From veteran to rookie: Dr. Hayley Wickenheiser shares her resident wellness strategies

February 28, 2022 | Author: Royal College Staff

How life lessons as an Olympic athlete inform Dr. Wickenheiser’s approach to self-care

**This article was developed by the Royal College and supported by the College of Family Physicians of Canada to reflect Dr. Wickenheiser’s involvement with both organizations.

For Hayley Wickenheiser, MD, her first glimpse into the world of medicine was the result of a terrible incident. When she was 10 years old, she watched a friend get hit by a delivery truck.

“A group of neighbourhood kids visited her every day at the hospital,” she remembers. “I was inspired by the work the nurses and doctors were doing to help her recovery. I never forgot that.”

Hayley Wickenheiser, MD (submitted photo)

A dream on the backburner – until now

Her passion for the transformative power of medicine stayed with her for years as she excelled in hockey, a career she is famous for. A member of Canada’s women’s hockey team for 23 years, she represented the nation five times at the Winter Olympics, resulting in four gold medals. She’s an inductee of the Hockey Hall of Fame and an elected member of the International Olympic Committee’s Athletes Commission since 2014.

After she announced her retirement, Dr. Wickenheiser decided to pursue medicine. She completed medical school at the University of Calgary, finishing her schooling just as the COVID-19 pandemic was beginning.

Dr. Wickenheiser is currently in Toronto, in a family medicine program, with an interest in adding further emergency medicine training when she completes her residency. She’s closer to her second full-time job as senior director of player development for the Toronto Maple Leafs, where she oversees player skill development.

Hayley’s wellness strategies for resident wellness

Juggling a high-profile position while tackling a steep learning curve as a resident is a chance for Dr. Wickenheiser to tap into her training as an athlete.

“I promised myself two things: I won’t sacrifice sleep or fitness,” she says. “Medical school and residency  are incredibly unhealthy if you let it be. If you don’t take care of yourself, no one will.”

Her advice to residents is to protect their time ruthlessly, “chase joy” and try to experience the little things they love because “it can’t be all medicine,” and find mentors to support their learning.

And while emergency medicine aligns with Dr. Wickenheiser’s personality – “I love the adrenaline, the constant change, quick thinking and teamwork” – beginning residency as a mature student puts her in that rookie mindset again, being a new player in a new space.

“I’m an expert in one field and neophyte in another. There’s more responsibility in residency and it’s uncomfortable not knowing what the day will bring,” she admits. “But I am failing forward (safely) every day and learning to roll with it.”

Dr. Wickenheiser is incredibly grateful for the leaders who support her training and her colleagues in programs across the country. While residency is stressful for all trainees, in times of doubt she encourages them to remember why they embarked on this unique career path.

“You chose a great profession and there is no greater journey than this one.”