Welcome to another episode of Simply Unbreakable brought to you by Chronically Simple. Your hosts, Kristy Dickinson and Brenda Agnew are joined today by Hayley Harlock the founder of The Flipside Life, she is an advocate for physician families. Hayley is married to a vascular surgeon and a mom to three school-aged children. Hayley holds a Master of Social Work degree from Wilfrid Laurier University and previously practiced as a medical social worker at the Hospital For Sick Children.
After personally experiencing the gap in support available for physician families, Hayley founded The Flipside Life in 2019. Hayley's personal and professional experience, coupled with her natural ability to connect with others and her determination to improve the experience of physician families, uniquely position her to lead the TFSL community. Hayley now spends her days championing physician families as the CEO of The Flipside Life. For more information on the TFSL you can find them on Instagram and Facebook. *This episode was recorded in March of 2021.
Narrator: Welcome to Simply Unbreakable with Kristy Dickinson and Brenda Agnew, a podcast from Chronically Simple. Simply Unbreakable is about telling stories, learning from each other, and forging new ways to navigate the healthcare system together.
Kristy: Hello, good afternoon, and welcome to another episode of Simply Unbreakable, the podcast brought to you by Chronically Simple. I am one of our hosts, Kristy Dickinson here with my friend and co-host Brenda Agnew, and we are very, very excited to have our friend Hayley Harlock join us today. Hailey is the founder of The Flipside Life, and an amazing person with a social worker background and a mom to three kids. And I’m not going to give too much of her background away, because I know that a lot of it is pertinent to what we’re going to talk about today. But thank you very, very much for joining us. We are so excited to have this conversation with you.
Hayley: Thank you ladies, I’m so happy to be virtually here with you today to have a conversation.
Kristy: So, Hayley, can you please start with telling us a little bit about yourself and what you do?
Hayley: Yeah, OK, so, like Kristy mentioned, I’m a mom to three, that’s first and foremost. I’ve been married to my husband John since 2006. And he happens to be a vascular surgeon, and he and I have been together for a very, very, very long time. All the way through undergrad and through medical school and residency and fellowship and now eight and a half years into practice. So, it’s been a long road. And as Kristy mentioned, my background is in social work, I have a master’s degree in social work from Wilfred Laurier University. And prior to being at home with my babies and supporting John’s training and then transition to practice, I worked at the Hospital for Sick Children as a medical social worker and it was a job that I absolutely – I loved it, I loved it, you know, it involved getting up very early in the morning and a long, frustrating commute most days, but I felt so fortunate to have that job, and I worked on an amazing – with an amazing team.
And so, when our children were born, when our second was born, my husband decided that he was going to pursue a two-year vascular surgery fellowship, which meant that we needed to make a decision as a family as to what was going to happen with our children. And so, the decision was really made that I would stay home. And it was always my decision to make. And those early years sort of set the stage for something that I always kind of knew but then lived through and that was that there is really no support or acknowledgement for physician families and what physician families go through both in training and in practice. So, our story – well, our story’s long, we could be here for a really long time if I start at the very beginning, but in 2002, when our third was born, that was when my husband, John, was finishing his training and starting his transition to practice.
And a week before our third was born and just as he had started practice, I think he was a week in, we had received from terrible personal news, my mom was diagnosed with stage four cancer and a grim prognosis. And that just set the stage for a really, really hard season for us as a family. And that’s a whole other conversation, but by 2017, so, five years later, we were struggling, we were not thriving. So, when our youngest was born, my mom started appointments at the Cancer Centre, so I essentially spent the first couple of weeks of his life wearing him strapped tightly to my chest attending appointments with my mom, which was never part of the plan, obviously. And tehn, just things started to spiral from that point. And I don’t think – looking back, I don’t know I realized how our life was kind of unravelling a little bit.
And the one thing that my husband and I have always been good at, especially as it related to parenting, was just putting our heads down and getting stuff done. So, we were still, you know, we had happy, healthy children, we had a roof over our head, you know, things from the outside looking in looked like they were fine. So, that was just, like I said, the start of a really hard season. Fast forward a few more years – two more years, we lost my mom and step-dad within six months of each other, we moved. Just life was upside down. But again, we just kept going and kept going and, you know, doing – just putting one foot in front of the other, right? Like we do during hard times. And by 2017, things were not – so, things were not great.
