a residency psychologist, David Treadway, PhD
  • Solicitation of generous donations from department faculty members to purchase top-quality exercise equipment for both the Mass General and Newton-Wellesley Hospital resident call rooms
  • Arrangement of meal delivery and free lunches to residents on challenging rotations
  • Organization of several fun events such as virtual trivia nights for residents and attendings, wine-tasting events, meditation classes, etc.
  • Formation of regular meetings for residents to have the opportunity to chat with young attendings about various topics, such as how to negotiate jobs and how to use social media in health care

Tips for Maintaining Well-being During Residency

Below, members of the council share tips for how prospective and current residents and trainees can better prioritize and maintain positive mental well-being.

Tip #1: Make Time for Beloved Activities

Particularly as caregivers, it’s important to build time into your schedule for personal activities that bring joy.

Tip #2: Be Gentle with Yourself

Achieving and sustaining positive mental health is a journey. It takes regular practice and ongoing dedication.

Tip #3: Do Not Worry Alone

Ask for help when you need it, particularly from your co-residents, as they are your allies. Remember, everyone struggles in their lives at one point or another.

Tip #4: Find Care Providers You Can Trust

So that you can quickly access health care in times of need, it’s important to identify as soon as possible a trusted primary care provider, obstetrician/gynecologist or psychiatrist—even before you need them.

Tip #5: Access Hospital Resources

Most institutions provide their employees with resources to support their mental health. For example, the Employee Assistance Program’s Trainee Assistance Program (TAP) and the CARES program at Mass General Brigham provide free counseling sessions for trainees and can provide referrals for longitudinal mental health care. In addition, there is a Peer Support program in place that assists employees with incident-triggered emotional trauma.

Tip #6: Ask Peers for Ideas for Healthy Habits

Mass General surgical residents have learned from experience, and are eager to support other residents in their efforts to prioritize their mental health. Below, current residents and members of the council share practices that benefited their mental health during residency:

  • “Exercising consistently allows me to re-center myself and take some time away from thinking about stressors, even after a long day at work. Having fun activities outside of work to look forward to, like a dinner out with my husband, helps me to unplug and recharge,” Allison Letica-Kriegel, MD
  • “I meet regularly with a therapist and I find this helps me process all the difficult things we must confront as we learn to become surgeons. Listening to my favorite music, exercise, yoga and cuddles from my cat are all adjuncts to my mental health—but it is clear that access to professional care is the real foundation for trainee mental health,” Morgan Hennessy, MD, PhD
  • “In the past year in particular, it has become easier to suddenly find myself in a negative place, unsure of how I got there. I have found that sometimes the simplest things are the most useful. A really challenging workout does wonders, as does going for a long walk with a friend or with a good audiobook. Perhaps one of the best things I can do—and I don’t do this enough—is practicing gratitude. Taking a few moments to focus on all of the good things reveals how this so significantly outweighs whatever stressful things are going on!” Maggie Connolly, MD
  • “I have prioritized trying to find time each day to take a few minutes for myself. With two kids at home, a husband that is a co-resident and a job that demands us to be at work for 13-14 hours per day, I found myself forgetting to take care of myself. I meet with my therapist weekly, try to get a good work out in two to three times per week and try to unplug and focus on my family when I am not at work. Some of my healthiest days are the ones spent sitting on the floor watching my kids play for hours or having dance and dress-up parties with our family and friends!” Maggie Westfal, MD, MPH