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Celebrating our staff

The MARS-A: Mindful Awareness and Resilience Skills for Adolescents. (MARS-A) program at BC Children’s, which helps adolescents thrive in the face adversity by building resilience and healthy coping skills, has been recognised for an award.
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​Every year, the Provincial Health Services Authority (PHSA) celebrates the passionate contributions our staff make to province-wide health-care solutions through the PHSA+ Awards. These awards honour individuals and teams across the organization, including at BC Children's.

MARS-A uses an 8-week outpatient mindfulness training program to help adolescents who are struggling. It's the first mindfulness based intervention developed for adolescents with psychological distress, chronic pain, and chronic illness in a Canadian pediatric hospital.


Since the program launched in 2011, it has been adapted across Canada at SickKids Hospital, McMaster Children's Hospital, and IWK Health Centre in Halifax. It has also led to several "spin-off" programs such as the Kelty Mental Health Resource Center's mindfulness page and the Breathr app developed at BC Children's Hospital.

To date, several hundred adolescents have benefited from MARS-A through increasing self-compassion, and decreasing psychological distress and depression symptoms.

One participant shared: "I have used mindfulness a lot since I started with the group. It influenced me to be able to be kinder to myself and not push myself to do something that I don't want to do, not force myself to do something that I don't want to do, don't always do things because friends are doing them. I can breathe and figure out what I want to do and what I think."

MARS-A team member Dr. Dzung Vo answered the following questions about receiving the PHSA+ Award on behalf of the team:

Congratulations on your PHSA+ Award!  How did you feel when it was announced that you had won a PHSA+ Award? 

Dr. Vo: Honored, humbled, proud of my team!

What gets you out of bed in the morning? 

Dr. Vo: The chance to make a difference.

What do you like most about your job?

Dr. Vo: Working with youth and working with wonderful colleagues.

What is most rewarding about your team's work?

Dr. Vo: I felt deeply rewarded last week at the last session of our most recent MARS-A cohort, when several teens described how much of a positive difference mindfulness had made in their lives, in how they handle stress and pain and even the way that they look at the world! It was especially rewarding to hear some of this sharing coming from teens who were skeptical or cautious about mindfulness on week one, as we were just getting started.

What makes it all worthwhile? 

Dr. Vo: Stories from youth who bring mindfulness into their lives in a meaningful way.

How did you get involved with this team? 

Dr. Vo: Jake Lock and I were introduced by a colleague shortly after I arrived at BC Children's Hospital. The colleague was aware of both of our interests in mindfulness. We started brainstorming opportunities and a year later, MARS-A was born!

Why did you choose to work with this group?

Dr. Vo: The MARS-A team works with integrity, "practicing what we preach" by bringing mindfulness into our own lives first and foremost. Then, we are able to use our own life experience with mindfulness, combined with our clinical skills in working with youth, to make the MARS-A curriculum come alive in a meaningful way.

Tell us something that we may not have realized about your team's work - a little unknown fact or something unexpected. 

Dr. Vo: If I hadn't become a doctor, I may have become a Zen monk instead!

Children's Health
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