Return from Nova Scotia: reflecting on the PLA Alumni Retreat

  A doctor relaxes at WindHorse Farm. Photo by Dr. Robert Balchick

A doctor relaxes at WindHorse Farm. Photo by Dr. Robert Balchick

Fourteen doctors recently returned from the Physicians Leadership Academy’s (PLA) annual Alumni Retreat. This four-day trip to Nova Scotia provided PLA graduates with an opportunity to reconnect with their peers, to recharge and reflect on their daily lives.

“The purpose of the retreat is for them to get away from Columbus, get in the natural environment – to rest, reflect, and be in community with one another,” Dr. Phil Cass, Co-Director of PLA, said.


This year’s retreat centered on the question: “What do I need to let go of, in order to truly care for myself.” Through a series of guided activities – such as hiking, meditation, and other mindfulness exercises – doctors spent time contemplating this question.

“For physicians to have three hours with nothing to do but walk a creek bed and contemplate questions is a need that they never get to fulfill,” Cass explained. “Part of it was just creating this spaciousness for them to be able to breathe.”

  Mist rises over a creek bed in Nova Scotia. Photo by Dr. Robert Balchick.

Mist rises over a creek bed in Nova Scotia. Photo by Dr. Robert Balchick.

The Physicians Leadership Academy, now in its fifth year, is a unique 10-month program that blends the development of personal qualities with the teaching of leadership skills. Graduates are often left with a lasting sense of community among their peers, and many return for the annual alumni retreat.

“Making the effort to go to another place for the express purpose of caring for yourself is extremely nurturing and healing for physicians,” Dr. Liz Lottes, PLA Fellow and retired family practitioner, said.

Dr. Lottes, who attended this year’s retreat, was a member of the PLA class of 2014/15. She says she was initially drawn to the program for its element of community.

“It was a way to connect with other physicians. In the PLA, you get to meet with a varied group of physicians of different backgrounds,” Lottes said.


Dr. Karen King, also a member of the 2014/15 cohort, shared similar sentiments about the PLA’s collegiality.


“You meet physicians in other specialties, other hospital systems, different age groups,” Dr. King said. “That ability to communicate in confidentiality and trust is something physicians don’t have in many other situations.”

  PLA Fellows share a meal at the retreat. Photo by Dr. Robert Balchick

PLA Fellows share a meal at the retreat. Photo by Dr. Robert Balchick

In addition to providing physicians with a likeminded community, the PLA focusses on developing their leadership capabilities.

“At the PLA we define leadership as deeply caring about something, deciding to take action and operating from that place of caring.  In order to do that physicians need to take care of themselves and allow others to care for them.  This retreat allows them to do both, care for themselves and care for each other.  We all need this in order to lead and it is rare to have this time in a physician’s life,” Cass said.

The course is strongly rooted in the concept of “mindfulness,” which is often described as being fully “present” in a given situation. Mindfulness meditation is a radical practice of caring for yourself which then frees a person up to more fully be present to everything; work, relationships, family, etc.  This presence is itself a form of leadership.

 

“One physician says his practice of mindfulness is when his hand is on the door knob to go in and see a patient. He will just pause, take a breath, and focus on the patient behind the door,” Dr. Lottes said.

  Dr. Karen King interacts with a horse. Photo by Dr. Robert Balchick

Dr. Karen King interacts with a horse. Photo by Dr. Robert Balchick

Dr. Lottes explained that physicians tend to be very “pattern-based people,” as their profession demands this type of thinking. However, in recognizing these patterns, many doctors fail to give patients and staff their full attention.

“You become very entrenched in so many details that you’re missing the forest and the trees,” she said. “Not just in medicine, but in your daily world, it’s the ultimate respect to be totally there for the person your interacting with.”

The PLA develops these and other essential skills through meditation instruction, professional coaching, and cutting edge leadership content that provides skillful means.

"The PLA is unique in the circle of leadership training because of the emphasis on these three areas and also because it is physician-centric.  It is all about them," Cass said.

Enrollment for the 2019/2020 Class begins in January. For more information about the PLA, click here.