Shaping our Futures: DJCFP 2022

By: Yvorn Aswad, Brown University, Department of Psychiatry and Human Behavior, Program in Pediatrics, Psychiatry, and Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. Providence, RI.

G. Nduku Wambua, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, Department of Clinical, Neuro and Developmental Psychology

Mireia Solerdelcoll , Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Psychology, Institute of Neuroscience, Hospital Clínic de Barcelona, Barcelona, Spain

It is a unique time to be a trainee in child and adolescent mental health. For many of us, most of our training time has been overshadowed by the Covid-19 pandemic. And whereas we are focused as people of service to think about the ways in which the pandemic has negatively impacted the mental health of the communities we serve, we don’t often get to consider how the pandemic has altered and changed us in our profession. It seemed at times that the greatest impact of the pandemic when it relates to mental health is that it took from us the feeling that we can predict the future without any uncertainty. 

And so, it was fitting that as Donald J. Cohen Fellows for 2022, the theme of the World Congress was “Shaping the Future.” Gathering fellows from around the world in person on the heels of the pandemic was a meaningful and intentional affirmation of the power of connectedness and community after such a long period of lock down and isolation. Seventeen fellows from our year represented every major region of the IACAPAP and all parts of the globe. Under the tutelage of our mentors (themselves all alumni of the Donald J Cohen Fellowship Program (DJCFP) who have gone on to have illustrious careers), we not only talked about clinical and research issues, but we spent time developing ourselves. We shared our stories. We shared our aspirations. And we were validated in the knowledge that we can create and collaborate to change systems that really bring life into our communities and local contexts. 

DJCFP 2022 Fellow and Mentors  – Group Photo

DJCFP Reunion’s Group Photo

The DJCFP included small group discussions by geographic location and led by mentors, we were free to discuss any topic that concerned us and present our work at the congress. Some of the topics shared were: finding a healthy work-life balance, how to improve the mental health of children and adolescents in our community, and how to deal with really difficult situations of lack of child and adolescent psychiatrists. By sharing experiences and thoughts, we had stimulating, inspiring, uplifting and supportive encounters, making challenges a little easier and creating allies. 

Toward the end of our time as fellows, we had a departure dinner boat ride in the Dubai Marina and the congress chair, Dr. Ammar Albanna joined us. He shared that he himself was once a Donald J. Cohen Fellow. He told us that during his time as a fellow, in his workshops, he began to lay out the plan of creating comprehensive child and adolescent mental health services for Dubai and the larger United Arab Emirates. We were then privileged to see the manifestation of his dreams at the Al Jalila Children’s hospital. It was through the support of IACAPAP mentors, the camaraderie of fellow young leaders, and the power of solidarity – of seeing yourself as a part of collective – that he dared to shape the future. 

DJCFP 2022 Dinner – Group Photo

Coming out of the week of the DJCFP at IACAPAP was energizing and rejuvenating. From connecting over breakfasts, to running to catch the morning bus, to staying up late watching the world cup, we as young trainees in our beloved profession started to shake off the slump of the pandemic. We started again to feel the hope that comes when you have faith and can walk confidently knowing that you are not alone. 

We are thankful for the Donald J Cohen Fellowship and are fully walking in our purpose of being able to just add our small part of positivity to the future.