February 16, 2017
As we embark upon 2017, many of us hope to make this the year that we commit to improving our health and wellness. I know that I’ve promised to exercise more and to pay attention to diet and stress and sleep. The medical literature and lay press have had a number of recent papers highlighting high rates of depression and stress in the medical profession, raising alarms throughout the nation. Our physical and mental health and wellness are something we each should take seriously.
The World Health Organization defines health as a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity. The WHO states that “there is no health without mental health.”
A recent analysis published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that nearly 27 percent of medical school students surveyed reported symptoms of depression, with a subset of those, 11 percent, reporting suicidal thoughts. The paper went on to report that medical students are between two and five times more likely to experience depression than the general U.S. population.
At McGovern Medical School we are tackling these disturbing trends and creating new programs for the care and wellness of our students. Just this academic year, the Student Wellness and Resilience Program was established, which features six components: McGovern Societies Master Advisory Program, Occupational Development, Professionalism and Leadership, Personal Health and Self-Care, Interpersonal Growth, and Cultural and Environmental Proficiency.
Starting with the entering class this past year, all first-year students become part of an enhanced Master Advisory Program known as the McGovern Societies. The societies, each led by well-respected faculty members, bring 8-10 first-year students together with second- and fourth-year student mentors. Additionally, Ph.D. Faculty Affiliates collaborate with clinical faculty members to administer each society, providing overarching support around the new curriculum as the primary academic touch point for the first two years. The groups will meet frequently throughout the four years of medical school to address academic resources and successful learning styles, student stress, professionalism, and leadership. The societies’ goal is to foster an environment that will build strong relationships between students and faculty and between students and each other—relationships that will continue beyond medical school. I’m already hearing great feedback from both students and faculty that the McGovern Societies are doing just that.
Our first-ever student wellness fair was held during the fall to encourage personal and financial wellness. In addition, invited speakers are addressing students on professionalism, resilience-fostering behaviors, and cultural topics. We are also looking forward to our inaugural day of service on Thursday, March 16, when students will be giving their time to multiple organizations throughout the community.
But the focus doesn’t start and stop at our students. Work is also underway to enhance wellness programs for faculty, residents, and staff. Our Employee Assistance Program, available to all employees, residents, fellows, and their family members, has always been a resource, offering counseling and resources to assist with work-life balance and wellness. Counseling services are available on campus or through a network of licensed providers strategically located throughout the greater Houston area. The EAP also offers workshops on topics including stress management, compassion fatigue, support for the caretaker, as well as healthy relationships and boundaries. The EAP website offers online screening tools and resources as well.
Robin Dickey, a licensed therapist and certified wellness coach, is a new faculty assistance specialist who was hired recently to help faculty navigate the many available EAP services, from counseling to legal assistance and financial well-being for both faculty and their family members. Coaching services are available to address the unique challenges experienced by faculty with personal and professional well-being as a priority.
And of course everyone at UTHealth is invited to participate in the McGovern Center for Humanities and Ethics Monday Meditations.
Please make time to take care of yourself—not only for your personal well-being but also for your family, your colleagues, and your patients.