The Brain Story in Practice: Riley Park Maternity Clinic

February 1, 2022

The Brain Story in Practice: Riley Park Maternity Clinic

Dr. Teresa Killam, MEd MD CCFP FCFP, Dr. Serena Jenkins, PhD, & Dr. Michael Giuffre, MD MBA FRCPC

Mary* is a 24yo G1P0 at 16 weeks gestational age, presenting to the Riley Park Maternity Clinic for her prenatal, intrapartum and early post-partum care. Dr. Killam and her colleagues** have implemented the adverse childhood experiences (ACE) questionnaire as a tool to facilitate history taking, not as a screening tool, to learn more about a patient’s past and how their experiences may have impacted their physical and mental health. Mary’s partner, Christopher, also attended her prenatal appointment and was intrigued that Mary was asked if she would be comfortable completing the ACEs questionnaire. Christopher was Brain Story certified through his work, and his new knowledge inspired him to learn how he could stop the impact of transgenerational trauma for his child. Because Dr. Killam was also Brain Story certified, this enabled an informed, meaningful conversation that used a shared language and knowledge base. A growing number of Albertans know the Brain Story (> 46,000), so it is becoming increasingly beneficial for their primary care providers to become certified. Therefore, we invite you to join the growing community of Albertans who are using Brain Story science to understand and talk about the impacts of trauma and toxic stress.

Joanna* is a 32yo G4P3 at 21 weeks gestational age, another patient at Riley Park Maternity Clinic, and received a high ACE score and eventually shared with Dr. Killam that she was an incest survivor. Joanna had processed her trauma and now helps facilitate programs for others with similar experiences. Joanna shared that being asked about her ACE score removed the shame she associated with those experiences; previous care providers had not asked her those questions, forcing her to keep those experiences secret. Physicians may fear that asking about trauma will start a conversation they are not qualified to have, or that cannot be resolved in one appointment. But physicians do not need to be a trauma specialist to be trauma-informed. Trauma-informed communication involves accepting the prevalence and impacts of trauma and interacting with all patients in such a way that optimizes their safety and control over decisions that impact them. A simple shift to asking “would you be comfortable with this” as opposed to “I have to do this” can provide patients with a sense of autonomy. Physicians cannot undo a patient’s past trauma, but they can communicate in such a way that decreases the burden. Successful integration of Brain Story science related to trauma into clinical practice requires a shift to trauma-informed care. To begin this shift, we invite you to complete the trauma-informed care training modules offered by AHS.

Next issue: How understanding the Brain Story and trauma-informed care improves patient care.

* Names have been changed to protect confidentiality
** Dr. Teresa Killam and her colleagues are low-risk maternity physicians at the Riley Park Maternity Clinic. The 43 physicians and their multidisciplinary teams have incorporated trauma-informed care into their practice.