Workshop Abstract

The Impact of Trauma


Joan Chan & X. Catherine Tong


By the end of this session, participants will be able to:

  • Recognize the impact of trauma on a brain’s ability to learn.

  • Remember that they are humans, with human brains, that have had traumatic experiences which may be impairing their ability to enjoy and thrive in their current work.

The Problem:

Health professional education, as a reflection of healthcare culture more broadly, continues to ignore that the individuals who populate its institutions are humans, with human brains, who require trauma-informed approaches to learning in order to develop the most healthy, resilient, compassionate and long-lasting healthcare professionals.

The Gap:

Health professional education in its current state is just starting to wake up to what it means to be “trauma-informed”. Focuses on the impact of “Big T” trauma (ex. Adverse childhood experiences, victims of sexual violence, the trauma of racism) are increasingly discussed but gaps remain. Papers like “Just in TIME: Trauma-Informed Medical Education” bring to light the hidden curriculum of healthcare and recommend strategies of how to address this for racialized health professional learners. The same approach can also be applied to other forms of trauma in our learners and in ourselves - including the traumas associated with practicing medicine itself. Experiencing traumatic phenomena such as moral distress, abuses of power, threats of violence, and now living through a global pandemic can leave our brains increasingly impaired from new learning and growth.

The Hook:

Trauma has lasting impacts on a brain’s ability to learn and grow. We have more evidence than ever on methods to engage healing, growth, and learning in a traumatized brain. As humans in charge of caring for other humans, it’s time to start taking the impact of trauma on our own brains and the brains of our learners seriously. This starts with each of us investigating more deeply where we have seen the impacts of trauma in our own lives and seeking the support needed to address them.

The Take Home Point:

In order for brains to learn, they have to cultivate a sense of safety and security. Each of us is responsible for cultivating a learning brain for ourselves, in order to begin the bigger work of reforming medical education into a trauma-informed culture for our learners.