Imagine the isolation of a new city, a new job, and new beginnings – in the middle of a pandemic. That has been the reality for Mercy Health Saint Mary’s Neurology residents. Luckily, the Grand Rapids Appreciates New Doctors (GRANDs) program, has been there to make the journey less isolating.
“The COVID-19 pandemic definitely didn’t help anyone new to the medical field get assimilated, and aside from the added work burden, there is the additional emotional toil of being socially isolated for residents,” said Aileen Antonio, MD, curriculum director of Mercy Health Saint Mary’s residency program. “New residents across the country had a more difficult time assimilating since they were not able to explore the city, eat out, and meet other people. It was basically hospital and home for them – until the GRANDs program stepped up.”
The GRANDs program started in the summer of 2020 when the new doctors were moving into the city and preparing for their residencies at Mercy Health Saint Mary’s. Organizer Kathy Robinson’s daughter, Dr. Emily Johnson, is a neurologist and the Assistant Program Director of the Neurology Residency Program. Dr. Johnson was telling her mom, Kathy, about the new residents beginning their journey at the hospital.
Robinson approached her neighbors at the Plaza Towers condominiums in downtown Grand Rapids and asked if there would be interest in coming together to support the residents.
“When I told the neighbors the story, each one enthusiastically agreed to help by writing personal notes and contributing to purchase snacks and goodies. They were more than willing to help show these newcomers what our beloved city and its people were really like,” said Robinson. “By the end of the day, I had 30 condos responding that they wanted to help the cause.”
There are no expectations from the GRANDs. Some folks like to send notes on a regular basis, others are happy to shop for and donate specific items to put in themed goodie bags. Everyone enjoyed filling bags with Halloween candy in October, others have written checks to cover postage or wrapping paper. Anything to help motivate and spread some cheer to the young medical professionals.
“We ask nothing in return from these young doctors,” said Robinson. “They have plenty to do – working, learning, and getting settled. No personal relationships are expected. But the GRANDs have received some amazing, heartfelt, and generous thank you notes. My husband and I received stellar medical care from Mercy Health since moving to Grand Rapids from Chicago 17 years ago. This was a small way that he and I could give back to Mercy Health and its providers.”
And the residents love the support and reception they’ve had since moving to town.
“Knowing that I am welcomed here and the constant reminders that there are people who believe in me and want to see me succeed has been the best part about the GRANDs program,” said Resident Vincent Ngo, MD. “An honorable mention should be made to their thoughtful letters, which I always love reading! I never thought that I would look forward to the mail so much. GRANDs helped make my first year a wonderful experience. I felt lucky to have an organization like that in my program, especially as a first-year resident moving to Grand Rapids from across the country.”
Resident Kamalpreet Mann,MD, saved one of the poem’s that the GRANDs sent. It’s on her fridge as a reminder when she’s having a tough day.
“I read it every time I need motivation. It really means a lot to me,” said Dr. Mann. “GRANDs have been a great support system since my first day in Grand Rapids. They were there for me like my family. The days I felt down or overwhelmed, they would somehow send us a goodie bag to cheer me up. It also made my mom really happy and reassured that someone is taking care of me and my well-being.”
The GRANDs have also hosted socially distanced and safe welcome parties, and in September of 2020, they arranged for a special backyard performance by the Grand Rapids Civic Theatre.
“Someone in attendance described that evening as magical and indeed it was,” said Robinson. “Singers from the theater performed musical numbers from classic shows. The doctors seemed mesmerized. It was such a peaceful, tranquil evening – perhaps a respite from the stress of the hospital at the height of the pandemic. One doctor from another country even expressed that this was their first experience with musical theatre.”
The residents have enjoyed their welcome to Grand Rapids, and their acclimatization to Mercy Health Saint Mary’s. As new residents join in and others move on, the GRANDs hope to keep serving as ambassadors for the new doctors on their journey.
“We have been told by leaders in the Neurology department that the presence of the GRANDs has helped improve morale for the whole department, not just the newcomers. Even after daily meetings, huddles, and check-ins for the residents, most questions at the end centered around ‘Guess what the GRANDs sent,’” said Robinson. “Our neighbors at Plaza Towers came through with enthusiasm, generosity and goodwill. I would be happy to guide another group of citizens in taking on future residency programs. I guess we’ll just see where this goes.”