Learning resilience may help you cope with stress


Saundra Curry, M.D. (center), talks about the ability to deal with the stress of the job.

Dealing with life-and-death situations in the O.R. can be stressful, taking their toll over the course of time. Counteracting that stress could be achieved by learning to be resilient, a theory that was the subject of a Problem-Based Learning Discussion (PBLD) Saturday.

“What we do is inherently stressful. It is good to remember that life is stressful and we need to remember what it can do to us. We need to have support systems. At the end of the day, I have a cup of tea and reflect on the day. That is my coping mechanism,” said Saundra Curry, M.D., who led the PBLD session “Resilience: Do You Have It?”

During the discussion, participants reviewed several scenarios where fictional physicians functioned in very different ways. In one scenario, Dr. R was an attending physician with a calm personality who was active in his church, while Dr. N was admired for his clinical skills but seemed closed and not cheerful. When both physicians had patients die in the O.R., they were both upset, but reacted differently. After reflecting over a weekend, Dr. R accepted that he did his best and moved on. Dr. N berated himself for not having the skills to save the patient.

A session participant, Patrick Olomu, M.D., a Dallas physician anesthesiologist, said of Dr. N, “You have to learn to not internalize stuff too much. If you do, you keep thinking about it over and over, and you delay your recovery back to baseline. You have to have a mechanism to move on.”

Dr. Curry, a Professor of Anesthesiology at Columbia University Medical Center, agreed, saying, “When you have a bad outcome, people with mindful self-compassion say, ‘It was horrible, let’s move on.’ But you need to turn it into a learning experience. Reflect on it rather than burying it. Jumping into the next case is not necessarily the best thing to do.”

Session participants, though, were not sure if resilience could be taught, that personality traits may override learning to be resilient. Dr. Curry, though, reminded the audience that people can learn and tend to adjust to new settings.

“You can be a role model,” she said. “Others can see how you deal with life, and they will want to adopt your attitude because they see that you are coping.”

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