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A course for young psychiatrists: Singapore, 25-28 February, 2009

Photo of attendeesThe course on development of leadership and professional skills for young psychiatrists (Singapore, February 25-28, 2009)

This course was organized by the Association for the Improvement of Mental Health  (a Geneva based not-for-profit organization) and designed by Professor N. Sartorius. It was conducted in collaboration with the Department of Psychological Medicine, National University of Singapore.

The setting of a global university such as this was perfectly suited for this academic feast and was a far cry from the usual non academic venues. The candidates were handpicked after careful consideration of their credentials, with final participation from Bhutan, China, Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Mongolia, Thailand and Singapore. The faculty in charge of grooming these young psychiatrists into the leaders of tomorrow included Prof. Dinesh Bhugra, Prof. Edmond Chiu Prof. Kua Ee Heok and Prof. Norman Sartorius, who was also the director of the course.

Sessions lasted a total of four days, commencing on February 25 till February 28, 2009. Our mentors made us feel special, which was a subtle reminder of our responsibilities towards the art and science of psychiatry and mental health, and the role that they wanted us to play for our region.

The stage was set on the morning of February 25 after a brief introduction to the course over dinner the previous evening. The simple task of introduction was then transformed into a new learning exercise which then set the mood and pace of the “leadership workshop”. The next four days to follow have been etched in the memories of most of us forever. The sessions were designed to target areas of importance for young psychiatrists, and they were divided in the following subheadings: “How to make presentation?”, “How to prepare a paper?”, “How to decide on one’s priorities?”, “How to write a curriculum vitae?”, “How to establish an Asian collaboration?”, “How to read a paper?”, “How to prevent staff burnout?”, “How to produce a good title?”, “How to write report of a session?”, “How to prepare and chair a meeting?”, “Poster walk ad how to make posters?”, “How to seek and find financial support for the projects?”, “How to assess a proposal for action?”.

This was preceded by homework assignments given months before the initiation of the course at Singapore. These sessions were intense and the long days on paper felt short and gripping in reality, leaving us desiring for more. The bonding between the group members was evident in the energy during group work sessions, seen all through. The sessions were interactive, hence all of us had to come out of our shells leaving behind any inhibitions or apprehension. The style of teaching was encouraging rather than usage of intimidation and our opinions were always asked. This got us all going, and by day 2, everyone was contributing, with every suggestion, input, response being evaluated and discussed in a non corrosive manner.

The success of the program can be gauged from the feedback of us participants who found the program to be well structured, comprehensive and executed to perfection. The course facilitators were nurturing, approachable, accommodating and genuinely interested in training the next generation of psychiatrists. It was unanimously agreed upon, that the most inspiring component was their level of dedication and motivation seen throughout the sessions. They interacted with our group, as if they were one of us going through the sessions with an equal amount of interest and enthusiasm as us. This made them more human for awestruck young leaders, transforming them into perfect role models for our generation.

Most of us participants found this an extremely useful and motivating exercise instilling in us humility. We perceived this program as a perfect opportunity for establishing future collaborations within Asia, which may help in improving the status of mental health programs and problems in our respective countries. We felt that our skills in terms of making a presentation, delivering a talk and planning multicentric research, were upgraded. We also felt that the skills imparted to us were important not just in helping us become better psychiatrists but also good, sensitive leaders in the future. The learning was not only gathered from the sessions but also through the non-verbal communication and body language of the facilitators. We feel indebted to these facilitators and teachers who successfully achieved their goal of enhancing our skills and feel extremely motivated to translate our experience into something more practical, by sharing what we can with other professionals from the region as also to start a network to initiate research.

For most of us it was one of the most memorable experiences in our professional life. The course helped us introspect with the goal of a deeper and better understanding of our strengths and weaknesses with a broadening of our understanding of regional and international psychiatry. It was a landmark in our training career and we strongly recommend it to all future young psychiatrists.

COMPILED BY: Ashutosh Chauhan (India).
With contributions from Agiananda Feranindhya, Fransiska Kaligis, Andri, Kurnianigsih Tuti (Indonesia),  Hazli Zakaria, Rusdi Abd Rashid (Malaysia), Nuden Erdenetuul, Batkhurel Jargal (Mongolia), Chen Min, Hong Wu (China), Laimwanich Ketsiri, Kanida Tassniyom (Thailand) Terence Leong, Tor Phern-Chern (Singapore), Nirola Damber Kumar (Bhutan) and Kim Savuon (Cambodia). This report will also appear in the journal Asia-Pacific Psychiatry.

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