And I don’t even think John and I really knew that at that time, of how maybe unhappy or – I don’t know if it was unhappy, just, you know, got to a place where I just felt indifferent, because I just felt, like, you know, I had been doing this for so long. And so, summer of 2017, you know, forced us to have some really hard conversations, and really sort of evaluate what was going on in our life and how we needed to make it better, and how medicine could no longer take precedent over everything else. And anybody who knows my husband knows that he is the most loving and involved and hands-on dad who would, you know, be up all night operating and then show up at hockey practice in the morning or a hockey game or whatever it might be.
And so, it wasn’t so much that, but we had just lost ourselves in that process. And, like, again, like I said, a lot of families with children, you do that, right? You’re just going through the motions, you’re taking care of the kids, and you stop taking care of yourself. And so, I always had this idea that – knowing that physician families needed support, and that it wasn’t there. And I sat on that idea for a long time, like, what if this could be better? What if physician families could be thriving instead of just surviving? And I knew that, because I had a lot of friends and acquaintances who were living very similar experiences to the one that I was living, but nobody was talking about it, right? And it was like, this is – I feel like it was, like, nobody felt that they could talk about their struggles because there’s this thing where everybody’s always comparing, right? So, it’s, like, if I start saying, “Oh, I’m struggling, well, Kristy, you’re struggling, and Brenda, you’re struggling –,” like, everybody has struggles. Kristy, you and I have talked about this before, that doesn’t discount what – like, if I’m struggling and you’re struggling, you know –
Kristy: We’re both struggling.
Hayley: We’re both struggling! No, no, it’s not a contest, and it’s not a, you know – and so, I just finally one night, it was the summer – later in the summer I think of 2017, maybe 2018 – probably 2018, and we were sitting outside in our backyard, our kids were in bed, it was just John and I. And I had a little spiral notebook, and I just – I brought it outside and I told him, I said, you know, I really have this feeling or this knowing that things could be better for physician families, and I want to do something about it. And so, that little notebook, I had, you know, probably a decade of little scribbles in this notebook, and then ended up with this idea, and, you know, Kristy was really instrumental in that, in, you know, what if I could create some sort of app to connect physician families?
And including medical students, residents, and in-practice physicians. What if, right? Like, no matter where you are in the world. Because a lot of the journey involves moving, there’s people that move all over the country, to different countries for their partner’s training or jobs. And so, that process started, but what happened, and what I realized really quickly, was that I was trying to self-fund something that was becoming really, really expensive. And I had a few people, my husband included, telling me, you know, why don’t you build the community first? And I thought that – like, I was like, build the community first? This is brilliant, I’m going to build this first. And even the gentleman who was helping me build the app tried to talk me out of building the app first, and, you know, really talked about community building.
And I guess I was a little bit near-sighted in that I just was determined that this app was going to be the way that I was going to make a difference in my community of physician families. Then, fast forward, you know, another however many months, and we have a global pandemic on our hands. And by that point, the app was still very much, you know, it had been sort of sidelined a little bit just because of funding issues and our family was away for a month last winter and came back, and I had sort of decided that what I wanted to do was just get my family back on track and then get back to business with Flipside.
And then, the pandemic was declared, and a couple days later, I was just, you know, I thought, I need to do something now, I need to do something, because I know that my community is going to be in need of massive support. So, I just put out on social media that I was going to start hosting weekly peer support calls for any partners or spouses of medical students or physicians. And so, that first week in – it was March the 17th and March the 19th, the first week, I did a call on a Tuesday and had no idea – Tuesday afternoon, if anybody would show up. And a few people showed up.
And then, that Thursday, did an evening call, and people showed up. And I said, I don’t know how long this is going to last, and I said, I will be here – so, I decided that the afternoon wasn’t maybe the best time, but I’ll be here every Thursday night until it’s just me on the screen. So, it’s, like, me and I’m talking to myself, and then I’ll know that this community doesn’t need support. Well, now, we are – we’re almost at 52 weeks, and this is week 50 this week, and people are still showing up. And so, if anything, this pandemic has just amplified that –
Brenda: And what are the types of things that you’re finding in your community? Like, that you’re talking about. What are – is there – are there consistent themes? Is it all over the place? Is it, you know, the flavour of the week? You know, what seems to be the conversations?
