As the codirector of Facial Pain Unit in the Department of Dentistry at Mount Sinai Hospital as well as an associate in dentistry with the University of Toronto Faculty of Dentistry, Bruce Freeman, DDS, DOrtho, MSc, was seeing some of the real effects of stress and burnout on the dental residents he was supervising.
“After hearing the tragic news of multiple suicides at dental schools throughout the world in the past few years, and knowing the tremendous pressures that our learners are under, made me want to try something different,” said Freeman.
In addition to his work at Mount Sinai, Freeman also was undertaking yoga teacher training and learning more about mindfulness meditation practice to manage his own stress. Through this, he saw an opportunity to bring mindfulness, breathing techniques, and meditation as a starting point to open the conversation about mental wellness, helping residents develop ways to handle the daily stressors of dental practice.
“I know that looking after yourself makes us better equipped to take care of patients. Self-care is part of patient care,” said Freeman.
For the second year in a row, Freeman is meeting with the six dental residents at Mount Sinai every Tuesday afternoon. Even former residents come and join in, and together they perform mindfulness exercises, discuss the challenges of the past week, and take part in a traditional Hatha class, including breathing techniques and meditation.
“The response has been tremendous,” said Freeman, “and the residents will relay how they use these new skills throughout the day.”
“Participating in yoga classes was a nice way to escape the stress during residency and refresh, both mentally and physically,” said Dr. Maral Aghourian, a resident in 2018 and 2019 who has since begun her own yoga practice.
“The incorporation of a weekly wellness program into our residence has been instrumental for both physical wellness after strenuous weeks as well as team bonding,” said Dr. Taras Klitovchenko, one of the current residents.
While the yoga and mindfulness sessions will continue for dental residents, Freeman hopes other departments will launch similar programs.
“I’d love to see other areas across Sinai Health share similar activities for residents,” said Freeman. “We understand that mental health is important for everyone, and I know we can find creative ways to address this as a teaching hospital, helping ensure we all deliver the best care possible for our patients.”