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Pediatric Critical Care Fellowship team heads to axe throwing for their annual retreat.

Fellows Retreat Proves Axe-ceptional

Fellowship can often be stressful, especially in the specialty of Pediatric Critical Care. Leadership within the fellowship program, which includes program coordinator Melissa Bales, program director Courtney Rowan, MD, and associate program director Nathan Swinger, MD, recognize this and work to build a support system within and around the individuals in the fellowship program. Typically, program leadership and fellows take an annual retreat to come together to enjoy each other’s company, unwind, and celebrate. The fellows also make plans to meet amongst themselves throughout the year as they heavily rely on each other for support and usually end up becoming very close during the three years they are in the program.

This year’s retreat led fellows to Bad Axe Throwing in downtown Indianapolis to blow off some steam and hurl some axes! “I had never been axe-throwing, but loved my first experience,” said Rachel Gahagen, DO, a first-year fellow with the program, “It was a laid-back atmosphere and did allow for some competition within our group.” None of the fellows had previously been axe throwing, but the feedback was overwhelmingly positive with several of the fellows saying they would do it again.

The team had a coach walk them through the different ways to throw axes so they could grasp the basics which eventually lead to group competitions. At the end of their session, they had an elimination style tournament to crown a champion. It was second-year fellow, Stefan Malin, MD, who ended up winning and earned bragging rights among the group. When asked about axe throwing and fellowship in general, Malin voiced, “Axe throwing was amazing! I am loving my time during fellowship. I completed my pediatric residency here and chose to stay for the people that I currently work with.” Malin continued, “Looking back, I would make the exact same choice again.”

Melissa Bales, the Program Coordinator for the Pediatric Critical Care fellowship program, helps plan the yearly retreat, which has previously included: dinners, escape rooms, and other activities in the Indianapolis area. She serves as a welcoming face for incoming fellows and a connection for alumni that have moved to faculty positions. For the past eight years, Bales has been responsible for making sure the current fellows get all the necessary steps completed for them to graduate while making sure the program maintains accreditation. Bales shared that she appreciates getting to know the fellows on a more personal level and loves this aspect of her current role. “It is great getting to know our fellows outside of the fellowship. We learn about them as a person and not as a doctor. Having the chance to relax and act silly with each other is wonderful,” said Bales.

Unfortunately, due to COVID-19, last year’s retreat had to be canceled. The fellows still saw each other on campus, but their events and ability to socialize were dramatically cut down due to quarantine. They were unified in their disappointment, but excited about the likelihood that they would be able to congregate again now that strict safety measures are being reduced. “Unfortunately, retreats have been limited during my fellowship experience this year due to COVID,” said Gahagen, “but as we are all now vaccinated, opportunities to come together continue to arise.” Malin added, “Due to the pandemic, the past year was strange, and it made getting to know the incoming fellows a little more challenging. I feel like we have overcome this, and we try to get together outside of the hospital whenever our schedules allow.”

Despite the recent difficulties of working around barriers caused by COVID-19, the fellows believe they have grown closer together and shared their praise for their fellowship program. Daniel Cater, MD, a third-year fellow, commented, “I like the closeness of our group, both fellows and faculty, alike. I feel like we do have good comradery.” Cater shared that he and his co-fellows make time to get dinners together and enjoy spending their time with one another outside of the hospital environment. Gahagen added, “I love my co-fellows and staff. We truly are like a family, which is especially important given the stressful and emotional trying nature of our specialty.”

Program leadership and the fellows are already making plans to reunite again soon. There is now a tentatively planned graduation/welcome celebration for August to honor the fellows who have finished the program and meet the incoming fellows. It is a time of mixed emotions as some third-year fellows move on to practice medicine in other parts of the country or world, but at the same time new fellows are coming into this close-knit family. Gahagen reflected on the friendships that she has developed during her fellowship. “I’ve had a wonderfully rewarding year of fellowship,” she shared, “I am so thankful to have the people I have at Riley with me through this experience. From my co-fellows, to the nurses, and our program directors, I’m so glad to be a part of this team.”

The views expressed in this content represent the perspective and opinions of the author and may or may not represent the position of Indiana University School of Medicine.
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Reilly Wilson

Reilly Wilson is an administrative assistant for the Department of Pediatrics. He primarily works with Pediatric Hospitalist Medicine, but his role allows him to help with special projects throughout the department.

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