Hayley: One of the biggest themes that has come up over and over again is just discussion around the fact that partners feel excluded from this journey, this medical journey, whether it’s training, and then into practice, but excluded, but yet, it directly impacts our lives. And nobody talks about that. So, that is one really big theme. I met a partner of a resident in November 2019 who had – her and her husband had moved, and they were finishing five years, like, they were almost at the five year mark, he was almost done, and I hosted an in-person – remember when we got together with humans? – an in-person event, and she told me.
And I had never – we had only ever connected over social media. And she told me, she said, in five years, she had felt so isolated and so alone and – because they had small children, so she, you know, wasn’t working, she was at home with these kids in this city that, you know, she didn’t have any friends or any support, or family was hours, hours – hours and hours away. And I think that’s, like, that isolation and exclusion is so big and people don’t realize it. And it impacts, it really, really impacts, and that’s been part of what – just an advocating for, you know, for physician families to talk about that, that we need to make some changes, some fundamental changes, from day one of training to include families as part of this journey.
So, those are to big themes that are prevalent, regardless of where people are at in, you know, on the journey. And when I started doing the calls, I was actually really surprised, because in my mind, I had this idea that probably it would be partners of trainees maybe in the earlier years, and I was wrong. I was so wrong. It’s been partners of med students, residents, in-practice physicians, even people whose partners are maybe nearing retirement. And that was probably one of the most surprising things as this community has grown, that this isn’t, you know, there’s not – people across, like, the entire demographic are in need of support.
Kristy: I think it’s so – I’m so grateful to have you on here, because I think as patients and caregivers, sometimes we can forget that we’re dealing with – our physicians are actually human beings that have families, that have lives outside of their practice, because our interaction with them is very much, like, a service almost, right? Like, we go in, we see them, and we need them to help us. And I think, at least for me, the impact of this pandemic and my biggest concerns about our frontline workers and our healthcare providers is the stress and the, like, the PTSD that they’re going to have after serving in a pandemic situation, which maybe you read about in a textbook. So – but I just think it’s so valuable to maybe lift that curtain and share the impact that we might not be considering that our physicians are under.
Hayley: Yeah, absolutely. And I think that’s where – I remember really early on in the pandemic, and, you know, my husband is a surgeon, so, he’s not working in emerge, he’s not working at a Covid assessment centre, he, you know, has worked with Covid positive patients, and in fact, there was two instances very early on in the pandemic last year where he was sidelined twice for two weeks for potential exposure. And at that time, there wasn’t enough tests in Ontario. So, it wasn’t even, like, he was tested and it was like, you’re staying home for 14 days and whatever. And I think – we had lots of conversations really early on about the whole hero narrative.
And in my personal experience in speaking with physicians and their families, I think that even though it’s really well-intended and, you know, people, you know, like, it’s heartfelt when it’s put out there, I think that that’s – I don’t think you’ll find any – or many if any physicians that would say, yeah, you know, Kristy and Brenda, I really – I feel like a hero, like, you know, hands on hips, right? And I think this hero narrative that’s been, you know, bestowed upon physicians and healthcare workers, in general, I think it’s really – it’s detrimental, right? And it’s meant to be, you know, something really positive, but I think when you’re talking, like you mentioned, about PTSD and how, you know, heroes don’t have feelings, right?
Heroes are meant to be, you know, OK all the time. And I think it’s actually a disservice to our healthcare workers, because does that mean, then, that you, you know, you’re not human and you can’t, like, you know, whether it's the pandemic or just, you know, pre-pandemic, your experiences as a healthcare provider can’t impact you? You know, and I think that’s a really – you know, maybe not in the moment, in the busyness of, you know, being on the frontlines and dealing with a pandemic, but I think in quiet moments, it probably is really hard to reconcile that of, like, I’m having a really hard day or really hard week, but all these people out here think I’m a hero.
Brenda: The narrative that sits out there a lot is – and I’ve met a lot of surgeons in my time, and I’ve met a lot of doctors in my time, and, you know, the narrative is that hero, that lack of humility, that “I’m, you know, I’m this god, I’m this,” and they’re not, you know, you have these physicians who truly, at the heart of who they are, they do this job because they love it. But you can feel the impact it has on them, you can feel the – you know, I watch them come out of surgery and you just watch their whole body just – when they have to come and tell a parent that things went well, you just watch their whole body just [sighs], “Thank God I can come out and have this conversation.” And, you know, it’s – I guess I have the privilege, if you will, of seeing that first-hand, but a lot of people don’t, and they get caught up in what they see on TV, or they get caught up in a story they’ve heard from someone, and, you know, I think that makes it a lot more difficult for the physicians, because they are put on this pedestal.
