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Drawing From The Well

By Caroline Trent-Gurbuz

It’s a simple, buzzworthy word, frequently used but rarely acknowledged in the fast-paced, high-stress world of health care professionals: wellness.

For many, enduring the years of medical school, internship, and residency is a rite of passage; long hours and only snatches of sleep are a kind of boot camp, and wellness — taking care of oneself — can fall by the wayside while taking care of others, leaving some physicians vulnerable to the very conditions they may be treating. According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, physicians are likely to grapple with depression, mental illness, and alcohol and substance abuse, and as many as 400 commit suicide every year in the United States.

The GW School of Medicine and Health Sciences (SMHS) M.D. Class of 1985 intends to address this trend by doing what they’ve committed their lives to: healing.

Wellness

“We all get into medicine because we love taking care of others,” says Lawrence “Bopper” Deyton, M.D. ’85, M.S.P.H., senior associate dean for clinical public health and professor of medicine at SMHS. “Only in the last couple of years have we recognized that we need to teach our medical students and our interns and residents that their own wellness, their own health, is an important component of being a complete professional.”

Deyton, along with a few of his classmates — Stephen Cozza, M.D. ’85, professor of psychiatry at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences; Mark Woodland, M.D. ’85, RESD ’87, Emeritus Vice Dean for Graduate Medical Education at Drexel University College of Medicine and chair of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology for the Reading Health System; and Debbie Katz, M.D. ’85, national physician lead for community and health, OptumHealth — came up with an idea to prioritize that component while planning their 30th medical school reunion. That idea, a fund supported by GW alumni, will promote physician wellness after graduation and training.

“The gift was conceived as a legacy gift to GW,” Cozza explains. “I hope it creates a sustained effort to support the health of physicians in their practice through a variety of different educational, advocacy, mentoring, and other service programs.”

The key, Deyton says, is not looking just at physicians’ professional wellness, but “wellness writ large.”

“By wellness, we mean global wellness or holistic wellness,” he says, “not just physical health or mental health, but also career wellness and family wellness.”

The Class of ’85 is hoping that its gift, aimed at making a direct impact on current and future generations, will serve as an inspiration to other SMHS alumni and reunion classes.

“I am very proud that our class has thought enough of this effort to create this legacy and to move this effort forward,” says Woodland, who has presented on physician wellness for multiple health care associations. “I encourage all members of the Class of 1985 and any other alumni to help us in this very important program.”