Houses are ‘the heart of the wellness program’
Posted on September 9, 2022 by Carol McPhail
Groups of medical students at the Whiddon College of Medicine clapped and cheered as M1s were called to the front of the auditorium on the final day of orientation in July. The 80 incoming students were being sorted into five wellness houses named for the rivers that empty into Mobile Bay.
“I could tell the first-year medical students were excited to be a part of a smaller community,” said Naden Kreitz, an M2 and one of the orientation leaders.
Kreitz knows firsthand the value of belonging to a wellness house, an informal group that comprises members from all four years of medical school. Joining the Blakeley House in 2021 was how he got to know Lauren Mussell of Birmingham, an upperclassman who became a good friend and mentor.
“Having Lauren as a mentor has helped me in numerous ways this past year,” Kreitz said. “From answering questions about class to how to prepare for STEP 1, Lauren has been a constant encourager and guide through my journey in medical school. Medical school is a very unique environment, and every module you encounter has a different flavor, so having a mentor you can talk to and who can offer advice has made me a stronger medical student.”
Mussell calls Kreitz one of her best friends. “Mentorship turned into a really great friendship,” she said. “That’s one of the things that can come from wellness houses that’s fantastic.”
Mussell, who serves as Wellness Council president, said the goal of the wellness houses is to provide an opportunity for medical students to find a school-life balance. “The wellness houses are the heart of the wellness program,” she said.
Wellness houses were introduced at the Whiddon College of Medicine in 2017 as a student-led initiative to promote mentorship and enhance the health and well-being of medical students. The idea was to randomly sort students from all four class years into informal groups of about 15 for the duration of their medical school experience.
In 2017, incoming medical students opened letters Match Day-style to find out their house placements – Apalachee, Blakeley, Mobile, Spanish or Tensaw. In 2018, the houses hosted a kickball tournament as part of M1 orientation activities in which teams dressed in their house colors and competed on a local baseball field.
The COVID-19 pandemic, however, interrupted in-person activities so that classes and wellness house events were required to go virtual. In fact, the recent house sorting during M1 orientation was the first sorting to take place in person since the start of the pandemic.
“When I came, it was the height of COVID,” said Mussell, a member of the Class of 2024. “A lot of the wellness houses put together goodie bags. Some bought little house plants for members to take home.”
Mussell still has the small succulent she picked up from the student lounge that year; it sits on a windowsill above the kitchen sink in her apartment. “We’ve had to get a little creative the last few years, offering support and participating in things from afar,” she said.
Now that restrictions have lifted, the houses are planning more events. Recently, members of the Blakeley House got together to enjoy ArtWalk in downtown Mobile. There also are plans for a bowling night for houses in October.
"Coming out of the COVID times, I hope to see the wellness houses do even more in the future,” Kreitz said. “I hope the wellness program continues to flourish and grow so it can make an impact on other students’ lives like it did mine.”