Hayley: You know, my husband and I have had this conversation about, you know, I think what hardens people that are in healthcare, it’s not that they don’t have a love for their, you know, their job of being whatever, you know, type of specialist or whatever their role in the healthcare system is, but it’s more – they get hardened by the system, by the system itself, right? And the system that is broken, and it’s been – there’s been cracks in this system for years, and now, this – we’ve had this pandemic that has – forget about cracks, right? Like, these –
Kristy: Blown open the cracks.
Hayley: Maybe we’ve burst open healthcare as we know it, and now, all of the, you know, the parts that do need to be addressed are now wide open, right? You can’t hide behind them anymore. And so, maybe this really is an opportunity to do some big time fixing. And I know it’s not that easy, and I know that sounds a little bit cliché, but I think about even, you know, even discussions that we’ve been having, like, that – since the pandemic, you know, about racism in medicine, like, we weren’t having those conversations, you know, a year ago. Not to the extent that they are in the media and is open and prevalent as they are now. So, I think there’s opportunity to do better.
Kristy: Well, I think even just acknowledging that physicians carry a heavy burden, that wasn’t, like, that is so prevalent in the communities that I’m a part of, the physicians that take part in our Twitter chats, or that I follow on social media. I find they’re so open about the effects that this past year has had on them, the impacts of the social responsibility and – or lack thereof, depending on where you are in the country, or the world. You know, coming together as a community and, to your point Hayley, about putting people on this pedestal. Well, that’s dangerous, because you can’t – there’s nowhere to go but down, right? Like, you’re on that pedestal until you’re not. And that’s not fair. It’s an unrealistic place to put a human being who is trained to do a job and doing the best that they can with what they have. But when you’re dealing with human life, or quality of life, or someone’s child or someone’s mother or brother or sister, it’s – we seem to forget that they are a human being.
Hayley: Absolutely. And even that idea, Kristy, of, you know, like, if you talk about perfectionism, right? Like, there is an expect – you want your doctor to be – to have that trait, right? And you can be the best surgeon or the best – I’m thinking of my husband, for example, he goes into an OR, he's highly trained, highly skilled, and he can have a plan of how something’s going to go, but in the end, it’s a human body.
Brenda: There’s a doctor in the US, his name is Dr. Alec [Koon] and he’s out of Kennedy Kreger, and he is a developmental pediatrician. And so, you know, the chunk of what he does, a lot of the time, is giving diagnoses. He is giving diagnoses to families who have brought their children in, who are not meeting milestones, who have had some sort of event, and he’s giving these diagnoses to them. And he’s not just giving them a diagnosis of what their condition or their disorder might be, but he’s trying to answer the future for them, right? You know, their first question is, your child has cerebral palsy, the next question is going to be, will they walk? Will they talk? Will they get married? Will they go to school?
And it’s interesting, because we were talking one time about how the best way to deliver that message to families, is, right? What is the best ways that you set them on this positive trajectory? And he started to talk about, you know – so, he started to talk about the process he put in place, and he said he started to put it in place for families, but realized that it was just as vital for him. And so, he would have this process where he would give this diagnosis, and he would automatically tell his assistant, “OK, 15 minutes into the meeting, I need you to call me out because something has happened and –,” and he thought, in his mind, he’s like, “OK, I’m giving the family time to process, to cry, to –,” he goes, “and then I found – I was going out, I was crying, I was getting myself together, I was taking a deep breath to go back into this environment to continue this conversation, and to try to deal with whatever comes at me after this has been given.” And he said, “So, selfishly now,” he says, “that time that I thought I was carving out –,” which he still is for families, he said, “that’s also my time, because I have just changed the trajectory of that family’s life.
I have just given them news, there’s now going to be a before and after point in their life, and I have been the one to give them that news.” And it was, you know, it’s really – and again, the fact that I talk about it as much as I do, it was such an eye-opener for me, because, you know, we talk so much about the importance of delivering that message to the patient or to the caregiver, but we don’t often think about the burden on the person that’s delivering that message, we just expect they give it. And then, you know, I can’t even imagine what that feels like, and I’ve been in those situations since MacLean was born, a lot of tough conversations. I can’t imagine what that conversation looks like. Am I going to survive the surgery? What is going to happen? You know, what is going to be my – I can’t imagine, you know, being asked questions that, listen, at the end of the day, you don’t have answers for, because you’re not God. You’re a doctor doing the best you can for your patient, and man, that’s got to be tough to do that day in and day out, you know.
