Student Physician, Heal Thyself: A Medical Curriculum of the Future?
Written by Editor   
Sunday, July 24, 2016 12:00 AM

It seems that wellness starts at home.  At least that is the concept behind a number of medical school student-led proposals to make the medical school curriculum less stressful.  The focus on wellness in medical education is growing, and it’s motivating students and faculty to search for the path to the wellness-centered learning environment of the future.  Several submissions have encouraged students around the nation to upend the traditional medical school curriculum with outside-the-box ideas and emphasize student wellness.  The goal is to create physicians who are better equipped to take care of themselves and therefore able to serve patients throughout the course of their medical careers. Maybe medical students might be convinced to partake of regular chiropractic care as part of their wellness regimes.

Mayo Medical School researchers have studied wellness among students for more than 14 years.  Close to one-half of medical students in the United States experience burnout.  A survey of 10,000 osteopathic students and found more depression, anxiety and suicide than in the general population. A team of medical students from Ohio University Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine, Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine and Rowan University School of Osteopathic Medicine tied burnout and stress to a common lack understanding of the business side of medicine among physicians.  According to their proposal, “Training students to be prepared for the modern challenges of health care: Lessons learned in business school,” that lack of understanding has grown in importance as business issues play an ever-larger role in decisions that affect physicians.

A team of students from the University of Louisville School of Medicine set out an ambitious goal to forge “an ideal version of medical education.”  In their proposal, “Happy healers, healthy humans: A wellness curricular model as a means of effecting cultural change, reducing burnout and improving patient outcomes,” the four team members said the current environment is stressful and self-awareness, empathy and communication skills suffer.  Their vision is of a medical school curriculum with an emphasis on student wellness comprised of physical, mental and spiritual health. Under their curriculum, students build coping and self-care skills with goal-setting groups, reflection and cognitive behavioral therapy.  This vision even includes redesigning the medical school buildings. If the library is next to a gym, if the school provides stationary bikes, treadmill desks and meditation zones, the school promotes student wellness.  “The healthiest choices also become the easiest choices.  You make it so the path of least resistance leads to wellness, and folks will take care of the rest.”

A team of Eastern Virginia Medical School (EVMS) students submitted a proposal fostering wellness with a curriculum that preserves idealism and humanism, and makes time for what they call gratitude, mindfulness and reflection. The result is a student driven by his or her core values and beliefs and more resistant to burnout. In the fall of 2016 EVMS will debut the school’s CareForward Curriculum, which integrates student wellness as a guiding principal, and promotes student well-being, academic success and resilience building first-year students’ emotional skills to help deal with the transition to medical school and encourages students to monitor their sleep, nutrition and exercise routines. Throughout the curriculum, there is an emphasis on asking for help when needed and cultivating supportive relationships.  The curriculum also features periodic, confidential mental health screenings and weekly protected time for health maintenance and well-being activities.

These and other proposals are part of ongoing work to foster medical student wellness. Some efforts are as simple as retreats to the mountains or low rates for gym membership, while others are more comprehensive.