Donald J. Cohen Fellowship Program 2020 — A fantastic experience in the new normal

By: Wamiq Ali (Pakistan), Andrés Cardozo (Colombia) & Vilde Skylstad (Norway)

A confusing year, yet full of learning experiences:

The 24th IACAPAP conference was supposed to gather us all in beautiful Singapore. When the coronavirus pandemic broke out, we were awaiting results from the selection process for the Donald J. Cohen Fellowship Program (DJCFP). The anxiety associated with the process and that brought about by the pandemic were slowly replaced by excitement as the annual congress was changed in format and the confirmation for the program came in. Ayesha Mian & Naoufel Gaddour, program coordinators, kindly guided us through the registration process and told us how we would proceed. Two months before the online congress, they sent the schedule to all of us; it was fun to see what we would be doing and how the activities would be held online taking into account the time zone differences for 29 fellows around the globe. So, instead of packing our bags and traveling to Singapore, we all logged on to our computers across the globe, some during lunch time, others in the middle of the night.

The first meetings with the fellows, mentors and organisers made it clear that this program would not only be about technical knowledge in child and adolescent psychiatry, but a more wholesome experience. The DJCFP included activities on music and culture, leadership, networking and supervision, and each of us were assigned to a smaller group of fellows and mentors by geographic location. The first encounter with the whole group of fellows and mentors, and the first encounter with the small group, were both a worrisome-yet-exciting experience. It is not always easy to talk about ourselves in front of people whom we perceive as having high expectations of what we say, but mentors had a warm touch that invited us to talk freely.

In the small groups, we were free to discuss anything, with topics spanning from finding a healthy work-life balance to tackling the acute shortage of capacity when there are only three child and adolescent psychiatrists in in a country. By sharing experiences and supporting each other, we made the challenges feel a bit lighter on our shoulders. With the right knowledge, network, allies, and resources we can build something together. At the end of the week, the superlatives were abundant “Inspiring, exciting, interesting, amazing, networking, sharing experience, reflecting, uplifting, stimulating, warm, welcoming, enlightening, supportive”.

Since its beginning in Berlin in 2004, the DJCP has connected colleagues in child and adolescent psychiatry from across the globe. For many of us, having a stimulating, warm, uplifting and supportive experience was sorely needed in this time of acute isolation and unpredictability. Although we would all have loved to meet in person, we are incredibly thankful pre to the DJCFP committee, who managed to create a platform and a sense of community despite the geographical distance. Realising that all of these like minded fellows exist, and that one day we will hopefully meet, gave an important sense of comfort and support to our personal, clinical and academic life.

Thankfully, this was only the beginning of our journey as Donald J. Cohen fellows!


IACAPAP Bulletin, Issue 61