Hayley: Absolutely. And I’m not sure which one of you said this a few minutes ago, but just that idea of, you know, this is the first time where healthcare workers, and physicians in particular, have been able to say, like, you know, “I am struggling, I’m not doing OK.” And so, I really hope that that conversation starts, because we know statistically, there’s stats on this, that, you know, one of the biggest barriers to physicians seeking help for mental health reasons are – it’s stigma, right? It’s stigma, and fear of whether it’s licensing or fear of employment, you know, what the repercussions are going to be that way. And that’s where I think families play a really important – physicians’’ own families play a really important role. And this idea that if, you know, I see this – if I could – if I had a picture it’s almost, like, you know, the culture of medicine, the healthcare system, physician, and then, the physician’s family is way over here.
And you can take out physician and you can put other healthcare, like, nurse, whatever allied healthcare professional, I’m only speaking about physician families because that’s what I know. But that there’s this disconnect where the system doesn’t see that, “Oh, yeah, that person has a family.” Like, when I know my husband’s had a rough day, like, and maybe it’s a little bit of my background as a social worker, maybe not, but I’m the one asking the hard questions to him, right? And trying to, you know, assess, are you OK? So, if there is red flags, I feel like, as his partner, I am better – I’m in a much better position to assess that than maybe a colleague who – or perhaps he’s not going – you know, not being as honest with, and I think that’s the same in a lot of families. And so, that’s why I really think, like, we need to start – you know, what is that definition of insanity, right? Is doing the same thing over and over again and having the same result. So, we know, we know the numbers of physician burnout, depression, even suicidal ideation, we know those numbers were high prior to the pandemic.
We don’t have any Canadian stats right now on what they look like post-pandemic, but Medscape put out a study – a survey result, it was on I think January 25th, and it was 12,000 in-practice physicians in the US that had been surveyed between August and November across 29 specialities. Look it up, there’s some interesting stats on there. But we know that, you know, our physicians and our healthcare workers are going to be impacted – have been impacted, continue to be impacted, by the pandemic and the work they’re doing. So, what if we tried something – I mean, there’s tons of wellness programs out there now, right? But we’re still seeing high numbers. So, in my – my thought is, why are we not recognizing and supporting families to be part of the system and support, like, to support this, right?
Maybe that’s the missing piece, maybe toast’s the part that, because it’s never been done before – well, because it’s never been done before, nobody wants to even perhaps think about it. But that’s where it sort of – in advocating for physician families and just starting those conversations to say, like, maybe we just really need to re-think a few things, and maybe they’re not rocket science, but really basic things that are right in front of us, right? And why not try? And I think – so, that’s where, you know, that’s where I get really fired up and passionate about, is getting that message out there of, like, you know, we have this untapped resource, but not just – we’re not just a resource, we’re also in need of support, too, right?
And perhaps I didn’t sort of explain myself when we first started chatting enough, but that whole idea of, like, stigma, when I was struggling is a, you know, young mom with these three babies and a sick parent and, you know, a partner who was doing the best he could, but he was not home a lot, I didn’t feel like I was – I feel like that stigma that maybe physicians and healthcare providers feel is also extended to their families, right? Because I felt, if I speak up that I’m struggling, no one’s going to, like, you know, I’ll be judged or whatever the case may be. So, I think we need to start having some more open conversations.
Brenda: There definitely are specific elements to each of these populations for sure that have to be addressed. I mean, you know, the stresses of someone let’s say, you know, that Simon may have as a firefighter, you know, on the frontline could be very different than those of a physician who’s on the frontline. So, I think the elements are different, but I agree, I think that it’s normalizing the conversation. And, you know, Kristy and I have talked about this where, you know, there’s a time that I feel guilt when I say to someone, “I don’t want to be a caregiver this weekend, I’m tired of caring for, you know, someone with a disability,” because then you have the automatic you’re going to be judged, you should be stronger than that, you should have the mechanism, you should be able – so, to actually admit that I don’t want to do this right now, I can’t do this, I’m struggling, I’m having a hard time, because, again, you’re put on this pedestal of, “Oh, you’re super-mom, you’re super this, you’re super that.”
