An inventive, student-led approach to learner wellness
It’s no secret that pursuing a health sciences degree is hard work. We set high expectations for each of our students, because when those degrees are handed out on convocation day, we have a duty to ensure that each and every one will provide evidence-based, person-centred, and compassionate care to their patients.
Long work hours, constant interaction with patients and colleagues, and frequent testing are just a few of the demands that are par for the course in healthcare programs. Yet, most of the pressures that students experience while at school are also the same ones that they will encounter as professionals. For that reason and many others, it is our responsibility as a faculty to help them learn how to deal with those pressures in appropriate and healthy ways. Recognizing when a student is not well and how to approach that is a critically important skill for each of our faculty members and student advisors – but it’s fair to say that in most cases, we are helping our students to deal with pressures in a reactive way.
In realizing this, the Wellness and Mental Health Committee held jointly under the medical school’s Learner Wellness Centre and the Aesculapian Society (AS), developed an innovative program that would focus on the proactive and preventative side to student wellness. And so, as a brilliant compliment to the services already in place, an innovative program called Wellness Month was designed and launched this past February.
“Wellness Month was entirely targeted at developing resiliency by practicing positive habits that would hopefully prevent, to some degree, the burnout and the physical and mental health burdens that arise as a consequence of our careers,” explains medical student and student committee chair Alyssa Lip.
For Wellness Month, students formed teams, and participants completed challenges focused on a different pillar of wellness each week – nutritional, mental, physical, and social academic balance. The program was wildly successful, and the students shared their ideas with each other via Twitter using the hashtag #keepsmewell. As a follow-up to the program, the organizing team decided to produce a handbook that might help to bring the initiative to medical schools across Canada, which can be viewed here (an iBook version will also be released shortly).
“The degree of support that I felt from my classmates during Wellness Month month was tremendous – it really was the definition of the QMED community. In leading the event, I started to realize that people were participating in our initiative, not just because they had to, but because they wanted to – not just doing the bare minimum, but actually zealously participating.”
In addition to 123 pre-clerks who took part in the project, Wellness Month caught the attention of a number of staff and faculty also took part in the challenges. “It meant a lot to the students see them get involved with something like this. I think it builds a very positive connection between students and faculty and improves the learning environment,” says Alyssa. In total 148 people participated in Wellness Month at Queen’s.
The committee hopes that the Wellness Month manual will help other organizations replicate the success of their program. “It has already been adapted in two other schools since our pilot ended in February. There has also been interest in bringing this to other faculties here at Queen’s as well as residences,” says Alyssa. “There is a real need for it as the rates of burnout rise. This initiative asks participants to act on ideas, learn skills, and make a change. It isn’t meant to be a complete solution, but it’s a small step towards actually doing something about it.” Our students have also gone so far as creating a new Wellness Officer voting member position on the AS, and have adopted the Wellness and Mental Health Committee as a full committee under the society.
Suffice to say that we are excited about the prospect of this initiative extending beyond Queen’s and are extremely proud of our students for setting up something that will not only help our students this year, but for years to come.
I welcome your comments on the new Wellness Month program below, or better yet, drop by my office – my door is always open.
I would like to thank Emma Woodman for her assistance in the creation of this blog post.