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Dr. Zafrina’s Poonja’s commitment to wellness is literally award-winning

Posted August 9, 2018

Messenger 251 | August 2013

As many transformative journeys do, Dr. Zafrina Poonja’s dedication to physician health began on a very personal note.

When a family member became ill, Dr. Poonja, a resident in Emergency Medicine, struggled with juggling all of her responsibilities. She worked hard to balance support for her family with her shifts at the hospital, while also staying on top of her academic assignments. But before long, she began to feel the strain. Taking on too much was negatively affecting her health and overall wellness.

“Even with a strong support system, I found it difficult to manage all of my commitments,” shared Dr. Poonja. “Which made me think about other residents, who have felt the same but didn’t have the same social supports that I do. Where do they go for help?”

Inspired, Dr. Poonja created the blog series How I Stay Healthy in EM, on the website Academic Life in Emergency Medicine (ALiEM).

“From there, my interest in physician health began to grow.”

Since then, Dr. Poonja has become a member of ALiEM’s Wellness Think Tank, a North American initiative that brings emergency medical practitioners together to collaborate and share ideas on maintaining health and wellness. She is also a member of a wellness special interest group with the Canadian Association of Emergency Physicians, is a resiliency trainer with Resident Doctors of Canada and spearheads wellness initiatives and activities within her residency program at the University of Alberta.

“It’s so important for physicians to have a supportive work environment,” says Dr. Poonja. “Looking out for your colleagues, having their backs and offering any extra support when they need it is invaluable towards maintaining wellness and avoiding burnout.”

In recognition of her passion and commitment, Dr. Poonja was honored at an awards ceremony in June, with the University of Alberta’s inaugural Dr. Marnie Hinton Award for Resident Physician Health. Currently prepping for her fifth-year exams, Dr. Poonja is looking forward to life after residency.

“I’m not sure what the future brings,” she says. “But I definitely know my wellness work will be a part of it.”

Dr. Marnie Hinton, a long-time Alberta physician, dedicated her life to physician health. For nearly 25 years, she worked with doctors struggling with addiction through the CPSA’s Physicians Aftercare Program, sharing her wisdom about healthy sobriety and even taking members to recovery meetings in her off hours. The Dr. Marnie Hinton Award for Resident Physician Health, jointly funded by the College of Physicians & Surgeons of Alberta and the Alberta Medical Association’s Physician and Family Support Program, is awarded annually to a medical resident with a demonstrated interest in physician health.

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