I’m not! I’m not, none of us are. And I think that, you know, your point is very valid, and I think that there are certain professions, if you will, that get left out of that conversation because they are just expected to know what comes with the job – I’m doing this in quotation marks – to know what comes with the job, to know what that expectation is, and, you know, listen that doesn’t make it any different, it doesn’t make it any less hard, you know.
Hayley: No, but [unintelligible 00:27:03] if you think about, again, I’m only speaking about physicians, I’m not excluding any other healthcare workers or any other populations, it’s just this is where my experience lies, but if you think about, you know, in the last month, maybe more, of on social media, in the news, you know, the physicians who have spoken out and advocated, and the advocacy – like, we are seeing physician advocacy like we’ve never seen before, right? And, you know, physicians have lost their jobs, they’ve been tormented on the weekend, you know,
Brenda: There’s threats.
Hayley: Death threats towards a public health official doing the best they can and towards their family. So, to have this idea that there’s a disconnect between the physician and their family, I’m sorry, you know, that poor partner of the physician over the weekend, like, that’s not impacting the family? Right? And it’s just – like, that’s bizarre to me. So, that’s another piece is, like, there is no disconnect, there’s no disconnect. Just like you both have families, there’s no disconnect between you and your family. Like, yes, I’d like to think that as professionals in any profession you’re able to maybe table, you know, what’s going on at home when you’re at work and vice versa, and there’s a difference between doing that and functioning throughout the day and coming – you know, coming home again at night.
But that doesn’t mean that that’s not on your mind. And medicine is one of the most bizarre – I don’t even have a good descriptor word for it – but let me give you one really quick example. When my – when our youngest was 20 days old, so, I’ve, you know, described he comes into the world, we got a sick mom, you know, all this stuff is going on, he gets a fever. And so, you think, we’ve got three kids by this point, we’ve been, you know, down this road before. He ends up – long story short is he ends up in the hospital, I get to the hospital with him, you know, early in the morning, and he’s admitted for I think it was a mandatory three or four days, because they have to rule our meningitis.
So, I wasn’t even – even though I had experience as a parent, I worked in a pediatric centre, I never thought that’s, you know, what was going to be an outcome, and it was another physician friend who also has children and he said, “You need to go to [Mac] now and you need to pack a bag for you and when you’re almost at the hospital, I want you to call me back.” And when I called him back, he said, “You know, this is why – I didn’t want to tell you this when you were at home, because I didn’t want you to, you know, flip out.” And so, while I was at the hospital, I spend almost a full day at the hospital with my infant, my 20-day old baby, being worked up for meningitis, my husband, who had just started practice, is operating at a different hospital, you know, five kilometers away, and he was there all day.
That’s not normal. That is not normal. He should have been able to be with his child and his partner and worry about his family but he had someone else’s loved one that he was operating on. And it’s sort of that idea, like, what was that experience – I mean, the experience for me was awful, you know, being there with this baby and not knowing what was going to be the outcome, but imagine for him. You know, it’s his baby, too. And I just think, like, it’s just – and then, you know what, you know, thank God Elliot ended up being fine, it was, you know, it was a virus, we were in the hospital for a few days and he came home. But, you know, that’s tough, that’s a tough experience that nobody talks about. Anyways, I could go on and on about that.
Kristy: I think what’s so interesting, and why I, like, hopefully this will be the first conversation of a few that we can have with you, Hayley, because I know as a patient, I want my healthcare providers to be as healthy as they can be. And we know, you know, if this past year has shown us anything, we know how important mental health is for everybody. And, Brenda, you talked about, you know, situations that might not be mental health, but I think – and this goes back to kind of my idea about healthcare – if we spent more time being proactive versus reactive, why can’t we help people before it turns into a mental health crisis?
And, you know, if we had some – just some foundational support in place for our physicians, for our, you know, our first responders or nurses, any, you called them allied healthcare workers, I guess that’s the term for people that work in a hospital and, you know, take care of people’s lives and loved ones, if we just A) removed the stigma and realized that they’re human beings first, before they were physicians, they were a person who chose a career that has a high level of stress attached to it. And so, why wouldn’t we, from the very get-go, train them and give them tools to help them navigate that stress through medical school through to residency and onwards? Like – and while you’re supporting that person, that also includes supporting their support system, which Brenda knows a lot about as a caregiver. Like, you have to support the support system, because without that support system, the person fails.
