Mental Health Awareness Month Is Every Month

May 3, 2023

PGY-1 Emergency Medicine resident Dr. Leyanet Gonzalez shares why you should prioritize mental health this month and every month!

I always knew I wanted to be a physician. “Soñar no cuesta nada” – a phrase my parents consistently reminded me of growing up – translates into, “It doesn’t cost anything to dream.” They taught me to not just chase my dreams but tackle them. My parents courageously fled Cuba with my brother and me in 1994, leaving everything behind to provide us the opportunity to pursue our passions. What better way to take care of them than by taking care of humanity?

I pursued medicine due to the complexity of the field. As I progressed, I slowly realized how intertwined business, politics and social injustice are with medicine and wanted to positively impact the community. What better specialty than emergency medicine? The one that is at the frontline of social issues, treating patients regardless of background, beliefs or insurance? Emergency medicine is the first to see these issues in our healthcare system; therefore, we can provide novel ways to deal with the system’s shortcomings.  

As an EM resident, I’m grateful to be able to take care of patients on the worst day of their lives. Unlike most other specialties, EM physicians often don’t have time to build relationships with patients and their families. Instead, patients arrive blindly trusting the EM team to save their life. It is an absolute privilege to manage the most interesting/exciting 15 minutes of other specialties under intense pressure and time constraints.  

“Grateful for my residency family.”

Reminding myself of these reasons helps me maintain my endurance in residency. I also practice gratitude regularly. Studies show there are multiple health benefits of this practice, including increased dopamine, improved physical health, better sleep and better self-esteem. In the wise words of Dr. Lillian Emlet, “The quality of being thankful is the baby aspirin for burnout prevention.” 

In addition to practicing gratitude and identifying my “why,” I try to eat well, stay hydrated, weightlift regularly and watch (probably too many) crime documentaries. My co-residents and I often make plans to hang out outside of the hospital, too. We have a strong environment of support for each other. They’re easily my saving grace! Taking a step away from medicine works as a reset button that allows me to come back refreshed and clear-headed.  

As the chair of the Emergency Medicine Residents’ Association Wellness Committee, I advocate for physician wellness regularly. This committee provides tools for EM residents and physicians to optimize their wellbeing, including de-escalation training for belligerent patients, mindfulness activities, free access to mental health resources, financial education, debriefing, family planning and other strategic tools. We also lead multiple talks, webinars and events at conferences throughout the year.  

Our residency also conducts regular “Pulse Checks” where we take time to share difficult patient encounters and inspiring stories, or we just vent about anything and everything. By having this supportive space for tension release, we build a stronger sense of community. No one truly understands the difficulty of residency better than those who are battling alongside you. I’m grateful for my residency family. They play a larger role in my personal wellness than they know, and I couldn’t do what I do without them!

As residents, we’re often hypercritical of ourselves. Imposter syndrome is real. Having difficult days is real. Feeling like you don’t belong is real. During Mental Health Awareness Month (and always), I hope you work towards being kinder to yourself, recognizing that your successes have brought you here, realizing that you truly belong, and continuing to build an environment of support, well-being and resiliency!  

“But we are strong, each in our purpose, and we are all stronger together.” – Bram Stoker 

Learn more about the Emergency Medicine Residency program at Northeast Georgia Medical Center!