Dzung X. Vo
By Colin Hearne on May 5, 2015
Thriving Faculty is a regular column highlighting UBC Faculty who exemplify integration of health and wellbeing into their classrooms, research, departments and communities. Thriving Faculty support others in their health and wellbeing, in addition to making a commitment to their own self-care.
What are central challenges you face in your role as Faculty?
My central challenge is managing my limited time and energy, and knowing my capacity. In my job I’m incredibly fortunate to have so many opportunities to engage in work that aligns with my values and deepest aspirations as a person, and can have a meaningful impact. The flip side of that is I have a desire to say “yes” to every opportunity – which I know is not healthy, sustainable, or ultimately helpful for others.
Based on your experiences, please describe the relationship between student mental health & wellbeing and learning?
My mindfulness teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh, says “Happy teachers will change the world.” The same is true for students. When my medical students and trainees are well-rested, emotionally balanced, and mindful, they are able to learn more and provide better care for our patients.
Do you implement any strategies to support student mental health and wellbeing in the classroom/lab?
For me personally, my mindfulness training and practice has helped me to get through some difficult and intense periods in my own medical training and in my life. Based on this experience, I encourage and support my trainees and mentees in developing their own mindfulness practice, and provide resources and opportunities to do so whenever I can.
Please describe the role of your own mental health and wellbeing in your teaching, research and service to the community?
My own mental well-being is the foundation for my service and teaching. I could adapt Thich Nhat Hanh’s saying and suggest that “Happy doctors will change the world”! The more mentally and emotionally healthy I am, the more present I am able to be with my patients and trainees, with a more open mind and open heart. That’s where the magic and transformation can happen. All that being said, I don’t want to imply that I’ve got it “all figured out,” and it’s certainly an everyday challenge for me!
What strategies do you use in your own life, that help you thrive as Faculty?
I practice formal mindfulness meditation on my own, and with a community of practice in Vancouver. I also try to bring that same mindful, open-hearted and nonjudgmental awareness to my daily life. For example, when I am walking from one part of the hospital to another, if I can remember to, I practice mindful walking, being fully present in the moment with each step and each breath, and allowing my worries and anxieties to simply come and go with my breath.
Are they any specific initiatives and/or research you are involved in that promote health, mental health and wellbeing?
As a pediatrician and specialist in adolescent medicine, all of my work is about helping young people develop their resilience to thrive in the face of adversity, and develop into their full potential.
In your role as faculty, please describe your experience balancing work-life commitments? Is there a metaphor that depicts this relationship?
Balancing work-life commitment is like breathing in and breathing out. Breathing in is taking on responsibilities and commitments. Breathing out is letting go, taking care of myself, and allow myself to simply “be” without needing to “do” or “strive.” A healthy life for me is having a rhythm and balance of breathing in and breathing out, inhaling and exhaling, moment to moment, and riding the waves of this adventure we call life!
Dzung X. Vo, MD, is a pediatrician specializing in Adolescent Medicine, and a Clinical Assistant Professor in the Division of Adolescent Health and Medicine, Department of Pediatrics, at BC Children’s Hospital and the University of British Columbia Faculty of Medicine in Vancouver. Dr. Vo earned his medical degree from the University of Pennsylvania. He completed his residency in Pediatrics and fellowship in Adolescent Medicine at the University of California, San Francisco. His main clinical and research areas of interest are in stress and health, resilience, and mindfulness-based interventions with youth. In partnership with Dr. Jake Locke, Dr. Vo co-developed MARS-A (Mindful Awareness and Resilience Skills for Adolescents), an eight-week mindfulness training program for adolescents with depressive symptoms, with or without other co-occurring chronic illness or chronic pain. Dr. Vo is the author of The Mindful Teen: Powerful Skills to Help You Handle Stress One Moment at a Time. Dr. Vo is also interested in health disparities, cultural competence, and the health of marginalized and vulnerable youth populations. In his role as a medical educator, Dr. Vo is the Director of the Adolescent Medicine Subspecialty Residency (Fellowship) Program at BC Children’s Hospital, and also provides leadership in training of medical students and residents in adolescent health. Learn more about Dr. Vo’s work in mindfulness at www.mindfulnessforteens.com.