Hayley: Absolutely. And that’s where – so, this is where, you know, again, I get fired up about a lot of things, but, you know, working in pediatrics, you know, we talk – like, it was always about, you have to talk about family centred care, because you cannot take care of a child without taking into account the child’s family, right? And in adult healthcare, we talk about patient centred care and, you know, that’s what you advocate for. And – but what if we talked about, you know, this idea of, like, physician – something that was more holistic, right, in looking at how do we better care for our healthcare workers? Well, let’s look at this from a more global, holistic perspective and approach, right? And make that, you know, the programs available for, you know, for not only the healthcare worker, but for families, too. And I think that’s where – that shift has to come out of this pandemic, right? Because, I mean, there’s been stories, you know, there was a local nurse that died by suicide not that long ago, in January, two physicians in Quebec died by suicide, you know, there’s been several stories out of the UC.
Kristy: And they’re young.
Kristy: Like, these people are young.
Hayley: And I think, you know, and I think about that, you know, in the community that I serve, you know, the people within the families, they know those numbers, they know what the risks are, they know, like, they can quote you the numbers on, you know, depression numbers, on burnout numbers, and so, I always think, like, what happens, you know, to the family after, you know, in a tragedy like a physician dying by suicide? What happens to the family, right? Like, who supports them? Who’s there for them? It’s not the same, we don’t have the same supports that, you know, I think – I always think of, you know, policing or military and the supports – the infrastructure that they have in place for their families, right? And I think that’s a really important, you know, we’re missing that, and we need to fill that void. And I think, you know, change is hard, change is hard, and I think the first thing is just, you know, starting these conversations and having these conversations and …
Kristy: Well, it’s hard to admit when something’s not working, right? Or something that could potentially be a problem, that’s a challenging conversation to have. And, Hayley, you’re doing, like, phenomenal work. I know, you know, you know that I’m a massive supporter for what you’re doing, and watching everybody that you’ve helped over this past year. What is next for Flipside Life? Or where do you see yourself – and also, I want to make sure that we – you let people know, like, where they can find you. But I want to know – I know that Covid, like, this pandemic kind of shifted your goalposts a little bit, and what does your next chapter look like and, you know, how can we continue to support you in that?
Hayley: Yeah. Well, I think the next chapter is really, you know, building off of sort of this foundation that came, you know, if we’d had this conversation even a year ago, if we had had this conversation early February, I’m not sure we would have, you know, I would have never guessed what this was going to look like, right? And so, I think, you know, really continuing to support partners at the level that I’m doing with, you know, these peer support – these weekly peer support calls. Last summer, this is a bit bonkers, but managed to pull off an all-day virtual event, a conference, the first of its kind for partners of med students and physicians. And it was extremely well-received. And that was the first time that anything – like, if you think about it as professionals, you know, go to conferences and they network, you know.
But this group of people, other than maybe on social media, had never had the opportunity to get together in a place. So, there’s another conference planned for this summer, as well, details will follow soon-ish on that. But I think a really important next step is just, again, continuing to raise awareness. And there’s been some universities – McMaster University, I have to, you know, give them credit, because since my initial contact with them last summer, they have been phenomenal in terms of being receptive to having these conversations and to, you know, to hearing me out to even recognizing, like, OK, you know, we could be doing things different, or let’s talk about how we can do this. And so, there’s a research project that’s in the very early stages with McMaster University right now, looking at the impact of training, not only on – this particular project is looking at residents and fellows, but looking at the impact on the resident and fellow and on families. So, that’s huge.
Brenda: How do you get this to other hospitals? How do you get this to other, you know, other med schools? How do you get this to, you know, that’s got to be a bigger mountain to climb?
Hayley: It is, but what I have found, you know, it’s also been a really – it’s been a huge learning curve. You know, I joke about how many times in a day I Google how to do things that I don’t know, it’s very humbling to not know – you realize quite quickly how little you actually know, right, when you spend your day Googling how-to’s. But I think it’s just been – it's word of mouth, and it’s also, you know, I’ve had physicians say to me, like, “Hayley, how can we – like, you’re doing this work to support our families, how can we help?” And I’ve answered to the physicians, like, The Flipside Life needs physician allies, right? So, I think it’s just been – and it’s been interesting how word of mouth works, because there’s been other contacts I’ve had at some other universities, too, where it's been, “Oh, I’ve heard of you,” or “I’ve read about what you’re trying to do.”
