As part of its ongoing effort to highlight innovation in residency education, ICRE recently spoke with Dr. Adelle Atkinson, FRCPC, program director in Pediatrics at the University of Toronto, about their resident-run committee that advocates for children’s health.
Why did you decide to form the child advocacy committee?
The child advocacy committee is an extracurricular activity that was originally formed by residents to do a winter clothing drive for a local school. The school’s principal was very forward thinking and suggested that we set up a formal relationship. Since that time, the committee has grown to nine projects. The committee is made up of residents and chaired by residents but is overseen by faculty. One project delivers health curriculum to high schools in disadvantaged neighbourhoods. What is unique about this is the students help to create the curriculum by asking for certain information, such as sexual health, and the residents then prepare the curriculum and deliver it. Another project targets elementary school students, where residents meet with parents during the evening to talk about health issues such as sleep and nutrition. Recently, the committee has taken on a policy initiative, working with two faculty members to lobby on legislation to govern the use of all-terrain vehicles by children and youth.
What are the challenges to the program?
We haven’t had any issues with interest, but one of the things we’ve had to talk about is the half day academic time. We need to find time to allow for the teaching in the schools and we can’t take time away from rotations and we can only ask for so much volunteer time, since residents and faculty already do volunteer work at a free clinic on Saturdays. The advocacy committee usually asks for two half days from the academic committee and we point out that residents find participation in the committee to be very valuable. We have found that the committee not only teaches residents the advocacy role, it also teaches them teamwork and leadership skills. But there are always tensions, since there’s so much to cover already in those academic half days.
What are your next steps?
The committee is well-established and the residents are very good about showcasing it. They have developed posters of their work, which garners attention from new residents during the CaRMS intake. The committee also got a grant from the Canadian Paediatric Society to write up their activities. The next step would be to show other programs how the committee works. The committee also strives to continue to produce scholarship.
We would also like to evaluate the interventions of our projects, to see if they’re the right interventions and to present the findings in a scholarly way. For the curriculum delivery to high schools, we will probably survey the teachers and the students, so the research would be mostly qualitative. Obviously, if we were to get the ATV legislation passed, that would be a measurable outcome.
Another challenge is to make sure the residents don’t get spread too thin. I monitor their activities through what I call fireside chats, but many residents often self-identify and most are pretty good at self-regulating. We do chat just to make sure they’re not doing too much, though. To learn more, feel free to contact me directly.
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