Wellness Council reminds medical students to prioritize mental health

Posted on February 22, 2021 by Lindsay Lyle
Lindsay Lyle

The Wellness Council advocates for medical student wellness by creating initiatives and events for students and increasing awareness of barriers to wellness.  data-lightbox='featured'

Navigating the pressures of medical school is stressful on its own. Add in anxiety brought about by the pandemic, loneliness as a result of extended social distancing, and worry about the health of your loved ones, and you have the recipe for a mental health crisis.   

As students at the University of South Alabama College of Medicine approach the one-year mark of living through the COVID-19 era, they are experiencing the toll these stressors have taken on their well-being. 

“The pandemic caused a mental health crisis for our nation,” said third-year medical student Lindsey Solomon. “It forced us to self-isolate during a time when our loved ones were sick and we wanted to be by their sides, or made us unable to comfort our family members during these uncertain times. To most people, wellness means being surrounded by friends and family while doing fun and engaging activities. In the times of COVID, this is neither feasible nor responsible.” 

Solomon is vice president of the Wellness Council, the guiding body for the USA College of Medicine’s Wellness Program.

Consisting of medical students and faculty advisors, the Wellness Council advocates for medical student wellness by creating initiatives and events for students and increasing awareness of barriers to wellness. The council sends student representatives to serve on other College of Medicine committees to keep student wellness in mind while making fundamental and formative decisions for the College of Medicine.

Sarah Bignault, a third-year medical student and president of the Wellness Council, said it’s important for medical students to prioritize their own mental health, so they can better care for others in the future.

“Medical school can be incredibly stressful, and it can be tempting for some to overwork themselves; but the fatigue from doing so can actually decrease performance,” Bignault said. “Focusing on the betterment and development of the self helps students grow into compassionate and well-rounded physicians. Forming healthy coping strategies early on in their career can also help physicians in the workplace as they deal with the stressors intrinsic to a career in healthcare.” 

Under ordinary circumstances, the Wellness Council hosts a variety of events throughout the year; but the pandemic presented challenges to promoting well-being and community while still adhering to social distancing guidelines, Solomon said.

That meant students have had to get creative with their wellness programming. 

Wellness cookiesLast semester the Wellness Council hosted a cookie baking and ugly sweater contest. Students were provided with cookie dough, icing and sprinkles. Then, using Zoom, the students showed off their creations and voted on one another’s baked goods. 

The council also has transitioned some previously in-person events to virtual events, Bignault said. For example, Arts in Medicine is an opportunity for students to showcase their creative sides through music, art and poetry in a supportive environment. Started in 2019 by third-year medical student Zachary Lazzari, the event originally took place in a coffee house but now is held via Zoom.

Game nights are another opportunity for students to build community. Bignault said the council is looking into using the digital platform Jackbox to host online games. 

In addition to hosting events, the Wellness Council oversees the Wellness Houses and the Mentorship Program. During orientation, each incoming medical student is “sorted” into one of five Wellness Houses, in which they remain for the duration of medical school. The houses are named after the five rivers that flow into Mobile Bay – Apalachee, Blakeley, Mobile, Spanish and Tensaw. Each Wellness House has House Mentors, faculty members who are committed to seeing students excel both in and outside the classroom.

The Mentorship Program pairs first-year medical students with second-year student mentors. The matching process is based on personalities and mutual personal and professional interests.

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