So, I’m really hopeful that that’s just really kind of the snowball effect is just – and the fact that, again, like, almost one year later, we have people showing up on these calls. So, that tells me, you know, what I always knew, I always suspected, was that support was needed. It’s been comradery and friendship, and there’s people who have connected that, you know, live hundreds and hundreds of thousands of – thousands of kilometers apart, and seeing these friendships grow, and then, also seeing – I mean we know, there’s research that talks about peer mentorship and how, you know, the benefits of it, but just seeing how, you know, maybe one week you’re giving support, and then, the next week, somebody’s holding space for you. So, I think that’s been really beautiful.
Or seeing somebody maybe really early on in their journey where maybe they’re a partner of a medical student and yet, someone who is 30 years down the road says something to them that puts something into perspective. And so, it’s just been – it’s been really beautiful to watch some of these relationships grow. And I think, you know, I remember last spring, it was really, really early on, and we had a woman join us from New York City, and she had never come on a call before, she’d reached out to me on social media. And I invited her to come. And so, the way these calls work is, they’re open to anybody, right? Well, if you are the partner of a physician or medical student. But there’s no commitment. I always say, like, come, say as much or as little as you want, stay for the whole hour, stay for 15 – whatever you need, right?
There’s no rules, there’s no commitment required. And she came on and she told the group – she was living in New York City at the time, and her husband was working at a hospital that had a lot of Covid patients. And you can only imagine what that experience was like. And she has two small children. And she broke down and was in tears, and then, she sort of apologized to the group and the group, you know, very much – very quickly, you know, brought her back up, and she said, “I never –,” she said, “I was just going to come on and listen tonight,” she goes, “I never, ever expected to feel this comfortable speaking. So, to watch that unfold where this space is just a place where people finally feel heard and seen and understood. And that’s what building community is about, right? And that’s been so – like, it’s been my absolutely privilege to watch this unfold over the last year.
Kristy: Well, you should be very, very proud, I know we’re very proud of you.
Hayley: Thank you.
Kristy: And what you’re doing is so vital and so important. I think, you know, if we could humanize people’s lived experiences, that’s one step to reducing potential stigma. And our audience or patients and caregivers and – if you normalize an experience, you make it easier to share and to talk about. And that’s what you’ve done with building your community is you’ve given space to people that didn’t have it – or haven’t had it in the past, and that is so important, because, to your point, you know, when the family is thriving, we know that people in that family thrive.
Hayley: And then – but it’s even larger than that, Kristy. And I’ve said this from the very beginning, it’s, like, my goal is, you know, thriving physician families, right? But when you look at that, that’s not just a selfish thing that I say, because it – it doesn’t just mean the physician – like, one physician family, but the ripple effect that that has on our healthcare system.
Brenda: On me! On Brenda, on MacLean.
Hayley: For all of us, we’re all – every single human is a healthcare consumer. I mean, I know the two of you have extra healthcare consumer experience, right? But truly, we’re all healthcare consumers, we’re all part of community – like, physical communities, right? And so, that’s where it’s a bigger picture thing, right? So, what I would say, like, when physician families are thriving and supported, like, the trickle-down effect is positive for all of us. And maybe that’s oversimplifying things, but it’s at least a place to start. And I think, you know, just, you know, looking out for each other as humans, right? Forget about what your title is, or what your role is, we’re all human, and, you know, if we could just maybe –
Kristy: We always say that, just be kind. Just be kind.
Hayley: Right? Absolutely. So, that’s the moral of the story today, just more kindness, more kindness in this world, and …
Kristy: So, where can people find you?
Hayley: Yeah, so, you can find me on – across all social media platforms at either just Hayley. Harlock or at – so, The Flipside Life has a few different handles, it’s _theflipsidelife on Instagram, is probably a great place to start. Or else at theflipsidelife.com, that’s our website, and there’ll be some updates to that hopefully taking place really soon. But, yeah, on my email, you can reach out to me via email, it’s just firstname.lastname@example.org. I’m very available.
Kristy: Well, we thank you so much for making yourself available to us today, and yes, yeah, I’m so, so grateful that you gave us time and we can’t wait to continue this discussion and thank you for everything that you’re doing to keep our physicians and their families mentally healthy and strong. We’re grateful.
Hayley: Well, thank you, thank you so much, this was really fun, and I appreciate the time and your willingness to have a chat with me. So, I agree, hopefully we can do it again soon.
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