We think of doctors as those who help us. But the pandemic made senior Amir Chambers realize that doctors need help, too.
Soon after GDS transitioned to online learning, Chambers was on a phone call with his aunt. She described the stress and anxiety of residents at Maimonides Medical Center in Brooklyn, New York, where she works as a breast surgeon.
Since New York City was the epicenter of the outbreak in the spring, doctors’ mental health issues were heightened by the overwhelming number of COVID-19 patients. Chambers had never heard his aunt talk about her struggles and those of her colleagues. After their conversation, he “knew that something had to be done.”
That is when he came up with the idea for Helping Healers, an organization devoted to “relieving stress and anxiety and dealing with depression” among doctors-in-training during the pandemic.
To get a better sense of what doctors go through on a daily basis, Chambers decided to do some research. What he discovered, he found “jarring.” Working in medicine is “probably one of the most stressful jobs that anyone can have,” he said.
One statistic Chambers came across showed that one doctor in the U.S. commits suicide every day—the highest rate of any profession. Another study showed that two out of every five physicians screen positive for some sort of mental health issue.
This discovery spurred Chambers to action. He knew that just giving out thank-you cards would not be enough. He wanted to find out what scientists recommended for dealing with mental health issues appropriately. So he took to the internet.
“Scientists believe that things like stress balls are helpful,” he said. “Things like journals and warm blankets can help, too.”
With that in mind, he started to create “wellness backpacks,” drawstring bags filled with a variety of items. Stress balls, journals and blankets were included, in addition to tea bags, mindfulness cards with affirmations, aromatherapy oils, personalized letters and guides for meditation.
“I wanted them to know how much we value them, and how important their job is, especially during this time,” Chambers said.
After preparing and delivering the first wellness backpacks to residents at Maimonides Medical Center, Chambers immediately received positive feedback from the recipients.
“At times during the day, they would pull out a stress ball and start playing with it,” he described. “At home, they would go and make some tea, and that was soothing for them.”
Along with the wellness backpacks, he also created a website, helpinghealers.org, which provides information about how to cope with depression, how to meditate and general information about his organization. To him, the website is crucial to his organization.
“If more people are educated on the topic, then they will continue to share it with others and more information will be passed along,” he said.
In October, Chambers was featured on The View, an ABC News talk show which gave his organization a lot of international attention. After his interview aired on live TV, he learned how much his efforts were impacting people indirectly.
“I received a lot of emails from people who saw the interview, looked on the website and thought that the idea was amazing,” he said. “Now, they know more about what doctors and residents deal with on a daily basis.”
His website also encouraged people to take action on their own. “When they tell me how much they’ve been educated and how they’re going to start making change in their communities, that’s all that I want,” he said.
Chambers’ long term goal for his organization is to expand his efforts internationally. “This is a global pandemic, after all. Every resident is valued,” he explained. “Not just the ones in the U.S.”
He then added, “if that means that I’m gonna have to keep this thing going, even in college, I’m willing to do that.”
However, with the distribution of vaccines already commencing across the globe, there is an end to the pandemic in sight. Doctors and residents will be among the first people to get a dose of one of the approved vaccines. By this summer, we could see a large decrease in the number of COVID-19 patients.
When asked if the end of the pandemic will affect his efforts in helping doctors, he explained that “residents and doctors in general will still deal with trauma even after the pandemic subsides, simply because of the stress of the job. Seeing patients sick, upset or dying on a daily basis takes a huge mental toll, regardless of the pandemic.”
“Even though the organization’s primary goal is focusing on the pandemic, afterwards, the organization will extend the hand by helping doctors in general that are dealing with stress and everything that comes with the job,” he said.
As a high school senior who will soon be off to college, Chambers has to juggle many different responsibilities as well as Helping Healers.
“Managing this organization takes up a lot of my time, but I wouldn’t trade it for the world. It’s something that I definitely love and I’ve grown incredibly proud of it.”